Wrapping up Fieldwork

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The famous door at Tintagel Castle.

It doesn’t feel like I’ve finished or accomplished anything, probably because I know how much I still have to do … but the actual fieldwork part of my dissertation research is finished. I just wrapped up three weeks in Tintagel and am on my way back to the States via a quick pit stop in Iceland. When I booked my flight the cheapest one was on Icelandair but came with a 19-hour layover… so I now find myself in the cafe at the Blue Lagoon waiting for my timed entry window to come around. Unfortunately though, I am alone. Mike was with me in England this past week but as a result of booking various things at different times (I booked this Iceland flight in December, he booked his second trip to England in March) we parted ways this morning at London Gatwick Airport. So, he’s currently in the air on the way to FL and I’m here outside Reykjavik for the afternoon/night. I fly on to NYC tomorrow where we’ll meet up with his brother’s wedding.

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Main street of Tintagel village on a slow weekday morning.

Overall my time in Tintagel was not as productive, in terms of the number of interviews completed, as my time in Glastonbury. It may have had something to do with it being the start of peak tourist season for the village, but everyone seemed very busy and difficult to get a hold of or pin down. I also was not lucky enough to get that one key informant who knew a lot of other people, or who was willing to introduce me to other people. In Glastonbury I had one informant that ended up putting me in touch with a number of other folks. I will undoubtedly kick myself for this later when I’m in the middle of the writing process but I can honestly say that I did the best I could with the time I had. I could have maybe been more aggressive, but I feel strongly that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Considering that I had never been to Tintagel before this research trip, I feel good about how well I know the place. I had to spend more time there than in Glastonbury simply getting to know the lay of the land.

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Visitors taking in the views on the top level of this multi-level site.

One thing that stood out to me fairly immediately was that my prep work had included a lot of readings on British versus English identities, but not enough about Cornish identity, which is strong and absolutely not English. This is something I will need to figure out how to deal with quickly in the actual dissertation. Despite not getting as many interviews in Tintagel, I was able to collect quite a lot of printed materials and my visit to the archives at the Royal Cornwall Museum was extremely fruitful.

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In addition to visiting the Royal Cornwall Museum for archival research on Tintagel, I did the same for Glastonbury at the Somerset Heritage Centre.

In a few days I will begin the long tedious process of transcribing and analyzing everything I have. But before that, I have a few things to do, including my swim in the Blue Lagoon in about an hour, and then three days of Tony and Amanda’s wedding celebrations in NY starting tomorrow. I feel like I’ve been going non-stop since February… I look forward to sleeping in my bed in Tampa and putting the suitcase away for a while. I will be picking up shifts at Barnes and Noble again starting next week. Sometimes I feel like I’m going backwards, when I return to hourly minimum wage work, but the bills don’t pay themselves… and the first USF paycheck and student loans don’t kick in until late August.

Onward I go! Just keep swimming, just keep swimming… 🙂

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Tintagel First Impressions

Simulacra. That’s the first word that came to mind when I visited “King Arthur’s Great Halls” today in Tintagel. Exploitation is the second word. The legend of King Arthur’s conception and birth at Tintagel Castle has turned this small village into a veritable Camelot-everything-tourist-town. This is a quick run down of my first impressions of my second field site.

I was the first one to visit the Great Halls today so I took a few minutes to do an informal interview with the manager before he led me into the first room where a 10-minute “light show” introduces visitors to their version of the story of Arthur. The story is narrated by “Merlin” and various oil paintings are illuminated throughout the narration to illustrate the story. Cute, but also cheesy. The room smells damp. There is red and gold wallpaper, velvet curtains, a wooden ceiling, shields and flags adorning the walls, a fake Excalibur stuck in an anvil on a shelf and even some back lit cobwebs. The cobwebs might be the most authentic thing in that room… Ok. That sounds harsh. This place delivers exactly what it sets out to deliver.

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The initial hall where the paintings are illuminated one at a time to tell the story of Arthur.

