Deni has been writing a detailed and interesting travelogue of our trip thus far. With her help I will add some observations and comments – my ‘two pennies’ worth.
One of my interests over here was to visit as many cathedrals as possible, When we visit York Minster Cathedral, that will be number 6. When possible we have attended a service, usually with singing. Most of our great sacred choral music was written for spaces like these, with resonant and lengthy acoustical reverberation. The sound of men’s and boys’ voices in these spaces is truly heavenly; the organs are gigantic and the combined sound usually brought me to tears. Its total effect is hypnotic, and often put me in a state of near trance. I can only imagine the otherworldliness felt by medieval peasants as they left their squalid and difficult lives for a time to enter the heavenly world of the cathedral. History is at every corner, under every footstep.
When I looked down at Westminster Abbey to realize I was walking over Purcell’s grave stone, my breath stopped and tears flowed. I had been to the Abbey before, but to visit this shrine to English history, art, literature, science, and culture is to be overcome with the greatness of the human condition. We sat a while in Poets’ Corner, where I was pleased to notice new stones commemorating Laurence Olivier and Peggy Ashcroft. Westminster defies description!
If I lived in London, I would want to be an active member of Saint Martin-in-the-Field, not only because of its robust and far-reaching music and concert program, but also because of its vigorous ministry to London’s poor and homeless. It is a church alive, trying to meet the needs of the people of the world today.
Coventry Cathedral is a marvel of modern sacred architecture and a living protest against war and violence. It is surprising to me that church attendance and interest is reportedly so meager in Great Britain, since they have so many beautiful spaces doing so many good things that represent the best in humanity.
Inspired by the Mists of Avalon and Crossing to Avalon, I wanted to get a feeling for Stonehenge and the area of early England influenced by the Celts and Druids, by goddesses and knights. That is all southwest of London in the region of Somerset. Deni has written artfully about the myths and legends as other sacred influences of this area. Although we cannot prove the ‘truth’ of any of these myths and legends, there is simply too much ‘smoke’ in this region for there not to have some ‘fire’ in this region hundreds and thousands of years ago. In the evenings there is a low mist that covers everything, and it is believable that this was a swamp area reached by boat 2000 years ago. Many of the stones that made up Stonehenge have been proven to come from hundreds of miles away in Ireland, so it is possible that there was Druid and Celtic influence here that tinged everything with a bit of magic. The fact that the destroyed Abbey at Glastonbury (the former Avalon) was once the largest and most powerful force in England supports the idea that this was a powerful, sacred area. The people who live there now are a bit like misplaced hippies, and the whole area has a feel of a continual Woodstock. I am glad we went.
The Cotswolds and The Lakes
These two very different areas of England have made me smile! The Cotswolds (an assemblage of small villages formerly known for raising sheep and wool) are just plain precious to the max. Gabled buildings, thatched roofs, stone cottages, all small bordering tiny lanes, make you feel like you are in an English Disneyland, or a movie set for Robin Hood.
The Lake District, on the other hand, is beautiful and relaxing and reminds me a bit of Chautauqua in New York. A major reason for coming to the Lake District was to visit Dove Cottage, Wordsworth’s home and museum. In preparation I began re-reading Wordsworth’s poems. My final analysis is: his poetry depicts a man that bears no resemblance to the realities of his life. Wordsworth and his buddy Coleridge were living about the same time as Beethoven and Schubert in Vienna. All of them lived lives of struggle, poverty, disease, and mental illness – and yet all, were touched by the Muse. It is hard to reconcile the greatness of their creative output with the mediocrity and depravity of their lives. Clearly, nineteenth century England was no picnic unless you were very wealthy.
We have seen two plays since being here; one in the west end of London and one at Stratford-Upon-Avon. It is no wonder that British-trained actors still stop the charts for excellence, because the theatre we have seen – one a contemporary play (The Moderate Soprano) and the other a restoration comedy (Mrs. Rich – were two of the most interesting things I’ve seen in a long time. The skill and energy of the actors and the characters they created were superb. Although I only understood maybe half of the fast-moving dialogue in the Stratford comedy, it didn’t matter, because the style, the visual images, the gestures, the music were all so stunning. The ‘band’ for the Stratford play was four women saxophonists, a percussionist, and an acoustic harpsichord, playing Mozart. It was perfect. The play, a bawdy comedy by a seventeenth century female playwright, Mary Pix, was an interesting combination of vaudeville, cabaret, Shakespearean manners, comedy, and Monty Python. You had to be there! and I am sure glad I was!
Now many of you know I like my gin and tonics, but I have discovered the fine art of gin on this trip. It seems to be like the ‘holy grail’ in England. Indeed, clearly the Brits fondness for imbibing is alive and well. This morning at breakfast, there was a bottle of scotch to add to your porridge if you so desired! Many bars open at 9:30 in the morning. The exuberance of pub life cannot be exaggerated! I wish I could bring some of this gin home!
Onward to York!