Friday, September 19, 2014

London Birds

One of travel's pleasures is coming upon the unexpected, and in London I was surprised by the birds. In Paris, there were pigeons everywhere but the bird market, so I expected the same in London.

The first day out and about at Buckingham Palace St. James Park, there were bright green parrots squabbling in the trees. Mute swans, moorhens and coots. Most surprisingly, a pelican!

Then at the Tower of London, the Ravens. Their wings are clipped due to the superstition that the Tower will fall  if there are not six ravens on hand to guard it at all times. Now there are eight, just in case. Huge, black, barking and ominous.

The birds may be captives, but they are well tended and fed meat with bloody cookies regularly. There is even a Yeoman Warder Beefeater tasked with the responsibility to look after them.

To even qualify for the position of Beefeater, you must have served 22 years in the military as a senior or petty officers and hold the Longservice and Good Conduct award. There have only been 400 Beefeaters to date, so it is quite a distinction to join the corps.

We chatted at length to the Yeoman in charge of these creatures. He actually had an arm patch of a Raven on the sleeve of his uniform.  Shortly after joining the elite security team. their current keeper noticed the birds had taken a liking to the newcomer, so 'took him under his wing' and trained him. Initiation included spending time in the cage, birds pecking. Duties of the Raven Guard  include feeding, clipping, monitoring the Ravens overall health, investigating their deaths, introducing new birds, protecting the existing flock, and occasionally recapturing and returning birds to Tower grounds. Just the week before, a pair had hopped over the wall and the Beefeater searched for five days to bring them back (wearing plainclothes). He knows each of the birds by their size, shape, call, and personality, and spoke about their moods with affection.

A few years ago, a fox managed to get on the grounds and kill two birds, causing security to be 'beefed up'. The average raven life span is about twenty years, while the current age of the oldest Tower Raven is forty-seven. They seem to have great disdain for the tourists.

Part of me can't help but wonder if the Tower Ravens were jailors or guards in their past lives.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Sacred Music

Notre Dame
A bit of research prior to our travels showed there was a Sunday Gregorian Mass in Notre Dame, and I wanted to attend. I had envisioned monks in heavy robes and deep voices, but the nuns were doing the chants, voices ascending. To spend an hour just sitting and absorbing this amazing cathedral was a privilege. Centuries of worship must concentrate energy, which may be partly what draws these daily crowds. Hearing the music, looking at the soaring buttresses, admiring  the stained glass, and just simply being in the space was exquisite.

Sacre Couer
Then by design or chance, when we were visiting Sacre Couer I took a seat in a front pew to admire the altar and art of the Basilica. Within a few minutes, a sung Eucharist was beginning. It was just serendipity, and not planned. Nuns again, beautiful voices. Everything was in French so I didn't understand the content word for word, but this was a Catholic mass, so although it has been many years, I certainly had a sense of what they were celebrating. As I sat I had time to take in the gold and stained glass, and to wonder how mosaics of Stars of David had come to the walls gracing the pulpit.

St Paul's Cathedral
Again - at St. Paul's in London, we wandered in during the last half of a sung Eucharist. This time, a Mozart Opus with a men's choir singing verses in Latin. I found myself at the back, looking at the silhouette of the congregation with my gaze drawn up to vaulted ceilings. This time the sombre tones were reminding me of the (mostly) men buried here, including Christopher Wren, the architect who rebuilt the cathedral after the Great Fire of London in 1666.

Westminster Cathedral
Again again.... at the end of the Westminster tour we heard that Evensong would be in just a half hour if we wanted to stay. We did. This time there were no tourists milling about the periphery, and the service took place in a smaller setting. The men's choir sung in Latin, and the priest welcomed His Excellency from Malta who was seated with other guests of honour. On the way out of this structure we walked over the spot where Darwin was entombed, and past the tribute to Sir Isaac Newton. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier lay at the entrance in a place of honour.

Being in these sacred places and listening to the sacred music made me think of the millions who sat in these place before me, royal and common, devout or politically motivated, with self-interest or the good of the world at the heart of their intention. I also wondered at and about the churches themselves, the sculpture, stained glass, paintings and architecture. So much beauty.

We visited other churches on our travels in Paris and London: Sainte Chappel, St. Louis I'lles, St Etiene, St. John the Baptist in Berford, Saxon Saint Kenselm in Lovell, chapels in Oxford. Are there modern day equivalents? I can think of none. Our common spaces are less divine and not built to last centuries: coliseums, shopping centres, subway cars, parks. Less permanent and ambitious. Less divine.

