Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My Cut-Rate Grand Tour: Day Four

Friday, 9 December, 1988
Chartres to Bourges to Lyon

ON THE TRAIN, BETWEEN BOURGES AND LYON-- Most of the day on the train today. The kid is very tired. This business of waiting till late to eat breakfast is not such a hot idea, is it? One begins to make a fool of oneself when one can’t manage locker keys. Or to become desperate and settle for mineral water and synthetic flan. This you call French cooking?

That gourmet repast happened in the Tours station, one of two train changes before Bourges.

Between Chartres and LeMans the sun rose and it looked like the sky might actually turn out clear.  No such luck. It’d clouded up completely by Tours and by the time I got to Bourges it was mizzling pretty steadily.  Well, nothing to be done about it. Though I guess I could’ve taken the lens cap with me.

Bourges Cathedral was lighter and more impressive than Chartres, even with the same weather. But Bourges has more clear or grisaille glass (thanks to the Huguenots?) than Chartres and they seem to have gotten farther with their window restoration work. Many of those in the chevet had already been cleaned and looked stunning.

The most wonderful thing here today was totally serendipitous: when I arrived the organist was practicing and he kept it up pretty steadily the entire two hours or so I spent there. It was marvellous to hear Bach rolling through that soaring three-level space. The organ is at the west end and was new or restored in 1985. There’s a smaller one-- also real-- in the choir (I blush to relate the Chartres’ choir ‘organ’ seems to be an EKI ["Electronic Keyboard Instrument"]). The organists used all the stops; it was lovely, the range of dynamic effects.

The inner aisle is unbelievable in its soaring proportions. And I love the way the ribs in the vaults of the ambulatory sway and curve across the webbing after they spring from the pier colonnettes. It’s so lively. Those piers look like slender trees, like giant sequoias, perhaps, that just grew and grew and branched out above.

I was surprised to see how much of the west end sculpture still remained. Most of the trumeau figures and pretty much all the tympana and archivolts. In its drapery the Beau Dieu [the statue of Christ at the main entrance] reminded me a lot of pictures I’ve seen of the one at Amiens, but the face wasn’t as sensitive. I wonder if it’s original or a 19th Century replacement.

I regret to say I was so intent on getting outside to see the edifice as a whole that I didn’t think to turn around and survey the southern portal when I emerged from it. It wasn’t till I was on the train and looking through the booklet I’d bought that I learned it has some very fine early Gothic sculpture, à la the Royal Portals at Chartres.

It was almost by accident that I found the cathedral at all. They have signs up to a point, but then when you’re looking for the next one you glance from la rue Moyenne to the left up this little belgian-pavered street, la rue de Guichet, and mon Dieu, there she is.

The south flank is nowhere so coquettish. It can be viewed in full, across the municipal garden, which must look lovely when everything is in bloom. As it was, the rows of gingko trees with their cropped heads had a certain baroque beauty. They rather reminded me of the rows of piers inside.

Something to check at home: have the apsidal chapels always had full buttresses below the corbels, or is that a recent pis aller?

Left the cathedral grounds a bit after 4:00. Got some cheese pastries and a can of soda at a patisserie, to eat on the train. But when I was passing by a salon de thé on the street to the station I thought of how chilled and wet and hungry I was now and besides it was over an hour to the train. So I turned in and had tea and a croque-monsieur.

Funny, but in the States that’s a pressed and grilled ham and cheese sandwich. Here I received a kind of hotdog with cheese on a long hard roll. Or hadn’t I made my order clear? No matter. It was hot and it was good and I’m grateful. Felt much better thereafter.

Bourges was all decked up for Christmas, too. I think it’s nice to think of all those decorations up all over the world. It’s something in common. If only all the world had the Savior in common, too!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

My Cut-Rate Grand Tour: Day Three

Thursday, 8 December, 1988

I know it sounds like blasphemy†, but the cathedral was rather a disappointment.

It was a very gray, heavily overcast day today, and the church was so dark you could see almost nothing. The vaults were lost in the gloom and the windows badly needed cleaning. I kept praying the sky would clear up but that wasn’t in the divine plan.

I could see the importance of light in bringing about the proper effect here. Mont-St.-Michel was a religious experience. Here I had to play art historian and approach the cathedral intellectually. Not the best way.

Shot the south and north portals using the flash. Wouldn’t dream of using it inside. I did photograph some of the windows inside. We’ll see how they come out.

There was a plan with all the windows keyed on it posted at the west end. I found the one of the life of St. Nigel‡ and headed for that apse chapel. Not a particularly popular saint: it was quite dark, partly because the window was opaque with grime. N’importe. There were people-- or a person-- who deserved to be prayed for there and so it came to pass.

Chartres is definitely an urban cathedral. It’s in use daily by the townspeople who employ its nave and transepts as thoroughfares and as places to greet and gather. They treat it, it appears, familiarly if respectfully (most of the time). But oy, it needs cleaning! That familiarity is verging on neglect.

I’m afraid I didn’t throw all that much into the restoration coffer myself. The francs go awfully fast.

I greatly enjoyed going up the stairs and along the buttresses to climb the north tower. You can see all over Chartres from there and in the tower see the great bells and the late Gothic stonework details.

I think the cathedral looked best today early in the evening. And when I came by at 6:30 to bid it farewell before heading back to the Auberge de Jeunesse the bells began to ring. That was grand.

Bought Malcolm Miller’s official guide in the cathedral bookstore, along with various cartes postales. Blew 350F (£35 +/-; $70 +/-) on a book on the stained glass at a bookstore across the street. The things I’ll do to write decent essays!

There was a little problem at lunch, my first meal of the day, when I was so tired and hungry I couldn’t decide what I wanted at the restaurant. Problem really was, the only thing I could afford was an omelet-- again. This one was cooked through. The real problem came when I found I’ve been confusing five-centime pieces with five-franc ones. I went to pay and found I was 5F short. Fortunately, they didn’t call the gendarmerie to run me in. No, I was allowed to go across to the Credit Lyonnaise, cash some traveller’s cheques, and bring back the balance.

(Something interesting I noticed in the restaurant: People had their dogs in there with them, no problem, and the sign posted on the subject only asked that patrons not allow them up on the chairs!)

As far as emotional satisfaction goes, I think I liked the town better than the cathedral. The streets of Chartres are a great deal of fun. I wouldn’t mind spending several days there just exploring. They teem with interesting shops, most of them too expensive for me (will the French really pay around $60 or $70 for a little nine-color watercolor paint set?), and a myriad of boulangeries, patisseries, and confiseries. It was very lively and colorful, especially after dark with the windows lit up with a golden glow and the Christmas decorations festooning from facade to facade overhead. There were all sorts of people out and it was pleasant just to wander around with them.

It’d be even more pleasant to do it with less to carry. That camera bag is good for the long haul but during the days, walking around, it’s a pain. The new document case bag is better as of today, though. Not that the clasp is fixed, but I was directed to a place where they put some new holes in the strap. It hangs about five inches shorter now and is much more comfortable. No longer banging against my thigh.

I have discovered that useful as that satchel is (and how much in vogue here), it’s heavy even unloaded. Not a lot to be done about it.

At about 5:45, I had a cup of chocolate at a shop across from the north flank of the cathedral. Wrote postcards. Funny, I don’t realize how damn tired I am until I sit down. Then I absolutely vibrate. Being hungry and exhausted does nothing for my French, either. I don’t speak such hot English in such states, but the people around here don’t know that.

Otherwise, my French is adequate. Or at least good enough to make people think I speak it and so go right over my head.

Second night at the Auberge de Jeunesse. It’s a nice place, in a modern way. Reminds me of something a young, bright architectural firm would do. It is rather annoying, though, for the management to be so pointed about the low-budget basis of the place. I mean, at least they could put waste bins in the rooms. Even people travelling on the cheap generate trash.

I didn’t really expect them to provide towels, and they didn’t. I would love to travel light, she said, but it’s hard when you have to carry your own linens with you.

I almost think that if I get tireder and not stronger, I may blow the money to send a few things back, sacrificing one kind of comfort for another; that is, sacrifice comfort in place to comfort in motion. Like, I’m beginning to think I could do without my jeans. They’re not really right for the kinds of places I’m visiting. And the hairdryer won’t work in the outlets here, even with the adaptor.
†I'd studied the cathedral of Notre-Dame-de-Chartres at KU under the great Prof. Lou Michel, and had conceived the sentiment, "See Chartres and die!"
‡Yes, I know there is no "St. Nigel"; at least, I doubt any such is commemorated in any French cathedral. Never mind, you get the point!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Carol Music

Here's my friend Frieda* playing my music for the year's Christmas carol. It should give you an idea of how it goes.

(With typical apologies for the sound quality on my camera and for the piano needing tuned.)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Hodie Christus Natus Est! Alleluia!

Presenting this year's carol. May it in some small way be worthy of its subject.

The angel came to Mary
And said, "Hail, full of grace!
For you shall bear the Savior

Of Adam’s fallen race!"
In wonder Mary listened

To this amazing word,
Then said to him, "Here now behold

The handmaid of the Lord.
"O could I but proclaim it,
O, that I might tell:
That I shall bear the Son of God,
The Lord, Immanuel!"

