Wednesday, August 17, 2005

St. Paul’s

The most important reason for our trip was our 6 day stint as choir-in-residence for St. Paul’s Cathedral's Evensong services. They take place daily at 5:00 (except, I think, for Sundays). The service lasts about 45 minutes and follows a prescribed pattern. Following the organ prelude, we processed in by twos, arms length apart (smartly, please!), hands clasped in front, and into the choir stalls, turning to face east and the high altar. After reverencing the altar, we turned to back to immediately begin the Preces. Following the Preces was the first (scripture) lesson, and then we sang the Psalm for the day. The second lesson was followed by the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis for the day. Then came the Prayers and Responses, after which we sang the anthem for the day, and last came the day’s hymn. This is all from memory, but I think it’s right! We would reverence the altar before leaving, then recess in the same style as the procession. The clergy would always speak to us afterward and wish us a good evening. It became comfortable after a couple of days, but I never lost the feeling of vague unreality, as in “I can’t believe I’m singing in St. Paul’s cathedral!” The reverberation in that space was wonderful, although not as long as Ely, but we got to experience it for a whole week, and it never lost its delightfulness. It was sad to sing our last Evensong, although we were excited about continuing our trip, and I will never, ever forget the truly once-in-a-lifetime experience it was to sing in such an awe-inspiring space. And yet, my ministry every week at home, in good old Third Presbyterian Church, carries no less importance or meaning to God.

We toured the building on a gray, misty day, and my photos are not terribly good. We were also not allowed to take photographs in the cathedral, so I have none of the place where I sat every day to sing. But I took the intrepid climbers tour, and braved the 530 steps all the to the top, which is about the same height as the London Eye (keep reading for that!), although much more tiring! They wisely have an up and, separate, down route, as some passages were shoulder-rubbingly narrow, and one bit that was narrow, long and dark, incited claustrophobia in those who don’t normally have such issues (it made me a bit nervous!). There were spiral staircases and ladders, as well. The view from the top was amazing, and open air. I later tried to see people at the top from the ground, and couldn’t really make anyone out! We had a fascinating guide, Tom, I believe, and saw the room that holds the scale model of the current cathedral. The original was Norman, like Ely. Most of the windows have changed over the years, too, thanks to Hitler’s bombs and such. I think the ceilings were most incredible feature, and impossible to photograph, had we been allowed. You’ll just have to go there and see for yourself. We were gawking so much when we entered for rehearsal on the first day, it was mentioned to Peter so that he would make sure we didn’t do it during the service. But although we are an amateur choir, I know we would have behaved perfectly decorously without the warning!

Major cheating to create this photo, but the images and fiddling are 100% mine. You couldn't back up far enough to get it into one photo without getting run over by a double-decker or a taxi, anyway...

Crypt rehearsal UP

Here is part of our rehearsal space, in the crypt. Sounds creepy, but the crypt was actually very open, light, and inviting.

SP Spiral stair UP

One of the spiral staircases we had to navigate for the tour to the top.

SP upwards UP

Taken by leaning over backwards over the railing, looking up at the highest part of the cathedral.

from St.Paul's UP

Photo taken leaning forwards over the railing, looking out from the highest level we could access. See the Eye in the mist?

SP ceiling section enh UP

One section of the ceiling from behind the scenes, but the part on the left is the cathedral proper. This part of the ceiling was open to both areas. I hope that made sense...

St. Paul's lighter UP

This was the best I could do of the interior, from the very front, above the entrance doors.

St. Paul towers UP

Taken on our Monday evening walkabout, probably from the Millenium Bridge, when the sun lit up the gilt "finials", and a gull obligingly flew by...

Here is where we stood to sing every day, in the Quire.

Kew Gardens/Water Taxi

Warning: If you are looking for lovely garden photos, you may be disappointed, as much of the Gardens was well past peak.

Having said that, they had installed an exhibit of glassworks by Dale Chihuly, the premier glassblowing artist in the US. To me, this was a stroke of genius, as it would draw visitors at a time when the flowers had long since deserted, and visitors usually become scarce. It doesn’t hurt that I am fascinated by glassblowing, and have it on my list of things to try when I retire. I have one showpiece glass vase created by Michael Nourot, a marvelous glassblower who studied with Chihuly when he first started out.

I was charmed and fascinated by Chihuly's works, although I did not necessarily care for all of them. My favorites were the golden/reddish pieces and the “macchia”, which were gorgeous freeform bowls. The years and amount of work that had to have gone into the creation of this exhibit is truly astounding. I hope you enjoy my photos of this lovely exhibit and the surrounding gardens.

