August 15: Our “Easy Day” in London

By Friday, August 15 we were tired, to say the least. Partying past midnight after a work day ending with a recital: not for the faint of heart. We took our time in the morning, assembling a small group of friends to spend the morning at Victoria & Albert Museum, one of the best-loved free sights in London. We’d come to London with a long list of possible fun and had quickly trashed the list. We didn’t take a night-time bus tour, we didn’t try to get tickets to the ballet, we didn’t step foot inside any of the major landmarks. We were still holding out to get Proms tickets for Saturday night, but that was it. We even ended up scrapping our Friday night ambition, to hear a live jazz pianist in the Royal Albert Hall Italian Kitchen. We didn’t see London like most visitors see it, but by the time we left it we felt that we knew it on a very satisfying level. Still, it seemed a shame to come and go without a single “cultural experience,” so we hopped on a red double decker around 9:30 a.m. and crossed town with three companions.

The Victoria & Albert Museum was completely overwhelming, as anyone who’s been there will know. We flitted quickly from room to room on the first two floors, covering a lot of the exhibits of the Far East, Asia, and the Middle East. We saw some Renaissance sculpture and some Enlightenment-era sculpture and managed to venture far enough onto the third level to see a bit of Georgian England (including the Handel statue), a phenomenal room full of jewelry, and a massive exhibit of stonework, some dating from the Roman era. By then our feet were tired and our eyes had seen their fill and we abandoned the last two-thirds of the museum, heading north on foot to Kensington Gardens & Hyde Park. We wandered through it, stopping at a cafe by its lake for some light lunch or snacks, eager to rest our feet. I really enjoyed the Hyde Park gardens and told myself I’d find time to come back to them on Saturday morning during some downtime.

Like magic, the predictable afternoon rain started right as we were descending into the subway to cross toward Southwark. And thus ended our brief moment of tourism. At Southwark we grabbed some more lunch from Borough Market and set to work for the afternoon. It was Mike’s one day off, in which he was playing no part in the service besides that of a chorister. I had only to conduct the Smith Responses and the anthem, Gerald Near’s Salve Regina. It was nice to have the pressure off a little.

After Evensong we offered to anyone in the group our unwanted reservation at the Italian restaurant, and left alone, leaving behind our heavy bags full of work, hand in hand, looking for rest and quiet. We were exhausted and missing each other, after a week of endless company. We talked about the work behind us as we sat on the river’s edge – about our colleagues and ourselves and how we’d grown through the week, about the patient and good-humored choristers, about our own strengths and weaknesses and how we saw them developing, about our high points and low points throughout the week. It was a perfect chance to decompress and prepare for a good ending to the week. On our walk along the river, from Southwark to the London Eye, we saw all kinds of interesting things, most notably a collection of gangsta-looking boys, break dancing “gangnam style,” ringed by a large, delighted audience. This, too, art in its own way, and a pleasure to watch. After taking the tube back north, we stopped in at the tiny Tesco Express near our dorms and assembled yet another bread-and-cheese-and-wine picnic, which we enjoyed in our room.

One funny aspect of this week bears remembering: One morning I plugged my hair dryer into our power adapter. Most days I’d just styled my hair wet and gone about the day. When I plugged it in the whole thing sparked and shut down. Not knowing whether I’d damaged the appliance, the adapter, or both, we didn’t attempt to use either again. Later we borrowed a friend’s adapter and systematically charged our various devices in our green room at Southwark as we worked. Eventually we figured out that our adapter (in fact, even my hair dryer) were still working, but we’d blown the fuse in our room. From then on we settled for using the power in the kitchen down the hall whenever we wanted to Skype the kids from our computer. The computer’s battery was too weak to handle Skype predictably without crashing, so it made things quite complicated for the remainder of the week.

Friday 15 August, 9:45 p.m.

This morning we took a bus to Victoria and Albert Museum with BS, DH, and SM. Lunch in Kensington Gardens/Hyde Park and down to work. After Evensong we had a lovely, quiet, beautiful time strolling and sitting by the Thames, getting from Southwark to the Eye of London as sunset and night fell. Now we’re eating dinner of bread and cheese and wine after a hello to the kids. We miss them so much. Tonight was a perfect, satisfying sampling of London all alone at just our pace.

The famous Harrod's department store, which we passed on our bus ride to the museum.

The famous Harrod’s department store, which we passed on our bus ride to the museum.

I was particularly drawn to the colors and geometry in the Middle Eastern art, ceramics, and textiles.

I was particularly drawn to the colors and geometry in the Middle Eastern art, ceramics, and textiles.

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We also saw a few interesting History of Fashion displays

We also saw a few interesting History of Fashion displays

G.F. Handel

G.F. Handel

Look at the size of that pillar in the background.

Look at the size of that pillar in the background.

Perspective on that huge pillar. Took this photo from the balcony above. Look at the relative height of the man standing beside it!

Perspective on that huge pillar. Took this photo from the balcony above. Look at the relative height of the man standing beside it!

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Random rehearsal photo; I liked the beam of light hitting my page and the contrasting dim space

Random rehearsal photo; I liked the beam of light hitting my page and the contrasting dim space

Chilling by the Thames at the end of the day.

Chilling by the Thames at the end of the day.

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August 14: The Day We Played a Recital in G. F. Handel’s Church

Thursday 14 August, 2:30 p.m., The Vestry, Southwark

Preparing Psalm 40 for tonight’s Evensong, and hearing the rain pound on the skylight. The sound makes the simple place of being indoors feel like a luxury – a haven. So glad to be here to worship this week, and for churches – true sanctuaries to shut out the bustle of the likes of London.

Friday 15 August, 9:45 p.m.

Last night we gave a recital – such fun! – and then enjoyed an uproarious good time with friends at a pub before taking the metro home via McDonald’s for a midnight snack – the damned pub kitchens close so early we night owls keep missing dinner!

Thursday morning at Ashley Hotel we slept in and took our sweet time preparing for the day. This was not the day to throw any old outfit on and cut corners. From our return train we’d head straight for a warm-up at St. George’s and from there to our afternoon’s work at Southwark, doubling back to put on our recitalist hats. No zen moments to collect ourselves, nap, or primp. We were dressed with bells on by the time we put in our appearance in the hotel’s breakfast room. There we enjoyed a no-less-abundant English breakfast than usual, though this one was closer to the cafeteria fare we’d met in London than the fine cuisine of our weekend road trip. Even the decor of Ashley Hotel was reminiscent of Grandmas Everywhere, and the clientele clearly matched. The food seemed to fit the generation: A little too canned and processed, in general. But the company was good and lively, and my staunchly liturgically minimalist sister and brother-in-law even managed to push my ecclesiological buttons before we rose from the table, going on a rant about certain points of Roman Catholicism that I couldn’t find anything but funny since it clearly came from an ignorance of the fact that they were not in sympathetic company. (And thus it ever was.) Slowly I am learning not to take these sorts of moments personally, and this one was just entertaining for me as I listened quietly and kept my opinions to myself. (Love you, Kilby.)

Our London-bound train left at 10:04, and we got there with plenty of time. While Mike went to the automated kiosks to look up our tickets I hedged our bets by standing in the long line at the ticket counter. By a stroke of luck the machine spat out not two but six tickets, including the ones we should’ve had the day before. So we boarded our train and got down to business, studying our scores both for services and for the recital. It’s not every day I ride a British train like a professional, dressed to the nines and studying Bach like a pro. (I kinda like it.)

We had a few minutes to kill between arriving in London and beginning our scheduled practice at St. George’s, so we followed our map to find the alleged Handel House Museum nearby. We never could find the museum, but in the place where we expected it we found a giant wall mosaic celebrating him. From there it was a couple minutes’ stroll to the church, through the quaintest (wealthiest) back alleys you could imagine. Stereotypical upper-class urban London?