To Judah’s hills came Mary,
To Lizabeth the old,

The blessed news to say to her,
The angel had foretold.
All great with child, her cousin
Gave greeting in her joy,
And in her womb her quickened son
Announced the holy Boy.
"O could I but proclaim it,
O, that I might tell:
That in me grows the Mighty One,
The Lord, Immanuel!"

To Beth’lem Mary travelled
With Joseph, gentle spouse,
But nowhere could they lay their heads
In any lodging house.
At last, within a stable
With floor of beaten earth,
While ox and ass stood dumbly by,
Our Savior came to birth.
"O could I but proclaim it,
O, that I might tell:
Thus humbly comes the King of kings,
The Lord, Immanuel!"

The shepherds came to Mary
To see with their own eyes
The blessed Child with praise announced
By angels in the skies.
Then, joyful through the village,
The news they did impart,
But filled with wonder, Mary kept
It treasured in her heart.
"Too wondrous to proclaim it,
O, miracle to tell:
A manger holds the Prince of Peace,
The Lord, Immanuel!"

To Salem’s town came Jesus,
He came to Calvary’s hill,
He hung upon a felon’s cross,
Our ransom to fulfil.
The angels hid their faces,
Creation held its breath,
When Mary’s Child, the Lord of life,
Drank deep of bitter death.

Unworthy we to speak it,
O, with sadness tell:
Our sin has slain the Lamb of God,
The Lord, Immanuel!

The Marys to the garden,
Bereft and all forlorn,
Came sadly to their Master’s tomb
And there to weep and mourn.
The earth shook with rejoicing,
The stone was rolled away!
The angel spoke, "Christ has come forth
In victory today!"

O could we but proclaim it,
O, that we might tell:
That risen is the Son of Man,
The Lord, Immanuel!

With trembling awe they heard it,
The word the angel gave,
And glad and speechless ran away
From Jesus’ empty grave.
Then Jesus stood before them,
As at His feet they fell--
"I live forever for your sake!
Now quickly, go and tell!"

O Christian, go proclaim it,
Let all the faithful tell:
Redeemed us has the Son of God,
Our Lord, Immanuel!

The music for it is written, the first draft at least. Soon as I can, I'll figure out how to post an audio clip. Meanwhile, a merry and blessed Christmas to you all!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Only One Thing Is Needed

[This is a thought that came to me in the night. I've sent it out to people on my email list, and I'm posting it here, too, so my readers can see it if they like.]

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!"

"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." -- Luke 10:38-42 (NIV)

Dear Family and Friends,

This passage from Luke isn't one that normally comes to mind for Christmas Eve, but it's wonderfully appropriate for the state many of us are in at this stage of the season. We're like Martha, rushing around doing this, that, and the other thing, all to make Christmas happen for ourselves and those we love. Oh, gosh, the presents must be bought! The cards need to be sent! The tree must be up and decorated! Are the lights up yet on the house? Did we attend that all-important concert or play? What about that party we always give? Christmas dinner? Is everything in order for Christmas dinner? It's all up to us! We have to make Christmas! Without our effort Christmas won't happen!!

And woe unto us if it's not all done by the 25th! Because then we won't have Christmas this year. Because everyone knows, after December 25th, Christmas is over.

So hurry, friends! Rush, rush, rush! Christmas is tomorrow and it won't come if we don't make it! It's all up to me and you!


Christmas doesn't come because of our efforts. Christmas comes because of the unilateral work of God in His Son Jesus Christ. He's made and done everything we need and given it all to us in one human-and-divine package. And all we have to do is accept it--- accept Him-- by faith. God made His eternal Son to be born in human flesh as the child of Mary of Nazareth. Jesus lived the perfect life and kept the Law as we never could. He gave up His life on the cross to turn away the wrath of God that we deserved for our sins. He rose again from the dead to give us new life. By His Holy Spirit He makes us His brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of His heavenly Father, and credits His own righteousness to us. He promises to come again in glory to bring us into eternal, blissful, face-to-face fellowship with Himself-- and given what He's done for us already, that's a promise we can rely on.

Like us, Martha of Bethany thought it was all up to her. She had to make things perfect for Jesus Christ, the Lord. She had to do everything herself so their fellowship and communion could happen. She was angry and frustrated because young sister Mary wasn't sharing the load.

But Jesus answers her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed."

One thing? One thing, like, just serve the Master a bowl of beans? One thing, like, "Martha, just make Me a one-dish casserole and I'll be happy with that?"

No. The One Needed Thing Jesus speaks of is simply-- Himself. Do you wish to sit down in fellowship with Jesus this Christmastide? Then give up trying to make it happen yourself. Be like Mary. Choose what is better, to sit at His feet and receive His word. Receive Him, the living Word. He is the one thing that is needed. He is the better choice that will never be taken away. Jesus does it all. Not just at Christmas, but through all the year as we seek to walk with God and know His saving presence. All we have to do is open our hands, open our ears, open our mouths, and receive.

You may say this is a cheap excuse for people like me, whose baking isn't done and who haven't sent out any cards and whose trees are yet innocent of ornaments. And I don't deny it's good, especially at Christmas, to do things that give delight to others and ourselves. It's good to show our love for family, friends, and neighbors by gift-giving and visits, by hospitality and cards and carols.

But these customs don't make Christmas in themselves: they are-- or should be-- our joyful response to and thanksgiving for the Christmas that Jesus Christ by His own work has made for us.

So as you finish up your tasks of preparation, bid worry and upset be gone! Even if you can't finish them, be confident and at peace. Christ is born, and you didn't-- you couldn't-- do a single thing to make it happen. Christ died to set you free from sin and you didn't-- you couldn't-- do one good deed to deserve it. Christ rose from the grave and defeated Death, and you didn't-- you couldn't-- lift one finger to win that victory. God made it happen in His foreknowledge and power, and He did it all out of His love for you, to the glory of His Name.

This Christmas, be like Mary of Bethany. Choose the One Thing that is better. Choose Jesus Christ, and He and all His benefits will never be taken from you.

Merry Christmas to all!
St. Blogwen

So I'm an Idiot

I never learn.

I went back and kept hammering away at the soprano and alto lines of my new carol, mostly to get the rhythms and the note lengths right.

Now it's done, and I rather like it! And I've printed out a copy to go down to the piano and figure out and write in the tenor and bass.

Tomorrow. Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

What I'm Up To

Is something I've no business being up to.

I've never taken a music composition class. I had a few music theory tutorials as a supplement to my violin lessons twenty years ago, but nothing graded, nothing formal. Nothing where I had to submit work to be critiqued and corrected.

But here I am, with my Second Annual Christmas carol poem finally completed, trying to write the music for it. In four-part harmony. Or polyphony, since I'm going for a medieval feel.

Last year's carol I set it to a Welsh folk tune. This year, oh yeah, I gotta do it myself.

The soprano and alto lines are easy. I can plunk them out on my piano. The bass and tenor, not so much.

Doesn't help that it's freezing cold in my music room. Doesn't help that I never had the advantage of piano lessons, either.

And it doesn't help that in a better-case scenario this would have been done and sent out with my Christmas cards three weeks ago.

Well, I had other things to take care of. And the lyrics hadn't come through yet, anyway.

About forty minutes ago I gave up composing on the piano for the night and came upstairs to copy the soprano and alto lines, at least, into the freebie music composition program on my computer. But I can't remember how to make it let me do passing tones. Which not only makes the playback sound funny, it makes it hard to keep track of where I am in my manuscript.

Which might be a clue that it's time to give over for the night and take up the cause again in the morning?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Begging Your Indulgence

I fully intend to go back into my latest France post and add some footnotes and links. And maybe, maybe! some scanned pictures of the trip itself.

But not now. It's three days before Christmas and I got stuff to doooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!

My Cut-Rate Grand Tour: Day Two

Wednesday, 7 December, 1988
Caen to Mont-St.-Michel to Chartres

ON THE TRAIN-- Unbelievable, but I actually made it onto the 6:48 AM train to Pontorson (final destination, Rennes). No line at the guichet at this hour so it didn’t take any time at all to get my
EurailPass validated. The guidebooks all tell you to write on a piece of paper what you think the correct usage limitation dates are, but I couldn’t find anything to tell me exactly how long a one-month pass is to go, thirty or thirty-one days. So I went for broke and put down the 7th of January as the end date, and ticket agent accepted it and wrote it in. Hope to gracious that’s acceptable. Some of the literature said something about a special stamp . . . but maybe that’s just the validation seal.

7:05 AM-- M. le Conducteur was just in. He didn’t even look that closely at the thing.

There was an older couple in the car when I got on. I'd looked around and discovered the only place to put my luggage was on the overhead rack. When it came the turn of the heavy blue suitcase, I grabbed hold and tried hoisting it over my head. Impossible. I simply could not manage it. But the gentleman saw my plight and came to the rescue. As he deposited my bag on the rack, he and his wife gave me greeting, in French.