After you sit through the light show you enter the next room which is the Halls of Chivalry, also available for wedding receptions. The hall is a fun space, lined with some legitimately pretty stained glass windows, but the laminated computer print outs posing as museum labels do take away from the atmosphere… as does the exposed 1990’s CD player which is the source of the melodic lute and harp music meant to bring you back to days of knights and chivalry. Obviously I have a lot of opinions about this particular establishment, but I also appreciate that they are completely honest and open about their (shameless) exploitation of Arthur.

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The Great Halls are located at the top of the street, near the Tintagel Visitor Center. All along the street as you walk down toward the English Heritage ticket office for Tintagel Castle itself are shops and cafes dedicated purely to tourism and often specifically, King Arthur. You can eat at King Arthur’s Cafe, or Guinevere’s Restaurant. There is a tourist candy and fudge shop and several car parks that fill up as the morning progresses. The English Heritage office sits at the top of the hill that leads down to the headland where the castle ruins sit. The walk down the hill is steep and takes about ten minutes and then you arrive at a complex of English Heritage buildings including a cafe, toilets, membership/ticket office and a gift shop/museum.

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The “museum” is a recent addition and supposedly enhanced the interpretation of the site. Personally, based on the journal articles I read about it, I expected it to be a larger exhibition. It’s roughly four panels, two object cases and a fancy 3D model of the castle grounds that is lit up with different projections to show the evolution of the site over time. I find it to be a deliberately vague exhibition. It says the site is connected with legend and history and asks “But what really happened here?” without every explicitly answering that question. It alludes to a Dark Age settlement and Victorian tourism but never says yes or no in regards to the Arthurian connection.

 

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The outdoor interpretation is also fairly new and does a pretty job of explaining the ruins since there really isn’t that much to see at Tintagel. Nothing remotely resembling a castle is still standing.

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Overall, I think the appeal of Tintagel is as much the landscape surrounding the ruins (I mean, that blue water is stunning!) and the possibility of it actually being linked with Arthur. Last year a statue called Gallos was added to the top level of the site and is supposed to represent an unnamed Dark Age leader. It is purposely unnamed but the media and visitors continue to refer to it as a King Arthur statue. And now everyone wants their photo with it!

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The site requires a certain level of fitness. There are stairs, stairs and more stairs! I find myself winded quite often and have noted several visitors commenting on it. It’s usually pretty amusing actually as I make eye contact with a complete stranger and we exchange a knowing smile before we continue huffing and puffing up the steps.

Down on the beach visitors can go inside Merlin’s Cave at low tide. Like Gallos, a local artist recently carved Merlin’s face into the stone outside the cave. If you only read media coverage about it, you might think it was huge! The uproar certainly made me expect something large. It’s not. And personally, I think the uproar is silly. Yes, in some ways this is a form of vandalism, but it could be worse! Someone clearly thought it was terrible though, since his nose has since been smashed off his face.

So, overall, my first impression of Tintagel is that when it comes to “authenticity” there is an entirely different sort at work here than in Glastonbury. Scholars working in heritage or tourism studies will be familiar with David Harvey’s writing on different forms of authenticity and this has been on my mind since I first arrived. I am interested to see what people say in the interviews I hope to complete while I’m here. I already have one scheduled for Thursday and hopefully another for Friday. I’m heading down to Truro and the Royal Cornwall Museum on Tuesday to explore some of their collections and archives. They are the main stewards of the results of any archaeological dig that has taken place at Tintagel. I’m very interested to see how they feel about all the Camelot business! 🙂

Fun Fact: The village itself was not always known as Tintagel. That name once refereed only to the castle, originally Dintagel, (meaning roughly the “fort on the constriction” or headland). Eventually the village, formerly Trevena, adopted the name as tourism grew.

Entering the Field…Again…

Well, after a whirlwind month of being home and doing family-related things, I am back in England for the second half of my fieldwork. It was wonderful going home and being able to participate in family events (my little sister graduated high school in the top ten of her class!), but I should have anticipated that I would have to go through the emotional roller-coaster of entering the field a second time. I honestly don’t know how some of my colleagues cope with going to more “foreign” places, where there are significant cultural and linguistic differences. Knowing what I’ve learned about myself these last three months I am pretty sure I could never do it. I bow down to you more adventurous and daring anthropologists!