Mike took the first shift of our practice time and then I got on the bench for the last 45 minutes. Within 15 minutes I heard our professor, the one managing the recital, call my name from below. At her side was our colleague with the passport trouble, fresh off the plane from the States after three days of limbo. No arguments here! I hopped off the bench, barely warmed up, and trusted my performance to the powers of passion and adrenaline. There were still long passages I hadn’t touched in three weeks. But David had arrived, and that was all that mattered. We were all insanely pleased to see him, and even more than new of his misfortune had dampened our collective spirits for the first two days, our delight at his arrival put an extra energy into the rest of our week.

To Southwark, then, where there was a lot of work to do. Mike was on the bench for the closing hymn and closing voluntary, playing Bach’s Wir Glauben All. I was up to conduct the Martin Neary Preces and the never-ending Psalm 40. Conducting that Psalm was also one of the pinnacle moments of our trip for me, and our professor’s instructions from months prior – “Let them sink into prayer” – became my goal and my experience. What a profound moment! If you’re not familiar with the business of chanted Psalmody within the Anglican tradition, it will help to explain that, while quite simplistic in form, its preparation is considered the choir’s hardest work in traditions where it is practiced. To execute it well takes enormous preparation and synergy, and the result is awe-inspiring and amazingly simple in its effect. The text – and the act of prayer – shines through.

On our way to Southwark that very busy day we’d stopped at Pret a Manger to pick up lunch, a chain we’d learned to trust since our arrival in London. These shops are everywhere, affording busy professionals a quick coffee and a satisfying selection of prepared meals. It’s the kind of fare you’d expect to find at the Starbucks counter, conveniently packaged, but for half the price and with five times the selection. Sandwiches on baguettes or thick hearty sliced bread, salads, sushi rolls if that’s your fancy. It’s all there, and the ingredients aren’t plain, including things like goat cheese or cilantro or prosciutto. Europeans know how to eat. What we loved about Pret a Manger and its cousins was that they were everywhere, cheap, and stocked with genuinely fresh food. In fact, highly branded fast food chains were almost nowhere to be found. I could begin on the national policies, cultures, and practices at the back of this phenomenon, but I’ll save it.

To Pret a Manger we returned, depending on it as a sure instant food source, no maps or detours required. Our schedule was tight but the most important thing on our agenda was to feed David, who hadn’t eaten since his airplane. Friends don’t let friends play recitalists on an empty stomach. David fed (and raspberries dripped on his white dress shirt – the universe was picking on this guy!), we walked the rest of the way to St. George’s, as fast as our dress shoes would take us. There were seven of us on the recital – the five primary student-leaders of the Southwark group and two alums. We had about 40 minutes of warm-up to share amongst us, so we were all in high gear. It was a long recital, but packed with good music and everyone performed very well despite how rushed the hours leading up to it were. Is this the sign of a professional? Still able to execute your craft without time to get your head in the game?

Anyway, for me it was a complete mountaintop experience, I think because where some (including Mike) excel by cold, hard, calculated preparation, I tend to be more of a loose cannon, less disciplined, and passionate a million times over. Of the the three practice sessions I’d had two had been shaved to almost nothing, so all I really had to go on was that passion and it served me well. I think it was also my age and life experience: after studying, training, honing through school I’d gotten out of the game and had two kids, learning in the process to Just Do It. When things aren’t ideal you are still Mom, which means you are still the one Making It Happen and, in your kids eyes, Running the Universe. I think it’s made me confident, and I don’t second-guess myself anymore. I just get in and get it done. That’s how that recital felt, and combined with the Just Get It Done practicing of the spring and early summer months, I found myself completely in command of the moment. There were no nerves, and just enough adrenaline to misplace a few handfuls of notes now and then. Even in those slips, I felt complete control and mental engagement. I have never in my life had so much fun on the bench. It was a personal triumph for me like I’ve really never felt before. Music and I have had a stormy relationship. It was my whole life up until I became a mom and then barely a part of my life at all. We didn’t end well, either, and I’ve often assumed that the height of my career would forever be my junior recital, a skill level and passion never again to be matched. Quite the contrary, it seems the simple business of life has been working on my deepest self – musician to the core, unchangeably – and, finally getting to apply myself to my old trade, I was surprised to find myself better at it, and feeling better about it, than ever before. Now it’s September and I haven’t played a note since my second performance of that piece for closing voluntary of our Sunday morning service, and I don’t expect to again for a long time. I’m “just a mom” again by choice, but now there’s this knowledge that the musician in me is dormant but in no way lessened or lapsed, and that is a treasure I will never begin to describe. For me, this alone is worth this whole trip.

Summary: I played the hell out of that Bach, his E Major Toccata, BWV 566. I made it mine. So I was pretty euphoric as we left the church and walked across the street to a pub, where the whole gang of us had a wildly good time till late into the night. Finally, tired, adequately tipsy, and having resigned ourselves to going to bed on a dinner of only potato chips (the pub’s kitchen having been closed), we set out with a few friends for the journey back to University College London. Emerging from Russell Square Station we spotted one of those rare fast food locations, a flashy, ultra-modern looking McDonalds. It was not a hard decision, stopping in for some midnight grease to fill our hungry, happy bellies, and so there we were, eating McDonalds in Europe. Apparently it happens.

Back at the dorm, the day wasn’t over yet. Once in our sixth-floor room we remembered that small matter of our passports, which had been due to arrive while we were in Cambridge. Back down the elevator I went, to find our newly-arrived colleague now trying to check in at the reception desk without success. It was after midnight and the receptionist, speaking less than satisfactory English in a heavy Haitian accent, was in a serious mood, and pushing people around – not just my befuddled and irritated and over-tired friends, who were beginning to panic at the prospect of no welcome for David at this late hour, but some local student who was badgering him endlessly in Mandarin for a reimbursement of the 1 pound the vending machine had not returned to him. Of course the receptionist wasn’t going to handle that request out of his own pocket, and eventually he barked at our Asian friend to speak to the belligerent student. Slightly insulted, she obliged anyway and it seemed to help. This was the point at which I came down the elevator. The whole thing, though frustrating, was rather hilarious, and the night watchman and I had an amusing rapport from then on. I was happy to find, after we’d convinced him to let David stay the night by my last-ditch suggestion that he was “with the Indiana University group,” that, indeed, our passports had arrived safe and sound. From then on whenever this receptionist saw me he asked in mock irritation what I could possibly want this time.

This was the most ridiculous of the days of our trip, beginning in Cambridge, including a full day of work in London, ending with a once-in-a-lifetime recital performance in the spot where Handel sat to play three centuries ago. You are not supposed to accomplish this much in one day, but we did and we even managed to squeeze in a McBurger at the end. This one goes on the books for us in the “Did that really happen?” chapter.

On the train to London

On the train to London

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The site of Handel's home

The site of Handel’s home

The exterior of St. George's, Hanover

The exterior of St. George’s, Hanover

St. George's is just your average active parish, no different from any other church around. It's amazing, the juxtaposition of such monumental history with the ordinariness of a place still active in the mundane day-to-day world. Welcome to Europe.

St. George’s is just your average active parish, no different from any other church around. It’s amazing, the juxtaposition of such monumental history with the ordinariness of a place still active in the mundane day-to-day world. Welcome to Europe.

Our Europe journal can't be complete without this photo of the inside of the little closet space where the organ console is housed at Southwark. We were tag-teaming on the bench at a particularly tedious moment in rehearsal. With the recital on our minds, neither of us had much interest in rehearsing. Mike came up to the organ where I'd been accompanying and pointed to this photo (certainly of some past musician at Southwark): "This is how I feel about this rehearsal," he said. Instead of laughing out loud we took a picture so we could laugh again and again later. I think I may frame it for our home office, a tribute to Music Rehearsals Everywhere. It's not all fun and games.