Um, I know what they just said-- the polite response is, um, um . . .

And the gentleman said, "Mademoiselle ne pas française."

"Oui, Monsieur."

"Vous êtes l'anglaise?"



"Non, Monsieur. Je suis une Americaine."

Funny! But I guess I have a lot of both English and Dutch in me, with the Zickefooses and the Lewises and the Hendrickses and so on . . .

MONT-ST.-MICHEL, 1:40 PM-- O mon âme, pour toi que reste-t’il á faire, mais brise ton orgeuil, devant si grande mystere?

Comment á dire? The coach travels the winding road from Pontorson, passes through another little village or suburb, winds through nondescript wintry fields and hedgerows, and all of a sudden, out from behind a stand of trees or a screening cottage, there it is. You think it’s a mirage but no-- "Domine! non confundar in aeternum!" You sit back stunned and say to yourself, "So, it does exist!"

You look again, and drawing ever closer and ever more distinct it rises against the horizon like a vision of the
New Jerusalem come down from God-- Mont-St.-Michel, the Mount of the Holy Archangel. And you weep. C’est tout.

The bus driver drove over the causeway and pulled up on the beach, under the walls and next to the portal. Having confirmed the hour of departure-- tout en française-- I got down, one of only four passengers on this trip.

The calm and silence spread like a benediction. I looked up through the portail de la ville and saw how the sunlight, radiant in a clear blue sky, glistened on the buttresses and spires high above, striking a high resounding note off the gilded effigy of St. Michael on the peak of the fleché of the crossing of the church at the island’s summit. It was so beautiful I was overcome again.

But practical matters came to the rescue: I was out of film in the Minolta and by the time I’d put a new roll in I’d recovered my equilibrium.


It would be impossible to describe all the little winding streets with their stairs and bypaths leading up, down, around, but predominently up, up, magnetically drawing you to the Abbey itself. But every step brought new vistas, new compositions in stone and sky, new marvels of unself-conscious beauty, all with that blessed sunlight illuminating and highlighting the textures, the details, and the warm yellow-orange of the stone. The only sound was the slapping of the waves in the canal estuary and, as I climbed higher, the cooing and flutter of pigeons in the tower above.

I seldom saw another soul and I did have to wonder if anyone lives here at all or if the whole town has been made into a museum. I did see one young man cleaning the windows of a restaurant just inside the inner gate, but not much of anyone else. Perhaps the village missed a little of the medieval clamour and bustle but it was blessed peace for me.

I wish I had a better voice: l’ambiance, le lumiere du soliel, le jour, le Mont lui-même-- all demanded Berlioz’s "Te Decet Hymnus," and sung better than I could in my breathless way.

Te decet hymnus, Deus, in Sion,
Et tibi reddetur votum in Jerusalem.
Exaudi, exaudi orationem meam:
Ad te caro omnis veniet!

The whole atmosphere of the place led me to worship, to a desire to kneel down and pray, right there on the pavement stones of the little ascending street. That impulse I would save for the church. But first I explored and photographed (and photographed! and photographed!) all the little lanes and ramifications, with their continually-surprising compositions of walls and steps. I would let the greatest thing come towards the end.

To reach the abbey one enters a kind of porch with leaded glass windows and more staircases leading upwards. There sits une jeune femme behind a guichet and she sells you a ticket for 23F. Then you go up the steps and through an archway out into the sunlight again. The echo of the pigeons in the tower is omnipresent, like a great whirring machine. As you proceed up the way, you can see low arched doors set into the wall to your left. These were, or are, the cells of the monks. To the right, en haut, is the crossing tower and the pinnacles of the Gothic choir. The southern portal to the church was ravished in sunlight, the beauty of the whole an aweful thing to behold. Oh my God and Father!

Tibi omnes angeli,
Tibi coeli et potestates,
Tibi cherubim et seraphim
Incessabili voce proclamant:
Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus,
Deus Sabaoth!
Pleni sunt coeli et terra majestatis gloriae tuae!

Mon cher Hector has been in a similar state, and I have the advantage of him-- I am a Christian. But at last I began to understand what he meant by "Les grands transports."

The south door is the Mass entry only. To visit the church one goes through the little bookstore and out into the wide court before the western face. There are abbots buried under its pavement, but of course that used to be inside the nave-- I think-- until three bays of it collapsed in the 18th Century. And you can see mason’s marks-- or are they positioning codes? on the pavers.

From here you can see far out to the west, south, and to the north, where then, at 11:00 am, the signature shadow of the Mont spread across the tidal flats.

The west front is handsome in an honest, homely way; they must’ve done it to match the old Romanesque one after the disaster. I learned later that the spire that now surmounts it all is a 19th Century contribution. In that case, it’s an instance of when the Neo-Gothic improvers actually accomplished their goal. There was sort of an anti-climactic onion dome before. The new spire gathers all the energy from the rocks and buildings below and sends it straight up to God in a transformation from material to spiritual that is more than metaphor. And suspended between heaven and earth sanctus Michael signifer acts as God’s agent for the final defeat of Satan, our accuser, and oh, Lord, may that actually happen soon.

One of my fellow-passengers from the bus came out of the church just as I was about to go in. And so I had it all to myself.

The light, filtered by the cames of the glass, was playing in softly-formed arches on the stonework of the choir ambulatory and reflecting gently off the plastered groin vault of the side aisle. Mon Dieu! qu’est-ce tu as fait!

The Romanesque nave has a wooden barrel-vault shaped ceiling but the choir is loftier and has a ribbed vault with bosses. There is an oculus, about four feet wide, in the center of the crossing. It has a trap door, through a hole in which passes the bell rope, to the tower above.

I could describe all the architectural features; heaven knows I’m used to writing such essays by now. But I will, God willing, let the slides speak for me on that.

Before I took more than one or two pictures I did sit and pray-- there were no kneelers in the nave-- I can’t say I told God this in so many words but I was most grateful for the opportunity to be private in that place. I prayed for my vocation, that God would show me what He wants me to do in Architecture once I return to America, or if He still wants me to be an Architect at all, and if not, Lord, what do You want me to do? I sang the old 15th Century [Johannes Ciconia] Gloria, and though it was done softly the acoustics are sensitive enough that it still set up echoes. I know it sounds overweening to say so, but somehow, when I went over by one of the crossing piers and aimed my camera up at the north nave elevation, something told me the Gloria was in order. I kept raising my camera as I sang it, thinking Oh, I could shoot and sing both, but each time I knew it wasn’t right. There is a marked difference between an act of worship, however inadequate, and merely testing the acoustics.

I’m afraid I tripped over the French language at one point, and it was on a word I should know. No, I do know it; I was just reading in meanings. I do the same in English . . . At the boundary of the choir and of the choir ambulatory there were signs in French notifying visitors that the consecrated Host was in the sanctuary, so kindly do not enter the choir, except for-- and there was a word I thought meant "priest." But I’ve known for ages that "priere" means "prayer"! But I saw what I expected to see and that was that. And so I did not enter at all.

Visits to the church are supposed to be limited to one hour so I pulled myself away and walked out into the cloister and into the refectory. I was soon joined by a couple as I was making a circuit of the cloister garden. One of the Mont wardens came in and told us-- en française, á bien sûr!-- that the church was closing for the morning. But he showed the three of us through the Salle des Hôtes [Guest House] and the Chapter House/Scriptorium, into the crypt with its great pillars, past the treadwheel, and through various other chambers, though far from all there are, until we were ushered through another long room, at one end of which was another bookstore, and thence into the foyer with the ticket booth.

But I had already made up my mind to go to Mass, even if I haven’t been for several years, and when I was halfway down the stairs I remembered that the south door to the church was the other way. So I climbed back up and remet the warden chap, who was talking with the priest. The latter told me, in English, Yes, go back on up, but keep in mind there’s no leaving in mid-service.

I wouldn’t dream of it, especially not today.

There were seven laypeople in the congregation for Mass, along with the priest, two co-celebrants and three deacons. Their deacons are deaconnesses, nuns, probably, making me wonder how the little community here is set up. (I saw some of them coming out of the little cells in the wall about the time I turned around to go back up to the church.)

I was able to understand the French well enough to recall where we were in the service. I could tell the priest’s homily was on an Advent text from Isaiah. But it would have been much better had I been able to participate in the chanted responses more confidently. The overtones made our little group sound like a picked choir. It was glorious.

And it was good to sit there in the choir pew and think of all the saints who have gone before and those who are now yet struggling, to pray for the Coverdale* silent retreat that starts today and the college’s ordinands’ vocations and to thank God for Nigel* and how he models the grace and light of Christ for me.

When it came time to stand, I found I was shaking on my feet. But it was from tiredness or nervous excitement. Not from cold, not at all from cold-- even though I’d laid my car coat aside and was wearing only my blue velvet jacket over my sweater and shirt, even though I could see everyone’s breath. Amazingly, my perpetually-cold hands and the rest of me felt warm!