Chihuly Palm House Pond UP

The main pond with "walla wallas", the floating merengue-like pieces, and the boat in the background. That was inspired by a glassblower in Norway who tossed small pieces in a river and children on skiffs collected them.

Chihuly Persian Chandelier UP

This is a chandelier, made up of "persians", wavy-edged plate/bowl forms.

Chihuly mylars UP

This looked for the world like a cluster of mylar balloons, even in person!

Cannas UP

Okay, here's a flower from a beautiful bed. Lovely colored canna lily.

Japanese house UP

This is a small building in the lovely Japanese garden. It had a beautiful raked stone garden in front of it with "waterfalls" and bridges.

Chihuly Macchia UP

One of my favorites, the "macchia", in the Temperate House.

Chihuly Macchia close UP

I could have spent all day getting different angles and views...

Chihuly macchia favorite UP

My favorite piece of all. I was sorely tempted to stuff this one on my backpack...

Chihuly stream persians UP

This installation had it all: sight, aound and life. At the top is a koi pond with really big koi - about 2 feet long each! It gently gurgled as the water cascaded towards you...

Chihuly Sun UP

This is "Sun", the largest and most elaborate installation, made up of hundreds and hundreds of individual pieces. Stunning.

Chihuly sun close UP

Just one very small section of the sun, yet look how much there is in it!

On to the water taxi ride back to Westmister. The day was gorgeous and we enjoyed the hour long saunter down the Thames. This afforded the best views of all the usual photo spots that are on the river. I was sorry it didn't go further!

Thames church UP

This lovely little church, right on the river, is apparently very popular for weddings.

hanging boat UP

The Thames, being a tidal river, offers some interesting views at low tide. This was my favorite.

Roof beauty fixed UP

Sorry, but I don't remember whose roof this is! I think it's on the Houses of Parliament, but not sure.

Parliament UP

Houses of Parliament

Big Ben UP

St. Stephen's tower clockface.

London Eye UP

The London Eye (best view, bar none!)

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Night Tour

One of my fellow singers wanted to see a show (there was practically every show known to man, somewhere!), and I was the only person who hadn't seen what she wanted to see (Mama Mia) and was willing to try to get tickets. So we took off to Leicester Square right after Evensong, searching for the official "official half price ticket" sellers. Still not sure if we found them, but we found one, anyway. The tickets to Mama Mia were 60 pounds or so, well over $100, and I just couldn't spring for that much. We looked into what other shows were available, and they had 2 I was willing to see for 30 pounds, "Sound of Music" and "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang". Everything being equal, I would have chosen "Sound of Music", but those tickets were for seats that weren't very good, and I preferred to have better seats. So we bought the tickets, took off walking to the theatre, which ended up a bit farther than my companion wanted to walk, but we made it, grabbed some street-vendor chinese food, ate standing up, and went in. We had seats next to a woman with her 2 grandchildren and struck up a conversation. Turned out she'd been to the Rochester area, staying in a hotel there before visiting Niagara Falls, and had a very positive experience. I shared that we were seeing just the one show, and were a little nervous about getting back to the hotel late at night. She assured us we'd be safe in London. I asked how she'd come, and she said in her car. I jokingly asked if she'd give us a ride home, and she said "Absolutely!" When I said I was joking, she insisted that she wasn't, and she'd love to give us a night tour to see things lit up. The show was marvelous, great fun (and here I really missed my boys, knowing they would have loved the whole thing) and we left the theatre with them. She was parked right across the street from the theatre, and took us on a whirlwind tour including Buckingham Palace (not lit up), Harrod's, the Houses of Parliament and St. Stephen's tower and St. Paul's. She then dropped us off right at the front door of the hotel, with our grateful thanks. What a hoot!

Driver UP

This is Allyson, our tour guide/driver/friend.

Kids UP

These are her 2 grandchildren.

Harrod's Wonka window UP

Just one of Harrod's Willy Wonka promo windows.

Now here are 2 photos I am willing to bet no one else on the tour got:

Big Ben sharpened UP

St. Stephen's tower (with "Big Ben" inside) at night. Beautiful, isn't it?

Harrod's night UP

Harrod's at night. Wow!