Today people with great wealth to bequeath tend to sponsor universities and hospitals to be remembered, and churches are careful not to flaunt their riches with so many who need help in their daily lives. A recent exception is the Aga Khan Centre in Toronto that opens gardens and a museum to the public September 18... today, in fact.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Paris log

I have seen glimpses these last eight days of a Monumental Paris, a Sacred Paris, an Historic Paris, a Literary Paris, an Art Paris, Gardens of Paris, Foodie Paris... An exhausting eight days! So tired at night, but I still can't sleep because I don't want to miss anything. Too busy to shop for souvenirs. 

Tomorrow morning, up early to pack and off to London.

Day One: Arrived at our place on I'Ille St-Louis and had a short nap before walking over to the hop on, hop off L'Open Bus Tour. The bus and boat routes were a great way to get our bearings and see all the monuments. Every turn something new and amazing. Spectacular! Such splendour! The Eiffel Tower surprised me. After seeing so many photographs I didn't think I would be so impressed, but this icon has such impact when you see it in person. Day Two: More hop on, hop off. Montmarte, Left Bank, Marais, St. Germaine. Montparnasse. Opera. We got a little off the tourist tour to check our St, Martin Canal. I love the batobus at night, the same monuments all a-glimmer. The moon is almost full, adding a special element to the night sky. Patisserie! Fromage! Vin! Crepes! The street musicians! The grafittee!  Day Three: Today was my birthday, and we sat for a Gregorian Mass in Notre Dame. The voices soared in this sacred space. The service was in French, so it might as well have been in Latin. I thought of the millions of souls who have shared this space over centuries. Then off to the Sunday Bird Market for colour. Brunch of crepes and strong cider. We are still using the hop on hop off but are now calling it the "hop off, get lost" ... Luxembourg gardens... Cemetary Montparnasse Day Four: Today we started taking the Metro, off for a tour of the Opera Garnier. I have wanted to see the Chagall ceiling for years, and it did not disappoint... and there is Moon Room in the Paris Opera.... how perfect! An amazing lunch at Le Grand Cafe Capucines. Visiting Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison in Pere Lachaise. On to Sacre Couer, such a beautiful church, the light of the stain glass glowing on the stone walls. And Montparnasse, where all the artists and writers hung out in the 20's and 30's. Seeing the Eiffel on the skyline, in the distance, like a jewel. Day Five: Must have walked ten miles today! Musee D'Orsay. Rodin Musee. So many masterpieces, dizzy and overwhelmed by Rodin-Van Gogh-Renoir-Monet-Pissaro-Toulous Latrec. The Gates of Hell plaster in the D'Orsay, followed by the bronzes in the garden.  Invalides. Ending the day with champagne in the Eiffel Tower, seeing the full moon in the sky. Taxi home. Day Six: Versailles. The scale of the palace was beyond my imaginings. The gardens, so vast! We rented bikes and rode past the boats in the Grand Canal to the Petit Trianon, the smell of autumn in the air. Dappled sun. Then dinner at a local restaurant, just steps from our Paris apartment. Day Seven Started with Sainte Chapelle, then the Bastille Market, walk in the Marais, tour the Louvre, take in the water lilies at the Orangerie, walk through Tulieres to Pont Neuf, dinner at home and then out to Shakespeare and Company & a walk along the Seine. Day Eight A Paris Walks tour, of Hemingway's haunts... Now I will need to re-read The Moveable Feast and Paris Wife, tackle Joyce's Ullysees and try Orwell's  Down and Out in Paris. An afternoon wandering the Left Bank, the Marais again, and then checking out the Stravinsky Fountain at the Pompideau Centre. A picnic on the Seine of wine and cheese, and a night cruise to enjoy the shimmer and glimmer.
... details to come

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Paris Moon - September

A harvest moon in Paris!

The Paris Opera Garnier had a Moon Room, gold and black, with creatures of the night sky: bats and owls. What a wonderful surprise on the tour.

Today, after a visit to Musee D'Orsay and Rodin, we are planning to end our day at the Eiffel to watch the moon rise over the city. I've been enjoying my view these last few days as it positions itself above the Seine or beside Notre Dame or hovering above the church just across the street. Belle lune!

officially full September 9