Our Europe journal can’t be complete without this photo of the inside of the little closet space where the organ console is housed at Southwark. We were tag-teaming on the bench at a particularly tedious moment in rehearsal. With the recital on our minds, neither of us had much interest in rehearsing. Mike came up to the organ where I’d been accompanying and pointed to this photo (certainly of some past musician at Southwark): “This is how I feel about this rehearsal,” he said. Instead of laughing out loud we took a picture so we could laugh again and again later. I think I may frame it for our home office, a tribute to Music Rehearsals Everywhere. It’s not all fun and games.

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Mike played a piece he'd learned near the beginning of his master's program, Buxtehude's Toccata in F, BuxWV 156.

Mike played a piece he’d learned near the beginning of his master’s program, Buxtehude’s Toccata in F, BuxWV 156.

The recitalists with three of the five Indiana University organ faculty

The recitalists with three of the five Indiana University organ faculty

Post-recital drinks

Post-recital drinks

McMidnight Snack

McMidnight Snack

August 13: Double Date in Cambridge

Wednesday 13 August, 11:10 a.m., Cambridge Bus Stop

Something so satisfying about a cold coke (with real sugar) and a slow stroll off the train after the chaos and bustle of two days in London and failed train ticket reservations this morning. Simple pleasures.

6:00 p.m.

Snarfed breakfast with friends before setting out, missed our train in the most dramatic way possible, and finally arrived in Cambridge 41 pounds poorer at 11:00 a.m. We ate a good pub lunch after reserving a punt tour, then Milano hot chocolate and a visit to King’s College. The tourism that’s overtaken it was a little disturbing and my patience with rich Asian teenagers snapping photos on their iPhones of every plaque and exhibit wore very thin. Kilby entertained us with her undying flare for the sacrilegious. Punting the Cam was a blast. Idyllic. Weather was delicious and getting a backdoor view into all the colleges was memorable. I would do it again – 25 pounds and all – in a heartbeat. Cambridge is a lovely town and we’re staying at the elegant, spacious Ashley Hotel. We’ll venture out for dinner shortly and enjoy the evening with Paul and Kilby. This day is the perfect foil to the week’s work and I feel so thankful.

Our week of work in London included one night off from singing Evensong: Wednesday. If we’d known how busy the week would’ve kept us we might’ve stayed in London to finally “see” it, but it’s a good thing we didn’t. Getting out of its bustle was just what we needed. Having settled into the leisure pace of our first week, we were ready to be “just us” again, and to walk some slightly-less-crowded streets. So we abandoned London, heading for Liverpool Street Station. We built in “plenty” of extra time but arrived to find our credit card did not pull up our train reservation. We dashed for the ticket office and they, too, could not locate it by any means. Very well, Eurail owed us big time, then.

We missed our train but decided to just jump at the chance to get on the next one instead of trying to use public WIFI and a spotty computer battery to contact the company that, in the United States, was still fast asleep anyway. So we paid cash for tickets that we’d already had, only these, bought the day of travel, were more than twice the cost. With only a couple minutes to complete this process, Mike stood in line at the ticket desk and I stood at the turn-stile entrance to the train platform with our bags. We were ready to jump. I craned my neck and strained my eyes, trying to spot him coming toward me in the crowd. I muttered and stressed and stood on tip-toes. Then the train departed. Now more than upset (upset happened when our first reservation was MIA) I returned to the ticket desk, sure I’d find him. He wasn’t there. We attempted to call each other on our emergency phones. Mine seemed to be out of minutes. Now I was upset – and worried. Then I saw him, running toward me, looking dumbfounded and a little pissed. “Where WERE you!?!?!?” He asked. “Where were YOU!!!!” I yelled. “I was standing there watching the train leave!” We yelled at the same time. Sure enough, we’d been standing, on opposite sides of the train, waiting for each other. The tickets were in his hand. We sorted ourselves out and calmed ourselves down and sat for the next train. They were at about half-hour intervals. In the meantime we also returned to the ticket counter and obtained a receipt for our hastily-bought tickets, intending to sort it out with the company that sold them to us initially. We still need to sort that out in the next week, but we are hoping we will be 41 pounds richer at the end of the drama.

So we were finally on a train to Cambridge and gradually growing less out of sorts. We stopped at every tiny village station and the ride took almost 1h45 instead of the original fare’s 1h10. But it was a pretty trip, and we both caught up on a little sleep, too. Arriving in Cambridge, our pace and our pulse began to slow. We boarded a big red double decker bus bound for City Center and the driver let us off with instructions on how to find our destination. At the door of our hotel we met Paul & Kilby, my sister and English brother-in-law, themselves just arrived after checking in at the nearby sister hotel. We left our bags and set out to check us in and see the town.

It was a perfect day, then. Slow, peaceful, so very calm. Indulgent. Fun. We enjoyed a hearty pub lunch on an outdoor patio – a delightful setting on a beautiful 70-degree day. From there we passed the intriguing market on our way to Kilby’s guilty pleasure of the moment: Cafe Nero, where she was bound for coffee. She bought us one of her favorite indulgences, a Milano hot chocolate, which is basically thick chocolate soup. After that we made our way to King’s College, a decision Paul had finally settled for us: we’re only here once and we need to do it right. So we paid the rather high entry into the college and wandered the chapel and grounds for awhile, stopping to watch some tourists punting the Cam quite unsuccessfully. There was a lot of hilarity on this day (Have you met my sister?), and this was probably the funniest moment of all, watching the complete muddle of boats.

Upon our arrival in the center of Cambridge earlier we’d been accosted by one salesman after another, alumni dressed as pretentiously as you could imagine, trying to sell punting tours. We came to an agreement that we were not going to punt our own boat and haggled a slightly-less-outrageous price for the affair – 50 pounds for the 4 of us for an hour. With our reservation for 3:00, that had left us time to browse the city, eat, see King’s, and pause for a few moments in St. Mary’s Church across from the college. Now we joined our tour guide and eight others and set off for the river bank behind Queen’s College. The excursion was completely delightful, led by an affable, funny guy who gave us more than your average dry, over-informed tour guide spiel. At one hilarious moment he pretended to bang his head as we went under a bridge, eliciting gasps of horror from a passing boat of tourists. Apparently a pretty standard prank. The tour of the town from the river was perfect. No walking, no entry fees, and a peek into the back yard of all the colleges, with a bit of entertaining info about their rivalries and extravagances. If you’re ever in Cambridge, Punt the Cam! (And don’t be ashamed to hire a Punter. You’ll probably save yourself the embarrassment of some obnoxious cohort of onlookers laughing at your misfortune. Not that we were those people…)

The trip finished, we made the long walk back to our hotel and rested awhile in our adjacent rooms. The hotel, The Ashley House, was right near the river in a large old stone house, quintessentially British. It reminded me of the four-dwelling structure my family lived in for a year when I was a child. We had a huge room with a king-sized bed, a a spacious bathroom, and a generous bay window. My sister’s room was even larger, chosen with the possibility in mind of bringing their baby daughter if they couldn’t leave her. We abandoned plans for an outdoor picnic in the end, dissuaded by the breezy, chilly air and the impending sunset. Instead, we drove to Tesco and, with Kilby’s gourmet preferences and neurotic obsession with cheese to lead our way, selected for ourselves all sorts of delicacies. We brought them back to the hotel – a large loaf of bread, enormous cheeses, grapes, antipasti, wine, beer, and for dessert blueberries with an English fancy: cream unsweetened and whipped almost to butter, like the richest, thickest, mildest yogurt you ever ate. Mousse, but not chocolate.