I think there could be something to physical self-denial, if it were offset by a high level of spiritual excitement. Maybe that’s always the way it’s been. You’re so caught up in God you forget yourself and mundane things like what would be nice to have for lunch.

I did receive Communion, RC or no. You know my feelings on that. It was right.

Afterwards, I wended my way out and around where I hadn’t been before, along the tops of the outer towers. The sky was starting to sport some clouds but it was still quite warm out for this time of year.

Pretty soon, I passed on to one of the restaurants, La Terrasse Poulard (everything is "Poulard" something here) and decided I’d go in and have one of the famous Mont-St.-Michel omelets. So I did, with cuttlefish in sauce. And that is where 1:40 found me.

I wish I could say my exalted mood survived lunch. There’s nothing like surfeit to knock the poetry out of one. The omelet was huge and, true to French custom, left warm but undone inside so the whipped egg made a kind of sauce. Then I had almost two large bottles of mineral water and a piece of tart aux pommes. (The second bottle of water was on the house, because after drinking two-thirds of the first one I poured out the last glassful and discovered a small spider had committed suicide in it. One does not think of the implications . . . )

Oddly, after I left the restaurant the streets I visited were ones that were being repaired. Or that led to houses or areas of the abbey that were under reconstruction. Or those from which I could see TV antennas on a hotel or two, or the plastic bubble skylights somebody had stuck on the roof of one of the houses . . . More tourists were arriving by now, mostly French but still bringing an atmosphere contrary to the sensations of the morning. I was rapidly falling prey to prose.

But I had thought about this in the church, during Mass! No matter what sort of spiritual experience we may have, the realities of daily life will intrude and must be dealt with. Roofs need to be repaired and other people, including ourselves, can be difficult. But let us, let me, take the strength and the awe and the sense of God’s presence gained in worship and in that deal with the world, instead of working on the world’s terms. You let yourself get tied up in a worldly point of view, and all is lost.

[Here ends the entry for the day. But at 4:00 PM I caught the return bus to the mainland and the station at Pontorson. I collected my checked luggage and took the train on to Chartres, where I checked in at the Youth Hostel, aka L'Auberge de Jeunesse.]

Sunday, December 21, 2008

My Cut-Rate Grand Tour: Day One, Part 2

Tuesday, 6 December, 1988
Oxford to Caen

LA MANCHE, 5:05 PM-- I did get a cab right quick out front. I was in good time for the station and the train to Portsmouth Harbor. Changed at Reading. I regret to say the luggage is beastly heavy, especially with me trying to get a cold and having had no sleep and no food to speak of. Providentially, I keep finding people who volunteer to carry my bag for me, for which I am grateful.

The countryside between Oxford and Portsmouth was lovely, the sun shining and the fields an intense but mellowed shade of yellow green. There was an old man in the train from Reading, where I had to change, who lives near Portsmouth and was telling me about how he used to go camping with the Boy Scouts on the Isle of Wight. He pointed out the castle at Portchester, I think it was, and said it dated from the 1000s.

The ferry was late coming in, due to choppy seas. We didn’t get underway till way after 4:00 (3:00 PM is proper sailing time) and shan’t be in to harbour till very late. I do hope the bus into Caen is still running.

This is a French ship, the Tregastel. It’s like Montréal on board, in that the staff all speak French primarily but since their English has to be good, too, I feel a little foolish practicing my rudimentary French. Thus far I have been mixing it, and not adding in any Russian. We will see how I handle it when it comes time to buy dinner.

It’s a pity we got started so late. It’s quite dark now and I won’t be able to get a view of the open sea. There is a bit of a swell, producing a feeling as if the ship were making a continual righthand veer and rather as if one had gotten pleasantly tiddly. It’s making me quite sleepy . . . .

10:20 PM, FRENCH TIME-- Did you know the French are an hour ahead of the Brits? Whether it’s got to do with the country’s longitude east or if they just never go off Daylight Savings Time, I don’t know. Well, that’ll give me longer to see things in the afternoons, though an hour less sleep tonight. If I’d known we’d be this late I’d’ve hired a cabin and stretched out. As it was, I nearly fell asleep sitting at a cafeteria table before dinner.

Turned out I had no option about using French when trying to get something to eat. The chef-cum-server didn’t have any English. English food though: fried fish and chips, all luxuriously greasy. Poisson et frites, s’il-vous-plait!

When I was finished and started to unwrap the chocolate angel Friedhelm* gave me the other day (I remembered to take it with me at the very last minute and ate it this evening so it wouldn’t get squished in my new satchel), the man who carried my suitcase onboard for me this afternoon came by my table and asked me, in French, if I were French and returning home.

No, I told him, je suis une Americaine.

He eventually sat down and we had a nice long chat. He had no English at all and you know about my French. We did communicate after a fashion and I think I got the gist of most of it, if not the details. It was hard to tell if, when I couldn’t follow him, it was due to my lack of vocabulary or to his digressive style.

I think the latter, in the case of his telling me about his friend who has a fishing boat in Brittany and then getting off on the tale of all the American tankers that’ve broken up and left oil slicks all over the Bretagne beaches. Maybe I missed something about how the fishing wasn’t as good as it used to be.

He lives in a suburb of Caen, had just been over to England for the day, and was now coming back. Likes boats. He says there’re about seventy hotels around Caen. I just hope I can find one whose proprietor won’t be angry at being rousted out at midnight.

It shouldn’t be much longer now. I’ve been seeing lights on the horizon for over a half hour and we appear to be drawing even, as I write.

(It’s 11:10 PM.)

CAEN, 1:10 AM-- My Norman helper continued to keep me company off the ferry and into Caen, until he’d seen me into a hotel pres de la gare ["close to the train station"]. I never got his name. Though I suppose I could’ve, if I’d been quicker on the uptake. For some reason on the bus from the ferry port he was trying to tell me his birthday and ask me mine, and when I didn’t understand he showed me his entry permit, which certainly had his name on it. The interesting thing is that his permit said he was born in 1948. My apologies, but I would’ve said he was nearly ten years older than that. That’s a year younger than Eric* [a former (single) architectural employer]. But then, Eric’s always been a handsome cuss. That’s why I put up with him for so long.

Continued fun with the French language. I have to work on my numbers and stop adding them up in the air in front of me.

He asked me if I’d been speaking French in the US. No . . . (only to myself and in writing, which I want to express untoward thoughts towards ineligible objects . . . ).

Passed the château on the way here. Lit up at night. It was William the Conqueror’s. Of course! Survived the bombing in WWII, apparently.

Settled on a hotel near the station. Whole string of them here. This one is called L’Hôtel du Depart. Up the street a ways is L’Hôtel du Arrive. Humorous people, these Normans.

This place strikes me as odd, but I think I’ve discovered why it doesn’t seem quite as nice as it could be. It’s because this whole street (or place) is totally packed with hotels and brasseries, and I think subconsciously I was affected by thoughts of Honolulu’s Hotel Street, famous from Magnum and Hawaii 5-O. And it is not a nice place.

This is setting me back 100F [about $20 at the time], with a sink and a bidet in the room and WC down the hall, just like at Coverdale*-- except for the bidet. I can’t find the light for the washroom, but that’s like Coverdale, too, where according to time-honored Oxford tradition, the mirror is small and in the darkest corner of the room.‡ I can see how God has used this past fall to get me used to such major trials and tribulations as these.††

Speaking of WCs, I’d read of how casual the French are about bathrooms and I witnessed that one on the boat.

Actually, I made the first faux pas. Just after I’d gotten on board I saw a sign saying Toilet and so I went and used it. On the way out I noticed the urinals and wondered if it were a coed john, again like Coverdale-- until I got to the door and noticed it had a pictograph for "Men" on it. I was glad no one else was around to see.

But then just before dinner, I was in a bona fide ladies' room, getting ready to wash my hands, when a man came in and quite matter-of-factly headed for one of the stalls to use the stool. (Stall door closed, of course.) I quickly stepped out into the passage to verify that I hadn’t made the same mistake twice--no . . . So I (mentally) said ok! and went back to the sink to do what I was doing. My nonchalance may’ve had something to do with yesterday evening, when I was the casual witness to the scene of several future vicars stripping to their briefs and changing into their pantomime costumes in front of God and all the rest of the cast. Nic Chistlethwaite* had some really brief black ones on but he’s no good for a cheap thrill-- he’s too skinny.

The decor here is basic Motel-6 in a blue version (chenille bedspread exactly like the ones at Covers) but the plumbing fixtures are new and nicely-designed. And I am greatly enlivened to see that the closet door is fitted with one of those plastic and metal foil recessed pulls, from Häfele or Ironmonger, such as we found to be useless at the Griffons’ [a residential project I'd been working on in the States]. Here they solved the problem by fastening a screw straight through the middle and into the wood. Tacky-- but effective.
†NB-- I'll translate the French, German, etc., only if I think the meaning may not be obvious. But unsupplied translations cheerfully made upon request!

‡Dorothy L. Sayers allusion, from Chapter 1 of Gaudy Night
††Warning! Major self-deprecatory sarcasm alert!!

