Saturday, September 13, 2014

Leap Of Faith

I am fortunate indeed to have spent the last two years in France. An amazing two years that was also sometimes rather boring, occasionally very difficult, often astonishingly easy, and full of moments when I would just stop whatever it was I was doing and look around and think, "I am living IN FRANCE!" and each moment was always as full of wonder as the last. I barely scraped by, financially, but I did have a lot of fun, and the more I let myself relax into the present, the more the future started opening up. As it continues to do, again to my good fortune.

The week before I left, I needed some fresh bread for the new guests who would be checking in to the gîtes. I didn't feel like going all the way to Mirambeau and the Super U there, so I drove to the nearby town of Saint-Fort-sur-Gironde, where there is a small superette and, as I found out, a very large church. Shopping was put on hold until after I went across the street and took a look around.

The massive church was built in the 12th century, or at least that's when it was first built; repairs and reconstruction and additions continued into the 16th century, with some final adjustment of interior decoration in the mid-19th century. In general, though, it has loomed over the countryside like this for five hundred years.

Église Saint-Fortunat, Saint-Fort-sur-Gironde, France

The stained glass windows are from the 18th century, I believe, including the depiction of Sainte Clotilde. Clotilde was the wife of Clovis I, who was considered the first real king of France - or rather the King of the Franks - controlling about 80% of what is now modern France and a few bits to the north and east as well. He united and ruled over the formerly independent chieftains who had spent the last few centuries pushing the Romans back out of Gaul, and eventually married Clotilde, who convinced him to convert to Catholicism. Clovis was the first king to be confirmed at Reims, though he was only was baptized there, not crowned, as Charles VII was nearly a thousand years later when Joan of Arc defeated armies to lead him there in triumph. The economics professor last year made a long rambling speech tying Clovis to the current global price for wheat. Mom and John and I visited Reims and the cathedral where kings were crowned over the centuries, and later Rouen where Joan was left to fall by the king she helped raise up. After Clovis' death, Clotilde went to Tours, to the Abbey of St. Martin, which is now the Basilica of St. Martin, the older building having been demolished in the Revolution. I don't think I ever went in to the Basilica in all my wanderings around the old section of Tours that year. I'll have to go back and continue tying together all of the threads that connect me to the web of history that is France, and Europe.

The French Revolution led to the destruction of many churches and abbeys; later wars caused problems for churches in England, and London in particular. All Souls Church (above, below left) was finished in 1823, so it's a fairly modern building anyway, but it's even more modern now after reconstruction following a landmine explosion during World War II. It's a weird little building tucked away at an angle and surrounded by tall glass buildings in the center of London. The BBC headquarters are curved around the back of the church courtyard. I listened to the BBC World Service radio hour late at night in Portland, volume set just low enough that I could hear it but so that I could fall asleep lulled by the sound of mellifluous posh accents describing the day's disasters.

The area of London called Somers Town was being built up just before the French Revolution, and one of the Roman Catholic priests who refused to swear allegiance to the post-Revolution government, Abbé Guy-Toussaint-Julien Carron, built a chapel there after he fled France. The Roman Catholic Church of St Aloysius is on that site now, built in the 1960s, from whose blocky brick walls Jesus blesses the people in the beer garden outside the Prince Arthur, another a blocky brick-walled building.

St. Mary's (above, right) is another church in Somers Town, and I wish my photo had come out more clearly to show the four seagulls that were perched on the four spires of the bell tower when I walked by. St. Mary's was completed in 1852, one year after Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley - who was born just around the corner - died. Mary (née Godwin) used to meet the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley over the grave of her mother, in the churchyard at St. Pancras Old Church (left), from which they later eloped. Apparently Mary's dying wish was to be buried in Bournemouth with her parents, although they weren't there at the time; Percy the Younger had them dug up later to join their daughter Mary's grave. He's buried there too, along with his father's heart, which was removed from the funeral pyre by a friend after the poet died in Italy, and shipped to his widow in England.