We spread our picnic on a small table and assembled our rooms’ chairs, sitting in their room by the window and talking late into the night. It’s hard to explain just how much I treasure these double-date discussions, the four of us, or how miserably I will miss them when they abandon their temporary home in Chicago and settle for good in England where they’ve been spending summers. Never do I let my hair down more thoroughly and never with a better effect. Those conversations are good, rich, wise, hilarious, often shockingly irreverent (again, have you met my sister?), and always cathartic.

So we ended our day in Cambridge feeling, by comparison with our typical pace, like under-achievers (and again, have you met my sister? her pace is so very… sane). We had rested, and that for us is always an achievement. My memories of Cambridge, the halfway point of our three weeks, are among my sweetest of the whole trip.

Just a moment's walk from our hotel, this was our first sight of the famous River Cam.

Just a moment’s walk from our hotel, this was our first sight of the famous River Cam.

Cambridge University Press Bookshop. I managed to not go in.

Cambridge University Press Bookshop. I managed to not go in.

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At lunch

At lunch

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This is the view of the street adjacent to the entrance to King's.

This is the view of the street adjacent to the entrance to King’s.

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I took this picture to be a jerk to my sister, who despises everything about the concept of being a tourist. Nevertheless I caught her, standing in a tourist line looking for all the world like one of them. (Because she was.)

I took this picture to be a jerk to my sister, who despises everything about the concept of being a tourist. Nevertheless I caught her, standing in a tourist line looking for all the world like one of them. (Because she was.)

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Two of the world's biggest dorks, yeah?

Two of the world’s biggest dorks, yeah?

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Bad picture, but this is the list of all the organists that have served King's.

Bad picture, but this is the list of all the organists that have served King’s.

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Cuties.

Cuties.

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Laughing at the Punting Fails

Laughing at the Punting Fails

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Making the most of our opportunity for non-selfie pics of us together.

Making the most of our opportunity for non-selfie pics of us together.

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Did I mention Cambridge is idyllic?

Did I mention Cambridge is idyllic?

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Seeing King's was pretty surreal for me.

Seeing King’s was pretty surreal for me.

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The organ in St. Mary's church

The organ in St. Mary’s church

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The boat ride definitely came with a foot rub. Just sayin'.

The boat ride definitely came with a foot rub. Just sayin’.

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St. John's College--the wealthiest of them all.

St. John’s College–the wealthiest of them all.

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Bridge of Sighs, Cambridge edition

Bridge of Sighs, Cambridge edition

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Apparently they finished the ornate front of St. John's and had to settle for budget-friendly ivy on the back side.

Apparently they finished the ornate front of St. John’s and had to settle for budget-friendly ivy on the back side.

Idyllic. Also, willows. Same thing, I guess.

Idyllic. Also, willows. Same thing, I guess.

This picture is for my sister Rebekah, who from the first days Mike and I were dating, has always been on a quest for awkward eating shots. Also because the background is pretty great.

This picture is for my sister Rebekah, who from the first days Mike and I were dating, has always been on a quest for awkward eating shots. Also because the background is pretty great.

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This is a famous bridge having something to do with math and some famous mathematician, but I wasn't listening carefully I guess. I think I heard the word math and my brain shut off?

This is a famous bridge having something to do with math and some famous mathematician, but I wasn’t listening carefully I guess. I think I heard the word math and my brain shut off?

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Mmmmm.

Mmmmm.

So Kilby was all stoked for us to experience this ash-rinded goat cheese. It was fabulous.

So Kilby was all stoked for us to experience this ash-rinded goat cheese. It was fabulous.

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The back of our hotel - that second floor window was ours.

The back of our hotel – that second floor window was ours.

Ashley House Hotel, Cambridge

Ashley House Hotel, Cambridge

August 12: Westminster Abbey by Night (NBD)

Tuesday 12 August, 9:00 a.m., St. George’s, Hanover

Mike is registering his Buxtehude now for our performance on the new American instrument in Handel’s church. I just finished practicing my Bach and in a moment we’ll move to Southwark and I’ll prepare Howells for tonight’s voluntary.

10:00 p.m., A pub near Westminster Abbey

How do you sum up a recital at Westminster Abbey – and Franck’s E Major Chorale! – and a private tour afterward? Sublime. BEYOND. EVERYTHING. And the last measures of the E Major Chorale are of the same cloth as the bells pealing at Magdalen – the same sound, the same exuberance.

Wednesday 13 August, 6:00 p.m., Cambridge

Last night we played a few bars on Westminster Abbey’s organ. Then fish and chips with the group. We sat with the Gs and Elaine S and then the five of us went back to UCL together.

Tuesday morning we experienced our first dorm breakfast. What a throwback to college! In retrospect I appreciated the two fabulous inn breakfasts we’d had on the weekend. For the rest of the week, the ultimate college cafeteria fare was our lot. Plentiful, varied, and with all the major players in an English breakfast, but not your finest cuisine, shall we say. The ambience fit the food, and though it was fun to hang out with choristers each morning as we ate, we spent a lot of our time laughing at the terrible and sometimes inappropriate American pop hits blaring from a boom box in the corner.

I set out right at 7:30 with one of our professors for a brisk 25-minute walk amongst London’s morning commuters, arriving at St. George’s Church in Hanover promptly for the beginning of our 8:00 a.m. practice time. Mike went on a goose chase of an errand to mail back the taxi driver’s Tom-Tom and get his dress clothes laundered, arriving at the church an hour later for his share of our practice time, still with the package (post offices weren’t open yet) and the laundry (contrary to its website’s claim, the launderette had no same-day service).

We set out from St. George’s for Southwark, a commute we became quite proficient at. There was no great route, either: our best option included a brisk 10-minute walk from the church to a metro stop just to the north of Buckingham Palace. (Incidentally, Buckingham was problem the only major sight in London that we never at least laid eyes on in passing.) Being at the mercy of the sort of communication people used decades ago, I sat down to the organ console expecting Mr. Neswick to arrive momentarily to help me register a complex English prelude on the fly, which I was due to play that afternoon. (Playing the organ at Southwark was kind of a drag. You could hear almost none of its real sound from where the console sat to the north of the choir. So we were completely reliant on each other’s judgment of sound balances. While this is a common dilemma for organists, I’ve never experienced quite such a bad case of it as exists at Southwark.) Anyway, Mr. Neswick never showed and later I received both email and text from him telling of a change in plans. I made the best of my time and did what I could. Later that afternoon in performance I played notes and let Mr. Neswick work his registrational magic standing beside me. Not the worst way to play Howells.

Mike spent a few moments on the piano in the choir room before making the tedious commute from Southwark to UCL to St. George’s in order to finally situate our last, largest suitcase at the dorm. We’d left it behind the night before rather than dragging it to the Globe. I set out after my practice time back toward St. George’s for our second round of practice, determined to make the most of this commuter-tourist lifestyle we couldn’t avoid. Rather foolishly spending my lunch coins on fudge and a cheese hand-pie of sorts from the glorious Borough Market (more on that later), I took a short ride on the tube, emerging at Westminster station to use my forty-five minutes of free time walking the streets back to St. George’s. I walked along the river past the London Eye, through the governmental buildings, past Trafalgar Square and St. Martin-in-the-Fields, the National Portrait Gallery, and Piccadilly Circus. I enjoyed the chance to see a bit of the city and felt a little less frustrated with the challenge we faced of crossing the city over and over again. I’d been disheartened to think we’d spend so much of our few free moments in London underground. For once, anyway, I’d made the most of the commute.