My Cut-Rate Grand Tour: Day One, Part 1 (Really!)

Tuesday, 6 December, 1988
Coverdale College*, Oxford

ON THE ROAD TO FRANCE-- It was a very late night last night. Both dances, the country dance and the one with the blues band, were great fun, if one can overlook two significant gaps among the attendees. I did get to dance with Friedhelm Schneider*, who is leaving after this term, so at least I got to enjoy the company of one of my three favorite Coverdale* men.

Afterwards, organized by Ken Allenby*, several of us stayed up till 1:30 am, working hard putting the Dining Hall and Common Rooms back in order and washing up in the kitchen. That and the laying of the tables for breakfast accomplished, we-- Ken, Nic Chistlethwaite*, Theo Arnold*, William Raynes*, Friedl, Rob Tenby*, Darla Dawson* [an American fellow-student], and I-- sat at one of the tables drinking tea and eating toast and talking of this and that. It was pleasantly evocative of days at the fine arts dorm at KU, a sensation that was intensified when I went over to the laundry room and found that someone had folded my clothes from the dryer. (I suspect Nic or Ken, but said nothing to them of it: let them have the credit in Heaven.)

It was, then, 1:30 when I finally came upstairs. And I still had to remove the stage make-up red fingernail polish from the pantomime, get my travel papers and books together, clean up the general mess, and pack up the things to stay and the things to come with. The worst of that is the organizing, especially when one has had no sleep in thirty-six hours and has been engaging in all sorts of strenuous activities during that period. The mind doesn’t like to work quickly.

And the body almost gave up totally, but was prevented by the horrifying thought of what would happen if I wasn’t ready in time. It wasn’t till 5:30 that I could turn off the light and crawl into bed, setting the alarm for 8:30. I especially wanted to be up for breakfast, since Friedl had postponed his farewell to me, figuring he’d see me there.

And it probably would be my last chance before next term to see someone else, someone who came in tired and with a cold after a five-hour bus ride from Cambridge yesterday afternoon, worked very hard setting up for the festivities, then retired to his bed directly after the pantomime, giving me no chance to enjoy his company at the dance.

But as my own exhaustion would have it, I slept until 9:30, and it was strictly by Providence that I woke up then. I ran around getting dressed, stuffing last-minute items into bags and boxes, getting Chrissie van Luiken's* address in Canada and giving her mine in KC in return, obtaining the storeroom key from Mrs. Smythe* the housekeeper and putting my things into there (with help from Harriet* [another American colleague] and Chrissie), all the while resigning myself to the fact that there was no way I would be seeing Nigel* [see here] this morning; I would just have to put up with it.

At 10:20 (train at 11:00) I came downstairs to call a taxi. But somebody else was using the phone, so I went and got my mail from my pigeonhole. Christmas cards from Darla and Harriet and a new Bulletin from the Berlioz Society. I stood outside the phone cubicle, beginning to open these, and looked through the glass to see who it was in there. And Tu Christe rex gloriae! it was Mr. Nigel Richards* himself.

I waited patiently till he emerged and greeted me.

"You missed a great party last night," I responded.

"Oh, no, I saw the pantomime. I enjoyed it." (He gave me a "well done!" last night.)

"No, there was a dance. After you went to your room."

A sniff into a tissue gave adequate explanation of why that absence had transpired.

"Well," said I, "I’m going to call a taxi. I’m leaving to go to France this morning. I’ll see you next term. . . . "

He wished me well and went to the mailroom. I turned to the phone. But what taxi to call? I jumped the last steps to the mailroom and asked Mr. Richards.

"I really don’t know," he said. "I’ve never used one since I’ve been here. I got one for another student once but I forget the name."

I said oh, I could try the phone book.

And he very courteously followed me into the phone cubicle and said, "Let’s have it. We’ll take a look." Lots of taxi companies; most of them in Banbury or Abingdon or Wolvercote. Most inconvenient.

He found me a number down on St. Aldates then stepped back. "Well, I’ll let you make your call."

"I’ll see you next term, then."

"Yes. Quite right. Have a good trip!"

"And you have a good holiday!"

And he went out (after I’d gotten him to change a 20p piece for me, to save the phone rejecting it). He closed the door, smiled at me through the glass once more, and was gone.

I made my call, which didn’t get me much of anywhere since the lady said the soonest they could be by for me was in twenty minutes. And it was 10:30 already. I knew then I had to hurry to get out on Banbury to flag a cab down, but part of me wanted leisure to sit and savor what God had just given me.

God didn’t have to let me see Nigel*. Practically speaking, perhaps the less I see of him the better, because as a potential unrequited passion, this is not only doomed, it’s stillborn. Emily* [his steady girlfriend, soon to be his fiancée] is part of him; to lose her would be his bitter destruction. But as for me, despite whatever of him is of Emily, which is of himself, or what is of the overarching sovereignty of Jesus Christ, the more I see and talk with him the more admirable he grows.

I hope I don’t miss him too much in the next thirty-three days. I want to enjoy myself on this trip and I wouldn’t be able to alleviate a bad case of Sehnsucht by the thought that I was storing up things to tell him on my return. Our conversations are too limited and I’d rather hear him talk than me, anyway.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

My Cut-Rate Grand Tour, Day One, Part One-- Introduction

I'm breaking my entry of the first day of my 1988-89 Christmas holiday journal into two parts, because the first of it happens entirely at the college in Oxford. I have the fanciful idea that it would be amusing for you to see the helter-skelter way I began my trip, and what I was, for a month, departing from.

The contemporary record doesn't include an account of the weekend immediately before the start of vacation, and a few words on it might provide illumination both on my state of body and mind and on some events later on in my European trip.

Saturday the 3rd I took part in a performance of the Berlioz Te Deum with a group known as the Oxford Classical Chorus, but it was really the Keble College choir. Our conductor was the Keble organ scholar at that time,
Charles Hazlewood, who has since gone on to do a thing or two . . . but I still say his greatest act of musical daring was attempting to put on the Te Deum with only thirty or so singers (Hector wrote it for, what, 400?). The full rehearsal that afternoon went magnificently. Inspired, I went home to Coverdale College* to hurriedly finish my charcoal gray wool dress with the white lace collar to sing in-- I'd started it the previous summer at home in the States but it still wasn't hemmed and the buttons weren't sewn on. I made it back to Keble in good time to sing, but as I mention in the Paris portion of my diary, I did not do well at all. I'd been getting by all term with following our lead 2nd Soprano and hadn't actually memorized the notes. But on the night, my friend wasn't in good voice and our tenors (all six of them) wimped on the "Tibi Omnis Angeli." I could feel the choir's confidence plummet all around me, so I decided to give my section a strong lead. And I led them straight into destruction, wrong notes everywhere, especially in the "Tu Christe Rex Gloriae." Mea culpa! mea culpa! mea maxima culpa! As things got more and more ragged, Charles slowed down the tempo, thinking it'd give us the chance to find our places and catch up. More like run us all out of breath, especially on the "Judex Crederis." Total disintegration! Mortification on wheels! Perverse thing was, the Coverdale* principal, whose son was playing in the orchestra, said that was the best the Keble orchestra and chorus had sounded in years. Yes, I know. Their previous performances (under previous student conductors) don't bear thinking of.

I may have gotten some sleep that night; I don't remember. I know I got only one and a half hour's worth the Sunday night, since I was desperately trying to finish the last two Michaelmas term essays for my final Medieval Architecture History tutorial on Monday. Miraculously, I managed to get them both done in time. I use that adverb on purpose, because I hadn't even started the research on the second one; in fact, I fell asleep over my books and dreamed of a good line to take on it, and woke up ninety minutes later and wrote it down.

So I survived my double tutorial Monday the 5th, and biked back to Coverdale* not to relax, not to pack for my Europe trip, not even to clear out my room to make it ready for the American conference guests who'd be coming in. No, I had to help set up scenery and get ready for my bit part in the college Christmas pantomime, a brilliant (in my opinion!) topical parody on Aladdin penned by one of the Coverdale* ordinands. I and my two female American fellow-lodgers had a singing turn as Three Little Maids, as in The Mikado.

After that, there were not one, but two dances, and after that . . .

Well, I'll let the diary tell the story.

But I think this is long enough for one post. I'll get us on the road in a post hereafter.

Monday, December 15, 2008

My Cut-Rate Grand Tour: An Introduction

By popular demand (from all three of you), in a day or so I'll start posting the transcripts of my 1988 Christmas vacation tour of Europe.

A little background is in order.

This took place while I was doing a year of special studies in Medieval architectural, ecclesiastical, and social history under the auspices of the Oxford Overseas Study Course, sponsored by a trio of American private colleges. I and a handful of others on the course were lodged at one of the Oxford theological colleges, which I am calling Coverdale* College.

The Oxford academic year begins the end of September and is divided into three terms, Michaelmas, Hilary, and Trinity (or Summer), with month-long vacations at Christmas and Easter. As at Easter with my Great Britannic adventure, every student who hadn't paid for an all-year-round room had to clear out of college, to make room for the conference attendees who helped pay the bills. That of course included all us Americans.

