This morning I walked into Coffee Zero on the High Street and the barista recognized me from the day before and asked “chai latte?” before I was even at the bar. I’m happy to be at the point now where I recognize quite a few regulars at various places around town and they also recognize me. I only have a few days left before this first bit of fieldwork is complete. I’ll be moving down to Exeter on Saturday, at which point I’m going to sort through what I have and determine where there might be gaps in the data. I have four weeks in Exeter to transcribe interviews (no small task… I have about 14 hours of audio), begin coding information and take advantage of the university’s resources. I may make one or two trips back to Glastonbury to follow-ups if necessary. And then I have to prep for three weeks of fieldwork in Tintagel. I have two weeks at the end of July to return to either site if I need more data. That said, the last week or so has been quite productive. I conducted some very interesting interviews with locals from various walks of life.
I had my first real moment of uncertainty this past Saturday. Networking had led me to two local archaeologists who insisted I meet them at their home. All my other interviews had been conducted in a public place, but they insisted on asking me over because all their “books and materials” were there. I got off the bus in Glastonbury and grabbed some coffee before walking up the lane where their house was located. I started counting the house numbers and finally came to number 12, my destination. It looks run down and honestly quite sketchy. At first glace, I might say it was abandoned or uninhabited. I was hesitant to knock on the door. For a fleeting minute all the stuff USF World made me read about safety and making smart decisions came to mind and I jokingly texted Mike that if he didn’t hear from me in an hour, I had been kidnapped at the provided address.
I ended up knocking on the door and was greeted by my two interviewees and offered tea. The inside of their home mirrored the outside and as the interview proceeded, I realized it all seemed to reflect their general existence. They are in many ways isolated in the community due to their own controversial views on archaeology in Glastonbury (not pseudo-archaeology, just unaccepted claims about the potential for Irish roots of Glastonbury), but also their palpable disdain for all things New Age in the town. They went so far as to claim that a small part of the New Age spiritualism is a front for a far right agenda. They have extensive archaeological experience stretching back to the 1980s but are extremely opinionated about certain things. I came out of that interview not sure if I had just wasted two hours of my time… and absolutely unclear about how, if at all, I could use what they’ve given me.
The interview I conducted on Monday revealed even more tensions in the town. The phrase “Witch Wars” was actually used to describe a conflict that happened between two big personalities in town about two years ago. My informant says it took many people a year to recover from the rift it created. On the surface, Glastonbury appears to be a happy, tourist, multicultural haven where so many different groups seem to miraculously coexist. Alas, when you dig below the surface a bit that isn’t always the case. So Glastonbury is, in fact, a small town with small town problems. Meanwhile, there is also a significant level of camaraderie and tolerance practiced throughout the town. The Hare Krishnas in town serve free food twice a week, which is incredibly important for the town’s fairly large (proportionate to the size of the town) homeless population.
Glastonbury Abbey itself has turned out to be a much more contested space than I initially expected. The visitors to the Abbey are an incredibly diverse group and represent a whole spectrum of beliefs and faiths. This creates the potential for tension when, like today, a very large group of visitors representing one particular set of beliefs, takes over the site, limiting its accessibility for other visitors.
Today’s visitors were from Spain and were at the Abbey for its links to King Arthur. There are two markers on the grounds. One marks where the bones of Arthur and Guinevere were supposedly found in an old cemetery in the early twelfth century. The second one marks the location where a black marble tomb once housed those bones inside the nave of the Abbey. These visitors were clustered around these two markers for the better part of two hours. I observed a variety of behaviors during their stay. There was an awful lot of hugging happening. They obviously felt energies that I could not and were embracing for elongated periods of time at certain spots in the grass. Meanwhile others were lying in the grass, supine, and others still were knelt down with their palms on the ground. Several appeared to be emotional and made facial expressions and gestures that indicated they were feeling things in their stomach and chest during their visit. Their experiences are in no way less legitimate than other’s, but I could see how the size of their group, and its physical and emotional presence, could be a distraction or deterrent for other visitors.
Similarly, many locals have seasonal passes for the Abbey and use it as more of a community park than heritage site. This means that local parents let their children climb on and play on the ruins of the Abbey. One kid, footing a soccer ball around, bounced it off a wall of the Lady Chapel on his way out. There are as many local people on the grounds having an afternoon picnic as there are tourists visiting for the first time. The docents and learning staff I interviewed today emphasized that the hardest part of their job is striking that delicate balance between all the different groups that lay claim to this site.
I have three more interviews before I leave on Saturday, and a foot-washing ceremony I want to participate in at the Chalice Well Gardens on Thursday. It’s been a whirlwind experience so far. I’ll be sad to leaving Glastonbury but I know I’ll be back, or so I’ve been told. 🙂