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Posts Tagged 'London Underground'

Nice ways to spend Valentine’s Day or, things I’ll probably only ever be able to pull off once, part III

oxford-ticket-13-feb-2009I got some news on Friday that I’m thrilled to have received, to say the very least. It’s one part of a triple threat, a trifecta even, of excellent possibilities, and it is seeming rather possible right now that by this time next week, I will have found out that the other two, and thus all three, have occurred.

My only gripe is that I was hoping that I might have heard this before we went to England, so that celebrating these bits of news might be yet another pretense for the trip.

That’s okay; it just means we’ll have to go again.

But you were waiting to hear something about Oxford. Warning: this is perhaps going to be the most academically dense installment of this account. Apologies.

A couple of weeks before we left, I e-mailed my friend and Anglophile Mark Powell to see if he had any suggestions for things to do and see. E-mail Alexander Lingas, he said. He’s there.

Dr. Lingas let me know that, Friday evening, he would be delivering a lecture at Oxford’s Ioannou Centre for Classical and Byzantine Studies on Byzantine chant in Late Byzantium, and that we would certainly be welcome to come if we wanted.

I was of two minds about this, truthfully. I thought to myself, wow, what a neat opportunity to sample, even on a small scale, the academic life while we’re there, on a topic which is near and dear to our hearts, and discussed by somebody whose work we respect and have been influenced by, even.

On the other hand, that’s the same day on which we will have just concluded roughly seventeen hours of travel, and it will most certainly mean that we’ll be taking two trips to Oxford, since I was really hoping to show Megan around there (and convince her that it’s someplace we want to live and do postdoctoral work someday, but never mind that now).

Oh well. Guess we’re going.

Thus, after refreshing ourselves with showers and fresh clothes, we took the Tube to Paddington Station from Charing Cross (this is a lot easier than it initially looks on the Tube map, by the way; you just push the waste all the way in so that the door can close… uh, wait — what I meant to say was, just take the Bakerloo line north from Charing Cross to Paddington — it looks like this shouldn’t work on the map, at least at first glance, but it in fact does), and off we went. An hour later we were getting off at Oxford station.

I took us right to the Ioannou Centre (alas, the Cock and Camel, where I had a nice breakfast a year and a half ago, has been replaced by an Italian restaurant); it’s a rather new building, and I remember walking past it a year and a half ago thinking, “Hey, I need to figure out a way to visit this place next time I’m here.” (This is not the accomplishment of memory it sounds like; you go down the main drag from the train station till you get to the other main drag which is perpendicular to the one you’re on, go left, and after a block or two there it is on your left.)

We got to the hall a half hour early or so, which gave us an excellent opportunity to look like American tourists who obviously didn’t belong there, awkwardly standing outside a darkened lecture hall doing nothing while students and faculty were quite well-occupied around us. Still, people showed up soon enough to provide us fish out of water with a little bit of a pond.

The lecture, “Cathedral and Monastic Psalmody in Late Byzantium: Towards a Final Synthesis?”, was intended as an introduction to the issues surrounding the late medieval Byzantine repertoire for scholars who are in fact Byzantinists but not music specialists. Since I’ve read his dissertation, many of the broad strokes of what he discussed were not new to me, but it was very interesting to hear him sing off of the medieval manuscripts, as well as talk about some of the transmission issues with the medieval repertoire. What was great about hearing somebody like him talk about these things is that he was able to make clear that this is a part of a greater body of living tradition and practice; this is not just What Those People Back Then Used To Do.

A point which I very much appreciated: Dr. Lingas said that chant scholars such as Egon Wellesz have tended to discuss the Paleologean repertoire in the context of a narrative of overall cultural and political decline in Constantinople; of course, I’m reading The Fall of Constantinople: 1453 right now, and Runciman very pointedly observes (perhaps with people like Wellesz in mind) that culturally, Byzantium was quite alive and well even as the Empire was in its death throes. Anyway, as this particular narrative of decline has gone away, it’s been replaced by a narrative of specifically religious decline, bizarrely (at least to me) represented by a disappearance of congregational singing and the rise of professional-level, melismatic chant. “The end result is the same [in both narratives,]” Dr. Lingas said. “The cantor has hijacked the liturgy.” He took great pains to disabuse the audience of these notions, demonstrating that a great deal of continuity (but not stasis, he stressed) can be seen between the Paleologean material and the received tradition of the present day, and that by no means has the cantor hijacked anything. Since I have been the cantor getting accused of doing the hijacking, the defense to a general audience was most appreciated.