This provided us a fine opportunity to get over to the Continent and embark on the closest thing to a European Grand Tour that any of us was likely to see.

Mine was planned as a kind of busman's holiday, with musical interludes. Which is to say I arranged to spend over two weeks in France looking at all the cathedrals and abbey churches I'd been writing essays on all Michaelmas term, and storing up impressions of castles and stained glass for my Hilary term work. Hey, I was studying it because I loved the subject, so why not?

At the same time I'd be making a pilgrimage to French sites significant in the life and work of my beloved Hector Berlioz, the Romantic-era composer. Later on, I planned to visit sites connected with Beethoven and Mozart.

Christmas itself my friend Lukas Renzberger* had invited me to spend with him and his parents at their home in Switzerland. Then I'd make a swing into Italy to see Florence, Ravenna, and maybe Assisi, then up to Vienna in time for New Year's, to see all the wonderful early 20th century work of the Wiener Werkstätte as well as do homage to the great composers. Then on to Germany to check out some more recent architecture in Stuttgart and Frankfurt.

I ordered a month-long EurailPass from the States, good for both first and second class travel since, being over 26, I wasn't allowed to go at the cheapest rate. (I ended up grateful for the flexibility.) Other than Berlioz' birthday on December 11, Christmas, New Year's, and my return date to England, I had no enforced schedule. I sketched out my itinerary so I could visit what I could as efficiently as I could, but otherwise I was free to go where and when I would. I made no prior arrangements for lodging; I'd see where I ended up each night and find something from the guidebooks.

I went armed with a quantity of traveller's cheques made out in pounds sterling, and one or two credit cards. But I needed to do the trip as cheaply as possible. Not always possible, when the dollar-pound exchange rate was running about two to one! I had to make some sacrifices; I don't claim always to have made the right ones.

My luggage perforce had to include linens, since I planned to use Youth Hostels when I could and they required guests to bring their own sleepsacks. And I knew the sort of hotel I'd be staying in would not run to towels. The clothes I packed and wore did not include the usual American sweatshirts and athletic shoes, since they would have been offkey for the type of places I planned to visit. I did include a pair or two of jeans, but otherwise I had a wool skirt, a corduroy skirt, a pair of dark flannel slacks, shetland sweaters over Oxford shirts, a velvet blazer, and black suede hiking boots with red trim over knee-highs or dark tights. The boots were Italian and new-- I bought them in Oxford late the month before. Over all this I wore a wool car coat with a hood. I also packed a silk blouse, a charcoal wool dress, and a pair of black flats, for the concerts I planned to attend as well as for Christmas at the Renzbergers'*.

The piece de resistance was a new tan leather Italian document bag, also purchased in Oxford, which served me as a purse and as a satchel. It was the perfect size to hold my passport case (which could double as a dressy purse), my portable radio-tape player and headphones, my traveller's cheques, and other daily documents and necessities. Its outer pocket held maps ready for use, and it was equipped with a shoulder strap and a handle for hand carrying. It also boasted a lockable clasp (which, somehow, I managed to break the first day out). The key to this and those to my soft suitcase I hung on a chain around my neck.

I don't claim to have been the fashion plate for winter European travel in the late 1980s, but my kit worked-- sometimes in odd ways.

Besides the small yet bulgy nylon suitcase and the long leather satchel, you must visualize me thumping along with a ripstop nylon camera case crammed with two SLR cameras and their lenses and equipment (including roll upon roll of slide film) and an ancient khaki canvas Boy Scout backpack, decorated with my high school Best Thespian award patch and embroidered trail tags from Rocky Mountain National Park. That was for the souvenirs I'd be picking up along the way. How lovely it would be to be rich enough to travel in style with bellboys and porters to carry all one's luggage, but that wasn't me in 1988, and it isn't me now!

A note on the trip diary itself: It isn't as comprehensive or as well-organized as the one I kept for my British tour the following Easter. I'm inclined to post it pretty much as-is, and supply fill-in material in brackets only when necessary.

But as I say, we must wait a day or two to begin. I've got a deadline to meet by tomorrow and it takes priority.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Amateur Hour

The Pittsburgh Symphony tried something a little different this year. As usual, the orchestra and the Pittsburgh Mendelssohn Choir and guest soloists put on performances of Handel's Messiah. But this year, they decided to make tonight's concert into an audience sing-along. A very limited sing-along, restricted to four or five picked choruses, but a sing-along nonetheless.

A good description of it would be "amateur hour."
Not just amateur singers, but amateur concert-goers.

The place was packed, and I think a lot of people were there because it was Christmastime and it was The Messiah. Here and there before the concert people were openly (not clandestinely, like some people I could mention!) taking pictures inside the hall. Obviously they'd never had an usher put the fear of the management into them! An absurd number of ticketholders came in late-- far more than usual-- and the ushers let them in, while the music was going; what could they do?

In the row below me sat three young girls, maybe fourth or fifth graders. They were dressed in their holiday best, their long hair pulled up in tufted knots. But unlike the children on opening night, they made no attempt to pay attention to or follow the music. By the end of the first aria they were pillowing their heads on each other's shoulders, and by the conclusion of the second chorus they had burrowed their faces into their coats and were dead to the world.

Until the second half, that is, when something in the music roused the young lady in the seat just below mine and she started beating time by slapping her program on the back of the seat in front of her. Bored of that, she then commenced tapping her little patent-leather-shod foot on the concrete floor. Her father (presumably), the group's only chaperon, said and did nothing.

For that matter, neither did I. It didn't quite cross the line into disruptive. It was just-- amateur.

But you could say I got them back. Not on purpose, and much to my regret. I was not in good voice tonight. I'd had a busy, tiring day and this bronchial crud is making a resurgence. What's more, they didn't have scores available for borrowing; they only printed the words to the choruses for audience participation in the program. Me, I'd brought my score. The two women to the right of me had brought their scores. Other people scattered here and there through the auditorium had brought their scores. But seemingly, none of the people who'd brought their scores sang bass, tenor, or alto. That, or all the amateur basses, tenors, and altos wimped out. That left the job to us sopranos, tired or not, bronchial-crud-ravaged or not.

Hey, I was hitting the high gs and even the as just fine-- long as I could sing them forte. But bring it down to an mf or a p-- pathetic. No breath support whatsoever. Wobble, wobble, bobble!
I'm thinking, let's try this again in a smaller venue where the audience is the chorus. I haven't heard of any churches in the Pittsburgh area that do an audience-participation Messiah, but it'd be fun to find out.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Oops! I Forgot!

Back in October or whenever, I wound up posting my Great Britannic Adventure diary from 1989. And I thought that come December I'd do the same with my Shoestring European Grand Tour journal. That was from Christmas vacation 1988, and wouldn't it be cool to do each day's entry on its exact anniversary date?

But until this afternoon, I forgot. And that trip started on December 6th, 1988.

And that journal is not all typed up.

And I've got a lot to do around here.

So maybe I will post it, maybe I won't.

Maybe I'll backdate, and maybe not.

I'll think about it.

What do you, my mighty handful of readers, say?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Kompidenz, U Haz It! Part Three

Here's the third and final part of the meme based on The Pastor Competency Model. This is where we really get organized!

How Organized Are You?
Part Three

PLANNING AND ORGANIZING--Establishes appropriate procedures to complete work efficiently and effectively.

If you play, go from your own professional and personal experience. If you feel like passing this meme along, cut and paste from the block quote above.

1. Tell about a time when it was difficult for you to focus on the most important tasks of your work. How did you handle the situation?

2. Describe a time when you had to coordinate resources (people, processes, funds, etc.) as part of some complex initiative. How did you ensure that everything was handled effectively?

3. What have you done to ensure that the administrative tasks of your [job] were handled effectively?

4. Tell about a time when you faced conflicting priorities in your ministry [professional responsibilities, volunteer duties, family management, et al.]. How did you determine the top priority?

5. Describe a time when the day-to-day requirements of managing your responsibilities seemed overwhelming. What did you do?

Well, that's it for this time around. Let me know in the comments if and where you played.

As for me, I'm thinking! I'm thinking!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Howe Kommpident U Iz? Part 2

Did you have fun yesterday thinking about decision making? Or are you still deciding how to answer those meme questions? Well, ready or not, here's Part 2 of the Great Competency Model Meme on organizational skills.

How Organized Are You?
Part Two

DELEGATING AND EMPOWERING-- Appropriately transfers responsibility to others; uses the gifts of others effectively; creates a sense of ownership; establishes procedures to monitor results.

If you play, go from your own professional and personal experience. If you feel like passing this meme along, cut and paste from the block quote above.

1. Share one success story about how you have mentored and empowered someone to become a true disciple [effective employee, committed volunteer, el al.] who could then lead others.

2. Describe a time when you were able to cultivate the personal gifts of an individual so that he/she was better prepared to serve the mission of the church [company, organization, et al.].

3. Tell about the last big decision that you delegated to someone else to make. What was the situation? How did you monitor and follow up?