The London Zoo

We got a beautiful day for this outing, as we did for Kew Gardens and the boat ride. As usual, we did not have enough time to see everything, but what we did see was interesting, with most of the exhibits animal-friendly, but set up for good viewing. One exhibit impossible to photograph (but, of course, I did try!) was the Aye-aye, a fairly bizarre nocturnal creature with an elongated “finger” for picking insects out of logs. They had a blacked-out walk-through mimicking nighttime, and after about 5 minutes your eyes could adjust enough to see. I may have been able to get something using flash, but somehow that just seemed cruel, if not forbidden. We did see an Aye-aye moving about, and a few other nocturnal creatures in another enclosure. In other areas we saw a cerval with two kits, a very lazy male lion and two females, sleeping tigers, and some very entertaining meerkats, who used their dirt mound to post sentries, changing up every 10 minutes or so. They had 5 kits. The marine exhibits were also interesting, especially the seahorse tank and the coral tanks. Also seen: giraffes, black-capped monkeys in an open enclosure, Golden Lion Tamarins and a Komodo Dragon. I think two days would be the minimum to do the place justice. Maybe on another trip…

Eel and crabs UP

The marine tanks were fascinating and beautiful. This one has an eel, which would slide right back into the sandy bottom if nervous, and also some red hermit crabs.

seahorses UP

The seahorse tank was about 15 feet long, and they kept me entranced for quite a while.

This was my favorite coral, the bubble coral. I never saw any like it snorkeling in Maui. It also shows well the Banggai Cardinal fish from Indonesia.

Poppies UP

These poppies were sprinkled througout the zoo grounds.

giraffe eye UP

We were very close to this gentle giant. Such a kind eye!

Cerval mom UP

This is the cerval mom, taking a break from her 2 kits. We got along famously!

Lazy male UP

Hmmmmm, look who's sleeping. What a surpise, the male!

meerkats UP

The meerkats during a changing of the guard.

butterfly UP

This is one of my very favorite photos. Thanks to Katherine and Kat for their patience while I paused everywhere to take shots.

Black capped monkeys UP

These black-capped monkeys must not be aggressive as they could drop right down on you if they wished in this large enclosure.

red monkey UP

This is the beautiful Golden Lion Tamarin, from Brazil, and extremely endangered (96% of their habitat has been destroyed by logging).

Komodo UP

The infamous Komodo Dragon. One bite and you're history! Not poisonous, but the bacteria in its mouth is deadly.

Tired tiger UP

Typical cat, taking a nap. These tigers were gorgeous, even asleep.

I hope you enjoyed your little tour of the London Zoo. I would like to go back and see everything some day!

Monday, August 15, 2005

The British Museum

This was a very short, spur of the moment excursion on the last day in London, right before our last evensong. I wanted to see the Rosetta stone one last time, as it may be headed back to its home country, although not if the UK can help it!

We took a look at things we didn’t have to pay extra for, and spent most of our time in the David Milne exhibition. He was a Canadian-born watercolor artist, and spent some time in the UK and US as well. In fact, he had two paintings of Big Moose and Dart’s lakes, both of which are in the Adirondacks. Dart’s Lake is the lake YMCA Camp Gorham is on, where I worked as a horse wrangler/counselor one summer! Small world…. His paintings were very interesting to see as a chronological group. If you walked along one side of the exhibit and then hopped over to the other, you could easily think the pieces were painted by two different artists, so much had his style changed.

There was also a sculptural exhibit scattered inside and out of pieces created from war debris, mostly into plants and animals. The outdoor exhibit was a walk-through garden. It was quite effective and even lovely.

Interestingly, on our tour of St. Giles (in Scotland) we saw two painted white tree sculptures, similar to the indoor tree, in one corner of the cathedral.

SG Tree of Life UP

The text of the accompanying plaque is as follows:

The Tree of Life Project

A half-tonne sculpture made out of decommissioned weapons from Mozambique's civil war is currently being shown in the British Museum. The Tree of Life was jointly commissioned by the British Museum and Christian Aid to coincide with "Africa 2005", a major series of events in London.

Inspired by this, the City of Edinburgh Council, Children and Families Department, invited schools to create their own interpretation of the Tree of Life, as a way of looking at the G8 and Africa.

Caged Beastie, an Edinburgh-based arts agency, worked with groups of pupils from St' John's RC Primary and Craigmount High Schools using toy weapons to build these sculptures.

Executive Member for Children and Families says: "The Tree of Life is an extraordinary piece of work and I am thrilled that our schools have been involved in creating their own interpretation of this sculpture. Through their involvement with this project, our pupils have been engaged in stimulating discussions around many of the G8 issues including poverty, humanity and peace".

The trees will be returned to the schools at the beginning of the next term to support and enhance the curriculum around G8 issues.

BM lizard close UP

At the base of the tree, looks like a lizard to me.

BM ceiling UP

This ceiling went all the way around in a huge circle. Visually stunning.

BM women UP

Now on the outside, these are women -- look closely!

BM tree

The outdoor tree, a huge woven piece.

BM flowers close UP

I thought these flowers on a bush were lovely. Wish I could grow them, but I have no idea what they are!