Our second practice time got cut so short by a double-booking that I had only a couple minutes on the bench before we set off again for Southwark to prepare for rehearsal. Absurd, to have spent so much time crossing and re-crossing town for fifteen minutes of practice, but it was as good as it was going to get. Back at Southwark with one of our colleagues, we wandered through adjacent Borough Market and got a bit more to eat, a decision we were glad of later when our late-night attempts at dinner were met with a lot of closed kitchens. Borough Market was fabulous! A large covered market area selling every sort of international cuisine and many more things besides, it went on and on and was always bustling with people. We were so thankful for it that week, since it afforded us an instant, cheap solution for lunch while we prepared our afternoon’s music.

The service went beautifully. I got to play Howells in an English cathedral – the incredible piece that was the center of my junior recital in college. I also got to accompany the chanting of Psalm 33, which was one of the highlights of my whole trip. That day Mike conducted a fantastic anthem: The Lord Is My Light by Peter Hallock. The service for the day was by Sumsion.

Afterwards a large group of us set off in the rain for a dash across town to Westminster Abbey, where we arrived just in time to take seats for the last of their summer organ recitals. It was played by Martin Ford, the assistant organist who, incidentally, is younger than me. (I am officially an adult.) The program was spectacular, beginning with Reger’s Intro & Passacaglia in D minor, moving on to Bach’s Allein Gott settings and Franck’s E Major Chorale, and ending with Schumann and two Elgar transcriptions. It was sublime. Afterward everyone was corralled out of the space quite quickly and tersely: no staying to tour for free instead of paying the 20L+ entry fee by day! We congregated in front of the choir screen and waited till the commotion died down, explaining to nagging ushers that we had an arrangement to meet with the interning organist. And then, finally, we were escorted up a steep, winding, stair to the top of the choir screen space, which housed the console, pipes flanking it to north and south. The intern gave us a thorough demonstration of the massive instrument, even pulling on the state trumpets (the ones that only play at the entrance of the queen), which blew us away. Then he let everyone have a chance to hop on and play a few bars of something. So we played the organ at Westminster Abbey. No Big Deal. At the end, we climbed down and peeked around to the north side of the nave – “the musician’s corner” – finding there the graves of Purcell, Stanford, Vaughan Williams, Elgar, Howells, Walton (and I’m sure I’m forgetting the rest). You can’t make this stuff up.

We exited the building, giddy and feeling like a bunch of sneaking teenagers up to trouble. Floodlit, the exterior was impressive against the clear night sky. After some deliberation and a lot of waiting around for last-minute photo-ops we settled on a pub just around the corner where we could finally, finally get dinner. This turned out to be the beginning of a new theme: We never ate proper meals in London! By now it was pushing 10:00 p.m. and kitchens were shut up tight. But Pub #1 pointed us to Pub #2 and we cautiously inquired. Their kitchen would still serve us a few menu items, so we sat down and most of us dug into fish and chips. Also a theme: We ate fish and chips half a dozen times in our twelve days in London. It felt like a duty. After finishing our meal we were among the first to leave, hopping the tube towards home after pausing in awe at the sight of the full moon cradled, as it were, in the arm of Big Ben. You can’t make that stuff up, either.

As I walked from Westminster station toward St. George's church at noon, this was the first sight I saw.

As I walked from Westminster station toward St. George’s church at noon, this was the first sight I saw.

Wandered away from the river through the towering governmental buildings

Wandered away from the river through the towering governmental buildings

Snapped this photo for my babies.

Snapped this photo for my babies.

And this one. Meredith's first sentence was "Bye bye Bus!"

And this one. Meredith’s first sentence was “Bye bye Bus!”

This is Trafalgar Square.

This is Trafalgar Square.

And that is a lot of busses.

And that is a lot of busses.

St. Martin-in-the-Fields

St. Martin-in-the-Fields

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The organ where we performed a group recital. Newly built by an American firm, it retains the original casework from Handel's day.

The organ where we performed a group recital. Newly built by an American firm, it retains the original casework from Handel’s day.

Lunch from Borough Market with a colleague in Southwark's church yard.

Lunch from Borough Market with a colleague in Southwark’s church yard.

My first view of Big Ben, was we dashed through the rain to reach Westminster Abbey in time...

My first view of Big Ben, was we dashed through the rain to reach Westminster Abbey in time…

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The Great Doors on the west (Nave) end of the church

The Great Doors on the west (Nave) end of the church

A few contraband photos inside Westminster Abbey

A few contraband photos inside Westminster Abbey

We sat in temporary chairs just to the east of the choir stalls

We sat in temporary chairs just to the east of the choir stalls

Mike, playing an excerpt from the Adagio from Vierne's third symphony.

Mike, playing an excerpt from the Adagio from Vierne’s third symphony.

Professor Neswick hopped on the bench at the end of all our tinkering and pulled out all the stops (well, not literally, in this case!) for a huge verse of a hymn. His sense of humor chose the tune Westminster Abbey, to our delight.

Professor Neswick hopped on the bench at the end of all our tinkering and pulled out all the stops (well, not literally, in this case!) for a huge verse of a hymn. His sense of humor chose the tune Westminster Abbey, to our delight.

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Top to bottom: Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Stanford

Top to bottom: Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Stanford

Inside Westminster Abbey

Inside Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey by night

Westminster Abbey by night

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Big Ben and "Leh Moooon."

Big Ben and “Leh Moooon.”

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Goodnight, London!

Goodnight, London!

August 11: To London, and to Work

Monday, August 11 began our week of residency at Southwark Cathedral in London. This was the occasion for our trip, and we had almost a year to look forward to it. Under the direction of Professor Bruce Neswick, Mike and I and several colleagues played round-robin for a week, taking turns in front of the choir and on the organ bench. The choir comprised about forty singers, assembled by Mr. Neswick from all over the States, each of them a former or current chorister from his impressive history in choral work. We convened in London that Monday afternoon and each day except Wednesday, our day off, we met to rehearse at 3:30 for a 5:30 Evensong. Otherwise, the time was our own on those days. Of course, being on duty for directing, rehearsing, and playing each day meant that none of us student leaders did much sight-seeing, but we certainly had a good time. On our final day we led Sunday morning service before an early Evensong and then celebrated till sundown. It was such an honor to be in that position, and we had at our disposal a patient and good-humored choir, seasoned singers putting up with barely-formed professionals. I think it’s safe to say that we all had a lot of fun, in no small part because they were a phenomenal group, both socially and musically.

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But our first day in London definitely goes on the books as the low point of our trip. We were feeling a little grumpy and a lot stressed, as we emerged from the fantasy-world of leisure travel to remember that we were now due to perform music we hadn’t practiced in over two weeks. Mike, especially, was due to be on the bench for the first prelude of the week, and he had more duties besides on that first day. We made the best of it and got our stride for the week by the end of the day. It was a learning day. We left Oxford about 8:45 to return our rental car at Heathrow and give our Oyster Cards their maiden voyage. Our moods weren’t helped any when we got led down several rabbit trails by the outdated GPS on our quest to fill the gas tank. But upon filling it we were pleasantly surprised: by renting a diesel car we ended up recovering almost all that we’d spent over-budget on the rental itself since in all our driving we expended barely more than a half tank of gas. Diesel is sweet.

From the rental car return we took a shuttle to the train station and from there, London’s famous tube, a journey that took about an hour before we emerged in London, starry-eyed, at Monument Station. It was a short walk across the London Bridge to reach Southwark, already in view from across the Thames, dwarfed in the massive shadow of The Shard, a recently built skyscraper. It was a stunning introduction to London. With our six heavy bags and business attire we made the walk, stopping at a street-side grocery for pre-packaged sandwiches, the first of a whole week of working lunches.