4. As a pastor [manager, supervisor, executive, et al.], what have you felt compelled to handle personally and what have you been comfortable delegating to others? Give examples.

5. Provide an example of how you communicated trust and confidence in someone to whom you recently delegated an important task.

Part 3 to come!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Haow Kompittint R U? Part 1

Couple months ago I blogged about the Pastor Competency Model that's coming into play in my church synod as a pastor hiring tool. I floated the idea of presenting some of the prescribed interview questions as a meme. There was enough positive response to go ahead with it, so in view of the fact that tomorrow begins the second two-day retreat for training based on the PCM, here's Part 1 of the meme for Organizational Skills, Skill One, "Decision Making."

How Organized Are You?
Part One

DECISION MAKING--Identifies problems; analyzes information to draw conclusions; considers alternatives and risks; makes effective judgments with the involvement of others; accepts responsibility for making effective decisions.

If you play, go from your own professional and personal experience. If you feel like passing this meme along, cut and paste from the block quote above.

1. Describe a difficult decision you had to make. What things did you consider when making that decision? What happened as a result of your decision?

2. Describe a complex problem you recently faced. How did you work toward resolving the problem? Whom did you include in the decision process and why?

3. Tell about a decision that involved some risk. What did you consider? What was your final decision and why?

4. Describe a time when it was very important for you to understand all of the underlying issues to avoid drawing a faulty conclusion.

5. Tell about a time when you decided to involve others when making a decision. What was the situation? Whom did you involve and why?

Have fun! Parts 2 and 3 to follow.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Of Things to Come

It's been two weeks since The Election, and I've been thinking about the outcome and its implications.

To my friends and readers who supported Mr. Obama, may we all have joy in your choice. For will-we or nil-we, you have dragged a large number of the population along with you. May none of us have cause to rue it.

For those of us who would have preferred the results to have been otherwise, I present, with some amendments, this list of resolutions I made late on Election Night, November 4th:

With the help of God . . .

1. I will not succumb to Obama-derangement syndrome the next four years, as so many Democrats have wilfully and luxuriously subjected themselves to Bush-derangement syndrome the past eight;

2. I will remain involved in Republican party politics, and resist the temptation to feel like It’s No Use. I will do what I can at my grassroots level to steer the party away from the Democrat-lite thinking and policies that landed us with such a lackluster presidential candidate in the first place;

3. When I supply a pulpit, I will pray for Barack Obama as president, as I have previously prayed for Bill Clinton and George Bush, according to the command of St. Paul in 1 Timothy 2:2;

4. I will resist the temptation to hope that Mr. Obama proves himself to be as harmfully radical and socialistic as his own mouth and associations have declared him to be, and I will support his policies whenever they seem to lead to good for our country;

5. I will exercise my rights as a citizen under the coming administration, affirming Barack Obama as my legally-elected president;

6. I will resist the temptation to feel that it’s pointless for me to keep working on my house, stymied by my fears that under an Obama administration I’ll probably lose it anyway;

7. I will resist the temptation to feel that I will never get a fulltime job given the likely business climate under an Obama administration, or let that give me the excuse to throw up my hands on looking for one;

8. I will not allow myself to believe that everything would be wonderful in this world, if only Mr. Obama had not been elected president;

9. I will not confuse the kingdom (nation) of the United States of America with the kingdom of God, and I will not let any awareness of decline or error in my earthly country cause me to lose hope in my heavenly city.

I do not resolve, however, to refrain from an occasional quiet but ironic laugh over how "Change!" currently seems to mean bringing back everyone and his dog from the Clinton administration . . .

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Be of Good Cheer

I'm not preaching anywhere this morning; in a few minutes I'll break off and attend worship at a church in the area.

But I wish I were in the pulpit this morning, for, God leading, I'd give a rousing sermon on the Two Kingdoms.

No, that's not something out of The Lord of the Rings. It's the biblical teaching that we as Christians are citizens simultaneously of some kingdom of this world (in my case, the representative republic of the United States of America) and of the kingdom of God.

Trouble is, a lot of my American fellow-Christians tend to confuse the two. They believe that the coming of the kingdom of God depends on their reforming and remaking this their earthly nation to conform to their vision of God's righteousness. That the kingdom of God actually is America made perfect and holy after the model of Scripture.

Ergo, there are Christian partisans on both sides of the American political divide who believe that the inauguration of the kingdom of God depends on their particular candidate being elected this coming Tuesday. And upon the other party's slate being soundly and roundly defeated. Somebody's bound to be disappointed, and if you feel your God and your faith, as well as your political party, have been dealt a crippling blow, you're going to be devastated indeed.

But this identification between the kingdoms of this world and the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ is not biblical. Yes, at the end of this age the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ (Revelation 11:15), but not by any party politics or social activism or theocratic initiatives or any other piddling human promotions of our own. This will happen by God's own effort through His Son Jesus Christ, on the day when Christ puts all enemies, especially death, under His feet and delivers up the kingdom to the God and Father of us all (1 Corinthians 15:24-25).

Meanwhile, we Christians live and operate with dual citizenship. We pledge allegiance to our earthly nation, whatever it may be, and to its rulers insofar as they are not usurping the rights and prerogatives of God. For we know that all authority is delegated to human rulers by God to promote good and suppress evil. And that includes those human rulers whose policies we don't happen to agree with, who might not even believe in or acknowledge Him. And we owe fealty to Jesus Christ as our eternal king, who has made us fellow-citizens with all the saints by the new covenant, the new constitution, if you will, sealed by the blood of His cross. God sheds His grace on both kingdoms, but with the former it is common or providential grace, given alike to the just and the unjust, to those who worship Him and those who do not; with the latter it is saving grace, which is reserved for those whom He has called to eternal life in Christ. God ultimately is sovereign over both , but only the kingdom of God has to do with matters of salvation, and only the kingdom of God will last forever.

Yes, God wants us Christians to do good in and through and for our earthly nations. He wants us to be responsible citizens of America or wherever He has happened to place us in this world. But being a good American is not the same as being a good Christian. And if God forbid! America should someday be no more, the kingdom of God and our citizenship in it will stand.

I've picked my party. I will be voting for those whom I believe will do my country the best good in the foreseeable future. God may well work things out the other way, for our blessing or our judgement. However it comes out, it helps me to remember the last two lines of Martin Luther's great Reformation hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God:

God's truth abideth still:
His kingdom is forever.

Monday, October 20, 2008

My Great Britannic Adventure, Day Twenty-two

Friday, 7 April, 1989
Moatenden to Great Dixter to Bodiam to Hastings to Oxford
Day Twenty-two

Breakfast was in the big, low-beamed kitchen. Last night Mrs. Deane showed me one of the ceiling beams that some archaeologist was specifically interested in, as to its antiquity and date. Going from Cecil Hewitt I would’ve thought the original structure was rather different from what this other man had surmised, but then I’m just a novice at this sort of thing.

I’m afraid I was rather behind getting to the meal. But Mrs. Deane was quite cheerful about getting me my eggs on her big Aga-- after all, her son had just come in to eat, too; thereafter to help deal with some workmen who were expected in.

The Londoners were finishing their holiday today, too-- their daughter’s school was restarting soon. We all traded horror stories about driving in London, and then Mrs. Deane invited us to walk about in the garden, if we would, before we left.

Sadly, it’s still rather awry from the big storm in October of ‘87. She hasn’t been able to get the tree surgeons in to deal with all the broken limbs. And a lot of the plantings besides those trees were destroyed.

Still, it was nice to walk to the back of the garden and contemplate the daffodils beside the watercourse. Funny, but Mrs. Deane told me that the moat that gives the Priory its name was originally a dry one. Moatenden Farm, just across the moat to the north (and a separate property) has oast houses. Be fun to see inside one sometime.

Picked my way round to the front, to get a view of the 12th century bit in front. It’s mainly just the doorframe and so forth at the kitchen end-- the brick nogging dates, I’d say, from the late 1500s, early 1600s.

After I got my things together upstairs, I sat down and wrote postcards. That done, I settled accounts, loaded the car for the last time, then drove away south. Stopped in Headcorn, where I posted the cards. Great fun--it started raining, hard, as I dashed back to the car-- then just as quickly stopped again.

I thought of heading generally northwest, meeting up with the M25, then catching the M40 straight back to Oxford. That’d certainly get me there by car-turn-in time at 4:15. But it seemed rather dreary, and anyway the rate the M25 goes, I wasn’t so sure it’d be all that quick. Besides, I had a hankering to see the sea again, feeling I mightn’t get another chance while I’m over here. So on to the south it was.

I’d read somewhere that Great Dixter doesn’t open on weekdays till the end of May, but just for jollies I followed the lane to it when I hit Northiam, just to see.

Well, it is open weekdays, but not till 2:00 PM. Oh. Only 11:00 now. That’d mean another day’s car hire. Oh, well.

The man in the nursery, which was open, pointed out Bodiam Castle which you could just see on the horizon to the west, only about four miles away.

Well, why not?

So I followed the little lanes down and around and soon was there.

