Monday, January 23, 2012

Monday (Phillips Brooks)

OK! I lied ... that is, when I said I would never hand-insert HTML tags. The only reason there are paragraphs in yesterday's entry is because I did exactly that. It is a little cumbersome, to be sure. Here's one now.

This morning I packed, checked out, stowed my bags at the hotel, and hit the Tube system one last time. Sadly, I had to make a return visit to Watts, with what surely must be the most humble request ever made by a walk-in customer: a clergy collar tab insert. The one I brought with me, and which I indeed wore on my first day in London, was nowhere to be found when I packed. It cost me all of one pound.

With that work accomplished, I surveyed my options, and decided to keep walking west on Victoria Street, through a very busy retail district, until I spotted Westminster Cathedral (not the Abbey), the seat of Roman Catholicism in England. It's a Byzantine-style edifice from late Victorian times, fairly attractive, in my opinion. My inner musicologist-of-yore remembers it as the intended performance venue for the Mass in G Minor of Ralph Vaughan Williams, which I analyzed pretty near to death in my 1975 master's thesis. As it turned out, there was a Mass in progress when I walked in (alas, not to the setting by RVW). They were right at the beginning of the Great Thansgivingm and I stayed through the Our Father, so I got to hear some of the new translation of the liturgy that has raised a few eyebrows of late.

By that time, I had still not solidified my London exit strategy, as there were three different rail options from which to choose. So I scoped out the situation at Victoria Station, then at Charing Cross, and headed back to the Hilton Metropole thinking that I would try for the high speed service from St Pancras, though I wasn't sure whether my British Rail pass would be honored on that line. Oh ... while I was at Charing Cross, I grabbed a pasty--a traditional puffed pastry pocket sandwich, only mine with an Indian twist, filled with curried beef. Yum.

After retrieving my luggage from the Hilton, and as much as I adore riding the Tube, I made a practical decision, given the weight and size of my suitcase, to take a taxi to St Pancras. It was not easy to find someone to ask about the validity of my rail pass. The person at the information booth admitted to having no idea, and pointed me to a nearby ticket window. I waited in line, and then was told by the agent that, no, passes are not honored on high speed lines, but that her company had nothing to do with that service (trains in Britain were privatized during the Thatcher years, even though British Rail retains some coordinating functions ... apparently like selling passes to Americans on the Internet). She referred me "past the Starbucks and up the escalator." I couldn't spot the Starbucks, but I did spot another ticket sales area, and the agent there told me that my pass certainly would be honored ... and then pointed out the Starbucks. So I lugged my bag up the escalator and approached another agent who was guarding the gate leading to the train platforms. She confirmed the good news I had received most recently downstairs, and did so with consummate cheer and customer-friendliness. Maybe it's my charmingly exotic and disarming American accent. So I caught the 13:42 departure for Canterbury and points beyond. The trip took an hour, which I am told is about 30 minutes faster than the "regular" train does it.

A little while later, I was settling into my room at the Cathedral Conference Center. I have a spectacular view of the cathedral tower right through my window. At 4 o'clock (or 16:00--they seem a little schizoid about that here), the bishops involved in the program for which I am here began to gather in the designated room for tea. I already knew that the face of Anglicanism is no longer white and English-speaking, but now I've seen it firsthand. I haven't met everyone yet, but I have so far encountered colleagues from Ghana, Tanzania, South Sudan, Japan, Malawi, Guyana, Papua New Guinea, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, Brazil, Pakistan, Canada, and, of course, England. I am indeed the only American. I greatly look forward to my interaction with these people.

We adjourned to the cathedral for Choral Evensong,sung with beauty and precision by the cathedral's choir of men and boys. Then to the refectory for dinner, after which we were dismissed with no evening program, given that most if the attendees are only beginning to recover from jet lag.

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