We were among the first of our group to arrive at Southwark, so we introduced ourselves and settled a few items of business. Mike parked himself in the choir room, which was to be our Green Room for the week. It was time for him to get down to business. Since I wasn’t on the docket for conducting or playing until the following day, I decided to continue on to check into our rooms, arrange a destination for our passports to be mailed, and figure out a game-plan for doing our laundry, since our detergent had been confiscated by TSA in France. I took as much of our luggage as I could transport on my own and set out for University College London. London showed me who was alpha-dog that afternoon, as I fought with my bags down cobbled roads and steep, long tube station staircases, coming to terms with the long, walking-heavy commute we’d have each day. By the time I got to our dorm I was sweaty and breathless and IN A MOOD. I had just enough time to drop our bags in our sixth-floor room and discover that, while it was in no uncertain terms A DORM, it was spacious and clean and had a very respectable bathroom to itself, and a view (of boring city rooftops) besides. In a rare introverted moment, I looked forward to making my way alone back to the Cathedral in time to meet the assembling choir, some of whom I’d already introduced myself to in the lobby of our dorm. I needed to wrap my mind around the worship-work we were about to begin and prepare my own heart for it. Instead, I found myself walking towards the station with members of our group. Small-talk it was, then, and I was still feeling like my head wasn’t in the game when we began our work.

Meanwhile, Mike had been at Southwark when Mr. Neswick arrived, and with him, some dreadful news: One of the five of us splitting most of the week’s duties had been retained in Nashville with passport troubles and would not be with us until Thursday at the earliest. All the music he’d prepared fell to the remainder of us to handle on the fly, and Mike stepped in to conduct the Stanford Service in C that afternoon, proving to himself (and the rest of us) that he is a hell of a conductor and rehearsalist. Not only that, but he was given the duty of leading our warm-ups each day. He stayed busy the whole week.

By the end of our work for the day Mike was having fun and I was having misgivings. I finally got into the spirit of things the next day and had a fantastic week, and it was good for me, giving me a chance to work through some of the leftover baggage dormant from some of the less happy aspects of my time at St. Olaf. There I’d learned unhealthy patterns of coping with a difficult worship environment, and here I had a chance to unlearn some of them.

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Both of us were sore and achy, and still schlepping the bags I hadn’t been able to carry ahead to the dorms. But this was our night to catch a play at Shakespeare’s Globe, just five minutes’ walk from Southwark. We wouldn’t have another chance at it all week, and we had our eye on 5-pound standing-room tickets to Julius Caesar. We went for it, snarfing surprisingly good and surprisingly cheap BLTs from the Starbucks across the street from the theater as we stood on the boardwalk overlooking the Thames. The play was well worth the trouble, even though we couldn’t bear to stay past the end of the first act, standing on our feet in dress shoes with heavy bags looped over our shoulders or, when we couldn’t bear that, around our ankles, for fear of theft. Nonetheless, the play! The whole experience of being in that space! It was unforgettable. The excitement of the actors carrying the action off the stage, right down onto the floor beside us. The stretch of our intellects to make out of Shakespeare’s language (to us, all but foreign) a story-line. The wonder of the set, the costumes, the period instruments playing in period idioms. The horror of the stage blood as the cohort of traitors all took their turns stabbing him to his death. The hilarity as Portia nagged at Brutus to be a good husband, putting words in my own mouth perfect for teasing Mike. We were in all kinds of pain from the drudgery of the day, but we were happy as we walked across the Thames to the tube station and made our way to our new home.

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There we finished unpacking and Mike walked out again in search of laundry detergent. It was after midnight when we finally fell into bed, having used the dorm laundry machines to re-supply ourselves with clean clothes. We earned that night of sleep.

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Tuesday 12 August, 9:00 a.m., St. George’s, Hanover

Yesterday was intense and not all in a good way. Returned our car, took the tube to Southwark, Mike practiced while I went on to University College to check in to our dorm, returning for rehearsal and our first Evensong. Mike had to jump in on a dime to cover for one of our colleagues who is stuck in the states. He lead warm-ups, conducted the Stanford Mag & Nunc in C, and did the things he’d already prepared – Vierne III Adagio as voluntary and accompanying the Psalm. He did marvelous work and led well. It was fun to see. After Evensong we picked up sandwiches across from the Globe at Starbucks and ate them by the Thames before paying 5L each for standing room tickets to Julius Caesar. It was magnificent and thrilling, but our bodies were so tired and achy from a hard day of navigating London that we left after the first act, going home across Blackfriars Bridge to do laundry, falling into bed at midnight. It was not the best day – difficult and tense – but today is new, and while we’ve just found our prep time here at St. George’s has been lost by 50%, things are going well.

Couldn't resist snapping a bunch of pictures of The Talkhouse as we left.

Couldn’t resist snapping a bunch of pictures of The Talkhouse as we left.

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Inside the pub

Inside the pub

This is where we sat for a couple hours on Saturday night, over pub fare of - for me, roast lamb shank with mint and carrots and mashed potatoes; for Mike, beef bourgignon. Good stuff.

This is where we sat for a couple hours on Saturday night, over pub fare of – for me, roast lamb shank with mint and carrots and mashed potatoes; for Mike, beef bourgignon. Good stuff.

Couldn't decide which picture was cooler. This definitely captures the dim atmosphere in the pub.

Couldn’t decide which picture was cooler. This definitely captures the dim atmosphere in the pub.

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August 10: Sunday in Oxford

Oh, Oxford! In my next life I will stay forever. Of all our journeying, this destination felt most like pilgrimage to me. I have loved – perhaps better, lived on – Lewis and his way of seeing the world since I was a young adolescent. No other author has shaped me thinking or given voice to my spirit. I identify with him. It’s not just him, either. The life of the soul (I do not think I mean “the mind”) within that place we call a university is the life I find I’m best at. It makes me inordinately happy. So to be wandering the colleges of one of the greatest cities of learning in the history of the world made me a little giddy.

My poor husband wasn’t quite in the same boat. Academic though he is, he’s more of a technician than a philosopher. But he found more than enough entertainment in the enormous music wing of famous Blackwell’s Books, the very gratifying pub, and the cute girl on his arm. Not to say he didn’t enjoy Oxford for Oxford’s sake, but just that there were a couple entertaining conversations acknowledging the discrepancy in our perspectives on this town. For Mike, this was the end of his first wind. For me, it was the beginning of my second.

Oxford was the only small town in which we stayed an entire day. Even in Cinque Terre, our days were spread across its five villages. Consequently, Oxford stands in my memory as the best relaxation of our trip, possibly excluding the leisurely hours we spent in Cambridge with my sister and her husband. (Their pace always reins mine in…) After sleeping in late we did everything at a slow pace, even walking down streets. And at the end of our visit there was no traveling to a new destination. We just returned to our nearby room and crawled into bed.

The other thing which makes Oxford stand out is the company we kept unexpectedly. Classmates from St. Olaf, living there for a couple years, ended up spending the entire day with us, taking our wandering pace and adding to it their own expertise. What might have been a frantic and baffling day with less than satisfying results (how would we know which colleges were best to visit and how would we be sure we could get to them while they were open?) became a guided stroll. For this one day of our trip, we didn’t have to keep a map in our hands constantly. Not only were they great guides, they were good friends, and we had a delightful day of conversation ranging widely from our shared memories to our very-unknown futures. It was a magical day of the best double-date you could ask for.

Three memories stand out specially for me, besides an acknowledgement of my first experience of Pimms, an almost embarrassingly girly drink, a tradition of British summer time, served (in this case anyway) with fruit garnishes like a sangria, including cucumber. We split a pitcher with our friends as our first round of drinks at dinner and I went back for another glass of my own before the night was out.

More significant, the souvenir we took away from Oxford. In fact, it was really the only souvenir we brought home from England, since our focus in London was on our work, and the pace was exhausting and unrelenting. So from England we brought home a simple little bag full of bulbs to plant, acquired for a mere 2 pounds under the famous covered market in the center of the town. I was surprised that the market was a permanent structure, having come to expect the street vendors and umbrellas we’d seen so far. We ate lunch there and window shopped awhile before emerging into the pouring rain.