That said, even though I’m in England with very few cultural and linguistic barriers, my sites are quite rural and the isolation has been the hardest thing for me to tackle. I have a rental car this time around, which gives me more mobility than I had in Glastonbury/Wells where I was restricted to the bus routes… but Tintagel is far, far, far more rural and isolated than Glastonbury. My budget would have preferred a bus option, but there just wasn’t one. I faced a similar dilemma with my housing. Tintagel, all of Cornwall really, is primarily a tourist destination so all the prices are inflated. My cottage is great but pricey. So in addition to getting settled in a new place, I’m finding myself even more aware of my financial situation than during the first half of fieldwork.

After two weeks at home and then two weeks traveling the UK with my mom, my sister and my husband (see blog posts to come on wanderlustundheimweh.wordpress.com) the loneliness hit me hard this morning when I was eating breakfast by myself. I was too focused on the logistics of getting to Cornwall when I dropped them off at the airport yesterday and then drove the four hours to Tintagel that the reality didn’t really hit me until today. I was sitting on the cliff-side at Tintagel this morning watching people interact with the new controversial Gallos statue and was overcome with heaviness watching families and couples having fun exploring the site together. So I came home, took a nap and then after a family pep talk via WhatsApp (thank you technology) made a cup of tea and got to work on the computer. Luckily, Michael is coming for a week-long visit in just 12 days and this cottage won’t be so empty. 🙂

My time here is limited. I only have three weeks to collect as much data as I can. So I need to get it together and get to work.  I do realize how privileged and fortunate I am to being doing this research which gives me the extra kick in the arse I need to overcome my emotional tendencies. So here we go. 21 days of fieldwork. Ready, set, go!

Here is my Instagram post from last week when I visited Tintagel for the first time with my family:

Learn more about Tintagel from the English Heritage website here: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/tintagel-castle/

Reflection on Round One of Fieldwork

I have been back State-side for a few weeks now. It took a bit of time to readjust, mostly to the climate, which has switched to full Florida summer-mode in my absence. I’ve been fairly busy since arriving back in Florida. My return journey was long but fairly uneventful. I took the overnight train from Exeter to London Gatwick and then after a few hours of waiting at the airport, flew direct from London to Orlando. Unfortunately, despite an early check-in and no connecting flights, my suitcase didn’t make it. Fortunately, I was “home” so I could do without those particular clothes for a few days. I picked up a one-way rental car and drove home from Orlando to Tampa.

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Goodbye, England!

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The Union Jack sure looks good against that blue sky!

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Hello Florida Coastline! Flew in right over Cocoa Beach. 🙂

To be perfectly honest, I haven’t been as productive as I would have liked to be since arriving back home in Tampa. Life has gotten in the way a bit, but I am really happy I was able to go to Mike’s Spring Concert and the end of the year Band Banquet. (If you’re new to this blog, Mike is a high school band director.) That said, I’ve been slowly preparing myself for round two of my research in Tintagel. I’ve been able to reflect back on what worked and what didn’t work in Glastonbury. The main difference between the research as it was outlined in my dissertation proposal and what was actually executed in Glastonbury is the absence of a completed visitor survey.

Originally, I wanted to survey visitors about their motivations for visiting various places in Glastonbury. This became difficult to operationalize when the director at Glastonbury Abbey asked me not to approach people on property. However, I was able to get a lot of observational fieldnotes, 17 semi-structured interviews varying in length from 30 minutes to 90 minutes, and a huge set of photographs that I now need to sort through. The result of the missing survey is mostly that my focus has now shifted from visitor consumption to heritage production, which may not be an entirely bad thing.

At the end of this week I’m heading up to Kentucky for my sister’s high school graduation and then I head back over to England, but with mom, sister and husband in tow. They’ll be hanging out with me for a bit before I hit the ground running in Tintagel.