Bodiam Castle is such an odd little thing, especially after places like Warkworth and Caernarfon. It obviously meant business, sitting there so solidly in its wide moat. But still you get the impression of a small swaggering person who defies people to attack him. One backs off, just in case, but one is still left wondering if one’s leg is being pulled all along.

Worked my way round the moat counterclockwise, as the sun dove in and out of the clouds, till I reached the main entrance. Other visitors were going in and I decided that if admission was free, I’d look in. But if not, I hadn’t the time.

It was 90p. OK! It’s off again we are.

Wended along over to the A229, heading for Hastings. In Hastings the main roads don’t indulge in any such American nonsense as a bypass. No, the A229 went straight down to the seaside. There you pick up the A259 which runs parallel to the water, with the big hotels on one’s right.

The sea was in magnificent form today, sending great towers of spray over the sea wall and onto the windshield of the car where I’d pulled it over to get out and see. The waves thundered gloriously and I was sorry I had to be on my way so soon.

Decided to take the seaside road as much as I could. Went through Brighton, where I could glimpse the Royal Pavilion, freshly restored, I am told, on the right. And Shoreham by Sea, and on to Worthing.

It was there that I knew I’d have to give up my plan, for although it’s nowhere near high season a plethora of other trippers had the same idea I did, apparently. The sea road was incredibly clogged and slow. I made it partway through Worthing when, considering how shockingly fast time was getting on, I backtracked a ways then got myself onto the A27, a bit to the north.

That was much faster-- it even has dual carriageways in places-- and except for lacking the view of the Channel was just as pretty. I love so much to see the sheep on the sunlit green hillsides! It’s as if so many fluffy white flowers had sprung up and blossomed in the space of a night. And the view coming down the incline into Arundel is simply breathtaking. The castle and cathedral were bathed in light, made much more dramatic by the clouds gathering to the northwest.

Again, though, no time to stop-- I had to press on.

Not that I didn’t pull over a bit farther on-- I stopped and got out to take photos of the thunderheads piling up over the downs-- they looked so Midwestern!

As I entered Portsmouth, around 2:15, I saw that the needle on the petrol gauge was riding rather low. I started to look for a Shell station, figuring that since everyone’s gas is overpriced here I might as well patronise the oil barons my mother works for. And soon I spotted one-- on the far side of the divided road that the A27 becomes as it passes through the northern regions of the town. But there were no legal right turnings I could see for blocks and blocks.

So at next opportunity I made a left into a residential neighborhood, then another, then another, round the block hoping to find a cross street that’d intersect with the highway and allow me to backtrack to the filling station.

As I was on the northward leg of this square I passed a cyclist, giving him plenty of berth. At the end of the block I could see, as I approached, that the way ahead was blocked-- there was indeed a bridge over a stream or ditch, but closely-spaced bollards closed it to motor traffic.

Well, rot. I put on my turn signal in good time and when I reached the T-junction, turned left yet again.

All at once, I heard a bump on my left rear fender. A cry came from the road behind me, more of wrath than of pain. Chilled with apprehension, I stopped the car and looked back-- to see the cyclist lying on the ground just short of the intersection, his supine bicycle spinning its wheels beside him.

Well, you know me, especially when I’m tired and hungry and rather frightened besides. I ran back to the corner, grateful to see him getting to his feet, and said, "Oh, I’m so sorry! I didn’t see you! I’m so sorry! Are you hurt?"

The cyclist, a rather regimented-looking young man of about twenty-seven or so dressed in a BritRail messenger’s uniform, flexed his ankle and said, "Well, I suppose it’s all right," adding accusingly, "no thanks to you."

I went off on another volley of apologies and blametaking and he was well-satisfied to give me a grim little lecture on the rights of cyclists and the rules of the road. It was so shame-making-- for as one who for years got around mostly by bike, who should know such things better than I?

Then he got out his walkie-talkie, with another comment about how it wasn’t my fault that it wasn’t broken, and radioed his office, giving them the license plate number of the hire car and my driver’s license number and all the rest of it.

Immediately fears of horrendous lawsuits swarmed into my head-- maybe I wouldn’t be allowed to leave England. And whatever would the EuropCar people say?

Finally, as if he were a traffic cop and not an accident victim, he sent me on my way, saying cynically, "Next time you run down a cyclist, try a little harder-- maybe you’ll do a better job of it"-- as if I’d gone after him on purpose.

I found the way to the Shell station and got a fill up and a chocolate bar. I wondered morosely and guiltily what the attendants would say if they knew what I’d just done.

Continued on into Southampton, where I got a little lost trying to hook up with the A34 going north. It was around 3:00 by now and the primary schools, with all their uniformed scholars, were letting out. This forced me to take it specially slow-- another accident I did not need.

After I got on the A34 and up past Winchester, my head began to clear a bit and I got to wondering. How could that accident have been my fault, since he was the one who’d hit me, presumably as I’d turned the corner? And how, since I’d passed him about even with the previous cross street, had he managed to come up on me so fast, and why? And considering that I’d signalled for a left and the way ahead was blocked, how could he for a moment have thought that I wasn’t going to turn left, or have been such an idiot as to think he could pass me before I did? For afterwards he’d gone off straight ahead across the bollarded bridge.

And in place of my fear and guilt came a swell of anger-- anger at people who can so cleverly blame others for their own foolishness and at myself for habitually being such a patsy for that sort of person.

The day and my mood rapidly deteriorated as, short of Newbury, I came upon a backup that the radio said stretched out for ten miles and for which their traffic reporters would propose no explanation. All I knew was that it took a half hour to go five miles and my chances of making it to Oxford by 4:15 were to hell and gone.

When I got to Newbury, I discovered the problem-- It was simply the glut of Friday travellers and commuters taking their turns getting through the Newbury roundabout. Damn this road system! Haven’t these people heard of a proper interchange?

Thank God the road was clear after that.

I’d planned to reenter Oxford by the eastern bypass, by way of Littlemore and Cowley, but saw there was no way. It was 5:00 already and the hire office closed at 5:30. So I came up the West, got off onto the Botley Road, and wended my way through the rush hour traffic by way of Beaumont Street, finally reaching Banbury Road and Coverdale*.

Fast as I could, I emptied out the car, dumping my luggage in the basement flat [where I had been moved during the vac]. That done, I dashed back across the Chapel passage and back to the car.

Fought off the Oxford traffic back to the Botley Road. There I perpetrated an act that put the crown of absurdity on this whole confounded trip-- I mistook, or misremembered, the way into the carpark for the shopping center where the hire place is. Instead I found myself on the highway on-ramp and thence heading southbound back down the A34.

I didn’t care who heard me, I screamed in frustration! In an access of self-disgust, not to say self-destructiveness, I gunned the engine and as my speed mounted I didn’t give a holy damn if I were arrested for speeding or cracked up the car or committed whatever other mayhem.

But I couldn’t help but see the Palm Sunday cross that’d been hanging from the rearview mirror ever since Saffron Walden. And a more sensible voice reminded me of what a bad witness it’d be if I did something foolish with that present to proclaim me a Christian. Chastened, but still very upset, I slowed down and turned left into what I discover is Yarnells Road. This took me to North Hinksey Lane and back to the Botley Road.

This time, I didn’t miss the turning to the car park. And thank God, though it was 5:40 the EuropCar office was still open. I told them about the cyclist and filled out a report on the smashed door I so cleverly acquired in Stamford. The girl at the counter agreed that my second-thoughts version of the encounter in Portsmouth was probably the accurate one. She told me not to worry, they’d take care of it, since it was properly reported to them and she’d taken the particulars down from me in writing.

I couldn’t get my deposit back yet, as all the cash was locked up for the weekend. And I nearly forgot my Palm Sunday cross, running back to retrieve it.

I did not take a bus back to Oxford. I’d had enough of vehicles for quite awhile. Instead I loitered along the Botley Road, pausing to inspect the little ramifications of the Thames as they passed under each bridge I crossed. I stopped to see the locks at the Osney Bridge, coming down into East Street for a closer view. At one point, I passed a young guy who was trying to hitch a lift into Oxford. I nearly laughed in amusement as I told him, upon his inquiry, that the city was only a short distance ahead-- he’d might as well walk. Everything was bathed in a golden western light and as calm returned I felt a great sense of proprietary affection for my city as it appeared ahead.

And so to New Road, round by the castle mound, and thus by Queen Street to Carfax. It was a little short of 7:00 and I just had time to pop into the Coop on Cornmarket for some milk and other supplies.

Thus provisioned, I strolled up Magdalen, up St. Giles, and finally to the Banbury Road and Coverdale College*.

I’ve been utterly useless the rest of this evening. I made myself supper and took forever eating it at the desk in the little bedroom down here. And, ignoring the luggage that wants to be unpacked, I’ve finished reading Scott’s Heart of Mid-Lothian (and rot him, need he be so predictably moralistic in the end?).

The college is still overrun with those absurdly embarrassing students from Bemidji, Minnesota, and I still don’t know how I shall deal with the problem between Lukas* and me. But away with all that for now-- I’m back at Coverdale*, thank God, I’m home at last, I’m home!