The sung worship of the day held some enormous personal significance for us, adding a sweetness to the memories. First there was Great St. Mary’s, which we loved immensely. We were expecting something more akin to the lofty cathedral experiences we’d had thusfar, or at least something to reflect the absurd significance our tourist’s eyes brought to it. Instead, it was a simple parish, which delighted and refreshed us. There was evidence all around us of the kind of familiarity we’ve known in our own “home churches.” It was clear to the people sitting around us that they weren’t coming for the culture of it, or coming from far. They were there because it was Sunday morning and they had the best kind of business to do. Yes, it was a parish in the brilliant town of Oxford. (Ever stop to think about the average IQ there, where even the tourists who come come not to see some sight but to say “I was in the town of such and such famous intellectual person or accomplishment.”) But there was no glossy sheen to it. It was just church. The sermon was expertly crafted, igniting our imaginations (with the story of Peter walking on water) in the best possible way, even if his exegetical premises were far afield from our own. The singing and liturgy were down-to-earth, no different from our own. Our friends remarked that we came on a particularly good day, since often the hymns are much less the cream of the crop. As it was, though, they were among our favorites, and among the richest tunes English composers have offered. Best, All My Hope on God Is Founded, a hymn that we sang week after week for years at St. Olaf, integral as it was to several liturgies we loved there. The last line had been our life-line, hope for us through the most uncertain seasons, first, of our friendship, then, of our love: “Ye who follow shall not fall.” We haven’t sung that hymn together since those days in college. Now approaching five years of marriage, there they were, and there we were, feeling not the hope that “we” would make it but the satisfaction of looking back and seeing how we’d tried it and found it true.

Second, there was Queen’s College Chapel, where we heard the most absolutely stunning choral performance either of us had ever experienced live. High schoolers! The group was prestigious – one of the most renowned programs of choral training in England. It was the end of what amounts to a rigorous choral summer camp, which I wouldn’t be surprised to learn had only filled a week’s time. But those kids could sing! The service for the night (In the Anglican tradition of Evensong, the center is the “Service,” comprising first Magnificat and then Nunc Dimmittis.) was by Dyson, a post-Romantic English affair that is not short on color and fire and everything extravagant in its idiom. The fun of it was that it was on our own docket for the coming week, so we were already growing quite familiar with it. Being ushered into the space at Queen’s was unforgettable, too. Just like at Christ Church the night before, the college opens to anyone who wants to come hear Evensong, whereas otherwise the tradition of Oxford colleges strictly limits visiting. So without an entry fee, you walk right through the gates, across the quad, and into the astounding chapels. By the time we entered, ten minutes before the service was to begin, the choir was full of people. (The “choir” is the area behind the screen, where these services take place; in fact, many college chapels don’t have anything more than what you’d identify as the “choir,” pointing to their almost cloister-like function within an educational context.) Eventually a dozen more chairs were set up in front of the choir stalls, and so we found ourselves sitting right in the center of it all. This half hour is certainly on the short list of our trip’s most inspiring, satisfying moments. If someday we could create (or even participate in) worship like this as a matter of routine you will have a hard job finding a happier pair of people.

Sunday 10 August, 8:30 p.m. Oxford, The Eagle and the Child

We slept in this morning to the sound of heavy rain. It felt so good. We caught the 9:40 bus into town, dropped a couple pounds on large, delicious pastries, bought a map and a bus for Merry, and attended morning worship at St. Mary’s, where we sang O Praise Ye the Lord, Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, and – of course!! – All My Hope on God Is Founded. At the Gospel we turned to spot MM and CM in the back row – St. Olaf friends who live here right now. We’d known they were here but not followed through with planning to meet. After the wonderful, nourishing worship service we connected with them and ended up spending the whole day together. They were like tour guides and like a double date. We had a perfect afternoon. At the covered market we ate a cheap lunch and I bought crocus and snowdrop bulbs. We walked around in the rain awhile, went into Blackwells… The sun came out and we abandoned hopes of a tour of the Bodleian (all but those concurrent with Evensong were full), going on to see 4 or 5 colleges. M’s employee card got us in for free. It was bewitching – Merton, Exeter, Christ College’s Meadow, a few others. Best of all by far, Magdalen. In those moments I was “C.S. Lewis’ kind of happy.” The most amazing part was that for some unknown occasion, its bells were pealing the whole time we were there – a half hour at least. I think I can die happy now. Finally, we climbed the tower at St. Mary’s to see the whole town at our feet. We climbed down just in time to hear Evensong at Queen’s College Chapel – Dyson, Howells, and Tallis, sung expertly, magnificently – by high schoolers culminating a week of the Eton Choral Course. It was head and shoulders above every other worship experience we’ve had on this trip. Even the Psalms – 126, 127, 128; I’ve loved that setting of Psalm 126 before I ever knew Anglican Psalmody. It was all just too perfect. Absolutely satisfying. Deep, complete joy.

We’re ending up the day at The Eagle and The Child. We sat long and lively over dinner and drinks with M and C and now they’ve left and we’re nursing another round of drinks into the night before we leave this city of joy.

Oh Jack! What a world you lived in! It’s been so moving, wandering into each college with its own chapel, and each chapel still an active place of worship – daily worship, as part of the business of education. All I need to say is (of course) we are IN. LOVE.

9:20 p.m.

Here we sit in Lewis’s pub. The glass ceiling above us has turned to a mirror in the dark and I see our reflection – hand in hand, reading into the night. I wish my phone’s battery wasn’t dead so I could have a picture of this moment.

10:30 p.m.

We took a taxi back to our car since the last bus had gone. As we walked out of the pub we saw the full, lovely moon. We walked down St. Giles’ Street toward High Street with it in view, colleges rising in the foreground. As we stood at the corner, across from the Randolph, it was perfectly framed by a building and a tall tree, casting its light on the Martyrs’ Monument just across the street from where we stood. A perfect farewell to the day. Tomorrow, to London and to work.

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The Martyr's Monument

The Martyr’s Monument

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Organ in Dining Hall. Ya know, so you can sing hymns when you gather for your meals.

Organ in Dining Hall. Ya know, so you can sing hymns when you gather for your meals.

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A small chapel made up of only a "choir" (i.e. no nave)

A small chapel made up of only a “choir” (i.e. no nave)

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The next twenty photos are from Magdalen College, one of the best things I saw in Europe.

The next twenty photos are from Magdalen College, one of the best things I saw in Europe.

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Another of my best photos of the whole trip...

Another of my best photos of the whole trip…

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This is Christ College Meadow

This is Christ College Meadow

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The brand new Dobson organ in Merton College Chapel

The brand new Dobson organ in Merton College Chapel

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This is the view from atop the tower of St. Mary's Church. My phone died after these, so the last couple shots of the day were captured by CM.

This is the view from atop the tower of St. Mary’s Church. My phone died after these, so the last couple shots of the day were captured by CM.

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From the Queen's College service notes

From the Queen’s College service notes

Leaving Queen's College Chapel

Leaving Queen’s College Chapel

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August 9: Salisbury to Oxford

Apparently Saturday August 9 was the day for taking pictures. I’ve narrowed down my small collection to just 81 that I will include here. So if you’ve been coming for the pictures, this is your day. I had some pretty great subjects in the quaint town of Salisbury, the stunning cathedral and its cloister, and C. S. Lewis’s house. So if you’ve ever wanted a photo tour of Lewis’s house, look no further.