Several churches lay claim to being "the oldest site of Christian worship" in London, including St. Pancras Old Church, which is in fact a brand-new building, as these things go, having been almost entirely rebuilt in the mid-19th century. There was an old church on this site back in the 15th century, but the Church of St. Botolph without Bishopsgate has a better case for its antiquity, both in the documentation of Roman-era Christian worship and in the fact that the foundation of the current church dates back to the beginning of the 13th century and an even older Saxon chapel. Although St. Botolph's made it through the fire of 1666 it had to be demolished and was rebuilt in 1729, which still makes it older than St. Pancras, no matter what the literature at the entrance to that church says. "Sancti Botolfi Extra Bishopesgate" stood outside one of the seven entrances through the old Roman wall surrounding London (Londinium): withūtan is the Old English/Saxon word meaning "outside of" that we no longer use the word "without" for any more, which is too bad. At one point people on this site were out of their minds - the parish buildings nearby housed the Bethlehem Hospital for Lunatics, also known as Bedlam, for over four hundred years.

Things are just as crazy these days in the area, which has become the focus of the financial district. The London offices of UBS, Deutsche Bank, the Japanese Norinchukin Bank, Israel's Mizrahi Tefahot Bank, Australian Westpac Banking Corporation, and the Bank of Ceylon form a circle around the church. The Royal Bank of Scotland is just down the road, and I wouldn't have known about this church otherwise, because I happened to walk by it while going in the wrong direction after coming out of the Liverpool Street station (why do they always print maps upside down?) on my way to meet a potential housesit client who works at RBS.

The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.
- Proverbs 22:7

For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
- 1 Timothy 6:7-10

A feast is made for laughter, and wine maketh merry: but money answereth all things.
- Ecclesiastes 10:19

We have drunken our water for money; our wood is sold unto us. Our necks are under persecution: we labour, and have no rest.
- Lamentations 5:2-5

The Parish and Ward Church of St. Botolph without Bishopsgate, Bishopsgate, London EC2M 3TL

Fortune smiled upon me again that day: because Lynne was able to meet me half an hour early for lunch; because she bought lunch and I had a really nice bowl of vegan butternut squash soup with sage at a nearby branch of Pret A Manger, the accentless nonFrench chain; because she decided after our lunch and chat that I was the one to housesit for her in December, instead of the Australian couple she was also interviewing (long distance - it's an advantage to be on site and prêt à parler); and because we started early we also finished early, leaving me time to walk quickly back to St. Botolph's for the 1:10pm Choral Eucharist "upon the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord." I'd caught the announcement in front of the church doors out of the corner of my eye as I walked past earlier, saw the names Tallis and Lassus, and immediately sent a text to Lynne asking if we could please meet right away, so that I could get me to the church on time. There were only five singers, but they did a good job performing the Lassus (Orlando di Lasso) "Missa Qual Donna" in bits during the service, and the Tallis "O Nata Lux" during communion was very lovely, with a soaring soprano who controlled her vibrato nicely, and a countertenor who blended well with the mezzo.

I meant to visit Westminster Cathedral last month, but the first time I ended up walking right by it and going to Westminster Abbey instead, where I had to immediately turn around and head back towards Victoria Station to meet my friend Pascoe for lunch, so I didn't see either of those places. A few days earlier I had gone to Victoria Station to find out where Victoria Coach Station is, which is neither where the underground station nor the train station of the same name are, though they're all in the same general area. I looked on the map and saw that I wasn't far from Westminster Cathedral, but didn't realize I was on the wrong side (damn those upside-down maps) and so headed in a long loop that I finally figured out was taking me even farther from my goal, though I did find out where to go if I want to become one of the Franciscan Sisters of the Heart of Jesus or visit the ambassador from the Republic of Albania. So when I saw a lovely little church shaded by trees, I decided to go in there instead.