Last week I found out that I will be teaching ANT4401 (Exploring Cross-Cultural Diversity) again in the Fall at USF, which is a huge relief since that comes with a tuition waiver and health insurance. Once a student earns Phd Candidate status (which I got in February) they must be “continuously enrolled” until graduation, which includes summer terms. That means I had to register for a minimum of 2 credit hours in the summer – an added expense of $900 I was not anticipating. And since I’m not able to teach this summer, I have no form of tuition waiver to pay for it. Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal, but I am stretched so thin this summer I was upset about it for a few days. Financial stress is, in my opinion, the worst kind of stress. But, we’ll make it through… we always do. In the meantime, I will be prepping for round two and gearing up to spend some much needed time with family!

My sister has never been to the UK and my mom hasn’t been since she was in her teens, so I’m excited to finally show them around one of my favorite places on the planet. Updates about that adventure will be posted on my travel blog: https://wanderlustundheimweh.wordpress.com/

Uncharacteristically Bad Planning

I like to think of myself as a good planner. I’m an organized, detail-oriented person so things usually don’t get overlooked. However, when I planned out my research schedule for this project I clearly had an American semester system in mind and not a UK one.
This was my original plan:

Phase I
March 11 – April 15 Fieldwork in Glastonbury
April 15 – May 16 University of Exeter
May 17 Day in London
May 18 Fly home

(The few weeks between Phase I and Phase II includes time home in FL, time in KY for sister’s graduation and a family vacation.)

Phase II
June 14 – July 4 Fieldwork in Tintagel
July 5 – 8 Family Wedding in NYC
July 9 – July 29 University of Exeter
July 30 Day in London
July 31 Fly home

Now, at first glance, this schedule seemed simple and balanced. Three to four weeks of fieldwork followed by the same amount of time at the University of Exeter where I’m currently a visiting research student. Trouble is, I somehow failed to look at their academic calendar. Of the 9 total weeks I planned to stay in Exeter, only 2 of them are during active semester periods. The other 7 weeks are holidays between semesters. ARGHHHHH!!

Now, this wouldn’t be a problem if I had any other reason for being in Exeter, but I don’t! I had allotted this time to take advantage of what the university had to offer and to begin transcribing, coding, analyzing, etc. Well, the transcribing/coding I can do from basically anywhere, so really the reason I’m here is to participate in the university community as a visiting student. That’s going to be awfully hard if there’s nothing going on. I’m so frustrated with myself right now.

My initially thought was, ok, cancel the Exeter AirBnB and go back to Glastonbury to do more fieldwork. My second thought was, that’s a waste of the money I won’t get back from the Exeter AirBnB, and would cost a lot extra to find a place to stay in Glastonbury again on such short notice. And my third thought was that I have actually collected enough to work with, so maybe I should just go home? It’s $300 to change my return flight.

I’m really confused right now. I have four weeks ahead of me right now and I have no idea what to do with them. This is so unlike me. I’m a list-maker… a calendar user… I don’t do things like this. That, combined with being in a new place, and some homesickness, has me feeling really down right now…  Waiting to hear back from both my advisor here at Exeter and my advisor at USF. We’ll see what they think. For now, I’m going to force myself to go outside because I’m hungry and need to find food.

Digging below the surface of Glastonbury’s happy, hippie facade…

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. IMG_1440Alas, 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.

IMG_1051Today’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.

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Nearly everyone you see here is a part of the large group I described. In the middle is the marker for Arthur’s Tomb, completely inaccessible to other visitors who don’t feel comfortable walking through their group.

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.

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Another view of the group around the Arthur marker. You can see they’ve literally claimed the space, putting their things down and crowding the area.

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A woman places her hands and at one point her forehead, on the side wall of the Lady Chapel.

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. 🙂

Reflection on Week Two and Thoughts on Homesickness

Last week was my second full week of fieldwork. For the most part, it was productive and successful. I conducted two in-depth interviews and collected more observational notes at various sites around Glastonbury. Last Tuesday I went down to the … Continue reading