We made a few interesting discoveries on this day, chief in my memory being that driving in England is a huge pain in the butt. At least driving from Salisbury to Oxford past Avebury on a summer Saturday. Not recommended. We gave ourselves four hours for a less-than-two hour drive and needed all four of them. At one point we opted for the major motorway rather than risk the winding and congestion of back roads, only to end up in a half hour of stand-still traffic, as we watched all our margin for arriving in time to tour Lewis’s house tick past on the clock. But we made it in the nick of time. Meanwhile, we read a good chunk of our novel, which I retrieved from the trunk at one point during the fifteen minutes it took us to inch into the roundabout connecting our route to the route bound for Stonehenge. Everybody in England went to Stonehenge on August 9. I know, because I watched them.

We also discovered that there are all kinds of busses from London to Oxford and that Oxford has this sweet park-and-ride system that gets you into the center of town painlessly (if you look past the couple pounds). Maybe next time we will skip the rental car and take busses and trains. Or maybe we won’t. Annoying as it was sometimes, going at our own pace (at least the pace the traffic would allow) with no fellow-passengers was a pretty good time.

Sunday 10 August, 8:30 p.m. The Eagle and the Child, Oxford

It’s been a whirlwind two days. We went to 7:30 communion yesterday morning at Salisbury Cathedral; the rain had gone and the sun was shining again. It was cold. The service was so wonderful, so intimate, in the rear chapel. Afterwards we drove around town awhile, picked up a few things for lunch at the bakery, and paid three hours of parking. Back at St. Ann’s House we ate breakfast and chatted with the owner, a very successful chef, formerly a personal chef to several very famous people. The breakfast was fabulous – had the chef touch, with peppercorns in the pineapple and anise in the orange marmalade, and an amazing breakfast quinoa. Really never had a better breakfast. The chef, Michael Riley, was fascinating, educated, articulate, friendly. After checking out we wandered town (down to the mill and the quaint river walk) and the cathedral – I am ever more taken with the cloisters.

We took the long way to Oxford, driving past Avebury Stone Circle and reading Love in the Ruins to pass the time. We arrived at the Kilns with two or three minutes to spare, joining a tour of 8-10 other pilgrims, wandering through the house and gardens. What an inspiration!! We had just enough time afterward to check into The Talkhouse and bus into the heart of Oxford for Evensong at Christ Church Cathedral, an unforgettable experience. Walking through the doors and emerging in the quad was like entering Narnia. All magic. Afterward we wandered Oxford’s empty streets on empty stomachs. The town quiets down at 7, especially after a heavy rain. By this time we were tired and a little burned out. We couldn’t get our bearings, without a map and flanked by tall buildings, walling us out of the colleges’ mysteries. Everything was closed. We returned to our lodging and settled in for pub dinner and beers and catching up on the internet work we needed to attend to. It felt luxurious, settling in for an early night at a place where we will stay a second night. The Talkhouse, like all our other accommodations, did not disappoint. It is like quaint rural England, but magnified as though it’s a page from a novel or a scene from a movie. A tudor-style building, low to the ground, with a red phone booth tucked in its side and hanging baskets exploding color against the white walls. Our room is spacious and comfortable and the whole setting is just perfect and picturesque. Bussing into the city is easy, too, a sweet relief after all the cities we’ve inched across in our rental car. This city makes me insanely happy, and Mike grins to see me so excited, so eager.

Sunrise out our bedroom window in Salisbury

Sunrise out our bedroom window in Salisbury

A bit of the quaint Salisbury

A bit of the quaint Salisbury

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Some random amazing doorway...

Some random amazing doorway…

Look at that roof!

Look at that roof!

Just something ridiculously picturesque...

Just something ridiculously picturesque…

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This was just a bit of our incredible breakfast by chef Michael Riley. Oh, and did I mention that he has this fantastic dog, almost twice the size of the biggest Newfoundland I've ever seen? It was like petting a big, happy, long-haired bear. I would love to go back to this place.

This was just a bit of our incredible breakfast by chef Michael Riley. Oh, and did I mention that he has this fantastic dog, almost twice the size of the biggest Newfoundland I’ve ever seen? It was like petting a big, happy, long-haired bear. I would love to go back to this place.

Mmmm...

Mmmm…

Our lovely room

Our lovely room

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Street market downtown in Salisbury

Street market downtown in Salisbury

Not your average shopping architecture

Not your average shopping architecture

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This is one of my favorite photos from our whole trip. Along with the next dozen of the exterior and the cloister.

This is one of my favorite photos from our whole trip. Along with the next dozen of the exterior and the cloister.

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This is a tiny cast of the Medieval town

This is a tiny cast of the Medieval town

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And this was a model of the cathedral in progress, complete with things like the hut where the iron welding would've taken place and such things like that.

And this was a model of the cathedral in progress, complete with things like the hut where the iron welding would’ve taken place and such things like that.

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And I just loved this.

And I just loved this.

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And I loved this, too. I love this quote from St. Theresa and it has grown really dear to me the last year or so.

And I loved this, too. I love this quote from St. Theresa and it has grown really dear to me the last year or so.

The cathedral had sunflower bouquets (although fake) everywhere. The only flower big enough to fill a cathedral...

The cathedral had sunflower bouquets (although fake) everywhere. The only flower big enough to fill a cathedral…

Rosemary, covering a wall as tall as me. What?

Rosemary, covering a wall as tall as me. What?

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This was one of our drive-by shots of Avebury Stone Circle

This was one of our drive-by shots of Avebury Stone Circle

Right after Avebury we passed this field with tall stacks of hay bales and Mike came up with some hilarious-but-now-forgotten name for them, along the lines of "Hay-Henge."

Right after Avebury we passed this field with tall stacks of hay bales and Mike came up with some hilarious-but-now-forgotten name for them, along the lines of “Hay-Henge.”

This next series of photos is from The Kilns, C. S. Lewis's lovely house and grounds, restored in the last couple decades and now home to visiting scholars.

This next series of photos is from The Kilns, C. S. Lewis’s lovely house and grounds, restored in the last couple decades and now home to visiting scholars.

This was Lewis's stove, the center of life in his house since it kept them warm.

This was Lewis’s stove, the center of life in his house since it kept them warm.

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The ceiling of this room is painted a mustardy yellow-brown in order to capture the color it would've been due to all the tobacco use over the years. This was the room where he and Warnie would read together, and they would toss cigarette butts or dump pipe tobacco right onto the floor. Ever thought of Lewis's house as a bachelor pad? Yikes!

The ceiling of this room is painted a mustardy yellow-brown in order to capture the color it would’ve been due to all the tobacco use over the years. This was the room where he and Warnie would read together, and they would toss cigarette butts or dump pipe tobacco right onto the floor. Ever thought of Lewis’s house as a bachelor pad? Yikes!

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If you've watched the 1993 Anthony Hopkins / Debra Wenger Shadowlands, you will recognize this spot. The attic where they filmed the poignant moment between Lewis and his step-son after Joy's death.

If you’ve watched the 1993 Anthony Hopkins / Debra Wenger Shadowlands, you will recognize this spot. The attic where they filmed the poignant moment between Lewis and his step-son after Joy’s death.

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The lady on our tour who took this photo shook the camera, but I had to include it anyway: this staircase was built by Lewis when Mrs. Moore lived with him. Her bedroom was adjacent to his and you couldn't access his without walking through hers. So his way of handling the impropriety was to build a fire escape staircase into his room, and there it still stands.

The lady on our tour who took this photo shook the camera, but I had to include it anyway: this staircase was built by Lewis when Mrs. Moore lived with him. Her bedroom was adjacent to his and you couldn’t access his without walking through hers. So his way of handling the impropriety was to build a fire escape staircase into his room, and there it still stands.

The Kilns

The Kilns

The Talkhouse, where we stayed

The Talkhouse, where we stayed

Christ College

Christ College

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On High Street

On High Street