St. Gabriel's Pimlico (above), off Warwick Square, is an Anglican church built in the Victorian era that is apparently famous for its bell-ringing society, but since I was there between services I didn't hear any of the carillons. The church was empty and I wandered around for a few minutes, thinking that I was alone. A woman came out of a side room after a few minutes, and walked back to the main doors I'd come through, and locked them up. I wanted to find out more about the church, as I'd not found any little leaflets at the entrance, and gave a cheery "hello, there!" which startled her a bit, since she hadn't heard me come in. She didn't give me any information, though, other than the fact that she was locking up, and could I please follow her out this side entrance? I suppose if I'd been locked inside the church for six hours until the next service I might have found out more myself, but I had to get back to walk the dog anyway. I'd like to hear what that organ sounds like, one day.

St. Mary Abbots (below) is another church shaded by trees that I just happened on one day, as I was walking from Shepherd's Bush towards Hyde Park through Kensington, where I saw a sign for "Kensington Church Walk."

The walk goes through the gardens in front of the church, where students at the associated primary school might play during the year, but which during the August holiday was filled with well-dressed employees from the dozens of clothing stores on Kensington High Street sitting on benches and eating their sandwiches from Whole Foods Market, or noodles from Wagamama, or soup from Pret A Manger. There was a noon service going on, so I couldn't clomp around taking pictures inside the church, but now that I'm looking up more information on it I would like to see more of the interior, and find out about the history of the church, which is another one that can trace its history back to the Saxons and the 12th and 13th century.

Plus they have Friday lunchtime concerts, as I have just discovered! I will have to go to Wagamama and get something vaguely Japanese to eat myself in December ... let's check the menu: onigiri, nope, they deep-fry them in panko for some reason; edamame with chilli and garlic salt - that would make me popular with the people in the pew next to me, I'll bet; rice noodles and prawns with vegetables in a green coconut and lemongrass soup sounds wonderful but I would have to time my slurps to the music. Maybe a sandwich from Whole Foods would be a better choice.

And now I'm poking around churches in Salisbury as I come across them. I went to the famous cathedral the day after I arrived, but my camera ran out of batteries before I got inside. I'll have to go back and see it next week, fresh batteries at hand. They do a Choral Evensong every weeknight at 5:30pm, which would give me enough daylight to take pictures and enough evening light lingering so I don't have to take the bus back home in the dark. After spending all day sitting in front of the computer I really should take the opportunity to get out in the afternoon and evening, instead of sitting down in front of the television watching Food Network and the BBC news broadcasts. Though I am actually quite fascinated by the debate going on for (and against) Scottish independence. I hope the referendum passes, so that I can go back to the US and dig out the documents showing proof of Papa's Buckie birth, and then come back here to apply for citizenship. I'm sure that they'll need cheesemakers and writers to keep the economy strong - or I could always try to get a job on one of the oil platforms providing the inrush of wealth that has, in part, spurred this current breakaway movement. I could join the people going back to the highlands to reclaim the small farms that were emptied and razed to make room for herds of sheep owned by wealthy lowland (or worse, English) landlords back in the 18th century. I've been collecting names of goat-cheese makers, like Jumping Goats Dairy (way, way north near Thurso), though as yet I haven't written to any of them to propose my services as cheesemaker or on-site worker or general all-around helper. I will, some day.

Not far from Salisbury Cathedral is the fortress-like Church of St. Thomas à Becket, which has some really nice wall paintings from the 15th century. The ones in the Lady Chapel show paintings related to The Lady, naturally; above is a sort-of-closeup of the panel showing Mary visiting Elizabeth for a bit of mutual congratulation over their blessed baby bumps. Over the chancel arch (left) is the famous "Doom Painting" depicting the Last Judgment. At Christ's left hand (how sinister!) a red fanged dragon opens his scaled mouth to form a portal to the flames of Hell below. "Nulla est Redemptio" reads the scroll amid the tongues of fire below: there is no escape for the wicked.

I have leapt across the Channel to England, and I have escaped the routines of school, but I'm still trying to build a new support system with my freelancing and housesitting. So far, it has worked out, though I've had some worrying moments trying to piece together the housesits as closely as possible to minimize money I have to spend on hostels and B&Bs and trains and bus trips. Almost everyone so far has been very helpful, though, offering to let me arrive early and/or stay late, at least for a day or two. Things are going well.

Haec fortuna duraret in posterum.

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