Following the lecture, we hung out for a bit at a reception for Dr. Lingas, talked with him briefly, had a lovely chat with a DPhil student there who is writing his dissertation on Galen (“I guess I specialize in pain,” he said), and then we needed some real food. We told Dr. Lingas we would see him at church on Sunday (“Great — it’s the day for Byzantine chant in English,” he said), and then hunted down a meal.

We found ourselves at an Irish pub chain restaurant called O’Neill’s; chain it may have been, but it was tasty and reasonably inexpensive, and a good place for a beer and some stew.

We were ready to head back — we’d be in Oxford again on Sunday, anyway. By this point, we had been up for close to thirty hours (give or take), and we were nodding off on the train back to London to say the least. Back in the hotel room, we were asleep before our heads even hit their respective pillows.

Travel tip: having an international flight arrive in the morning and then tiring yourself out so that go to bed at a normal hour is a great way to beat jet lag.

Next installment: When Your Definition of Modern Is Anything After 1400 or, How Emily Hindrichs Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Her Wig

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Nice ways to spend Valentine’s Day or, things I’ll probably only ever be able to pull off once, part II

Now, just because it was now out in the open we were going to London, it did not precisely follow that the jig was entirely up. When asked where we were staying, what we were doing, so on and so forth, I just put on my best clueless expression (see photo at right for one of my many options) and said, “Hopefully whoever planned this will make it clear what we’re supposed to do by the time we make it to Heathrow.”

It’s a wonder I made it over the Atlantic alive.

The Minneapolis airport (where we had a four hour layover), by the way, is a shopping mall where planes happen to land. There is no seating anywhere where it is quiet and peaceful; all public seating is near either shopping or a loud TV screen. I assume this is because if you had a quiet place to sit, you’d be sitting quietly rather than consuming the advertising on TV or out and about spending money. Oh well. I will say that, at an airport like Minneapolis, you could arrive with absolutely no baggage and make it to your destination with everything you could possibly need having been bought once you’re through security (including a suitcase); I suppose this is a convenience.

Then there was the trash can over by where we were sitting while eating lunch; it was automated so that, if a sensor detected that somehow somebody’s garbage hadn’t been deposited well enough, it would tell you, in a very crisp, rhythmical voice: “Push the waste all the way in so that door can close.” Actually, it was more like this:

airport-trash-can1

The reason why I am able to notate it so precisely is because the mechanism had been broken, and the message was being repeated over and over and over again. This went on for several minutes until somebody mercifully decided to unplug the thing.

Anyway, it was an overnight flight to Heathrow, and we landed at 7:30am. By then, a note from the aforementioned Guido had magically shown up addressed to Megan (not, as I pointed out, in my handwriting), providing instructions about what Tube line to take, where to get off, where to walk, etc. “I want the next note to be from you,” I was told, but she went with it.

We took the Tube (“This is a Picadilly line train to… Cockfosters!” — cracks me up every time) to South Ealing, minded the gap, stood clear of the doors, walked a bit, and found ourselves in a neighborhood looking very much like the one pictured here. At 9:10am, ten feet from the prescribed door, it opened and out stepped Emily, with coffee (well, Nescafé, but I’ll talk about that later), tea, and breakfast all ready for us.

Perhaps you already know this, but if you’re able to have a familiar and friendly face greet you when you’re traveling very far from home, it makes all the difference in the world.

At this point, the charade was basically over. There were a couple of particulars I couldn’t talk about till later, but most of my plotting and planning came out over the pâté, toast, and eggs Emily had prepared for us.

It was a nice morning. Catching up with Emily was great, and much of the time I was thinking to myself, “You know, I’m glad it’s you who is pursuing this life, and not I.” I found myself to be much more envious of some of what she’s done with her doctoral dissertation than her being able to work as an international opera singer. It was also gratifying to hear that she’s working as steadily as she is and getting the response she’s getting — four years ago she fretted that she was too tall to work as a coloratura in anything other than early music repertoire. She has easily established that this is not the case, and it’s great to see that sometimes cool people get someplace.

We toddled away (as all averred) after a couple of hours to check in at our hotel. We quickly checked e-mail, peeled off the rags in which we had been traveling for close to 24 hours by this point, showered, put on fresh clothes, and felt like brand new human beings.

And it was off to Oxford for the evening, for… oh, dangit, I have someplace I have to be. I’ll have to tell you about why we went to Oxford a little later.


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