Dec 102012

The service itself began after we sang three spirituals.  The U.S. Amabassador, Louis Susman, and his wife were escorted in while we sang “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come”.  The hymn ends with the words “Come, ten thousand angels, come” and I felt like they were there in that lofty dome of St. Paul’s – as if they were built into the architecture itself.

We were then officially welcomed by the Dean of the Cathedral (who is also the ex officio Dean of the Order of the British Empire).  The text of his welcome was printed in the order of service, but he added the phrase “Welcome to those…….from Glendale church.”  That stunned me.  I’m not one who exalts celebrity or values someone because of their status, but being welcomed by ‘name’ by the Dean of one of the most famous churches in the world was quite a thrill.  It gave me a sense of what it might feel like to hear God say my name.  Okay, that might be going a bit far, but I was giddy.

And then we sang a piece written by Scott Stroman, our director – in 7/8 and 7/4 – in Latin.  Not an easy piece!  “Gloria in excelsis Deo et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis.  Laudamus te.” which means “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to all.  We praise you.”

The “Canon in Residence” who is in charge of the music in the cathedral read Deuteronomy 6:1-9.  The part that I heard deep in my soul was: “Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.  Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.” This one of the reasons I started this blog.

Our next hymn was “For the Beauty of the Earth”  which made me cry.  This was not what I expected.  I knew I’d cry during the service, I even dreamt about it the night before, but this is not what I thought would trigger the tears.  It happened during the fourth verse: “For the joy of human love, Brother, Sister, Parent, Child.  Friends on earth and friends above”  I was suddenly filled with the awareness of my family and friends in the states and those that have passed away and felt their love and support.  For that I am truly, deeply, profoundly thankful.

Please know that right then and there in that place filled with such a rich history of faith, in the presence of God and 2,000 people, with tears streaming down my face, I thanked God for you all.

After I pulled myself together, the next scripture reading was by the Area Director of Young Life (Yes, they have Young Life in England). She read Philippians 4:4-9 and when she said “The Lord is near,” I believed her. In the majesty of St. Paul’s, I felt the God of the universe draw near.


What happened next?  Read about it here.

 Posted by at 07:56
Dec 092012

In between rehearsal and the service on Thanksgiving Day, we were allowed to wander St. Paul’s Cathedral at our leisure. I chose to explore the crypt. I poked my head around every corner I could while no one was looking. Even if I was allowed to take pictures, Hubby was upstairs with the camera, so I have nothing to show except pictures that are posted around the internet.  

The walls and floor of the crypt were filled with 200 memorials.  There were statesmen and war heroes, old and new, alongside ‘ordinary’ people like the woman who worked to make sure the boys of St. Paul’s choir were educated and well taken care of. Some people might have been thrilled at the famous sights of Lord Nelson’s or the Duke of Wellington’s tombs, but not me. The ones I found most interesting were dark figures laying on marble tables engraved with names and dates. There were just a handful, but they all were missing their arms, legs and noses.  I wondered if they were depicted this way because they died together in battle or a horrible accident.  


I asked the security officer and she explained that these memorials had stood in the Old St. Paul’s, built in the 14th century, and had ‘survived’ the Great Fire of London in 1666. Their missing limbs and noses were a result of being burned.  I immediately returned to look at them again.  Since they were not guarded or alarmed in any way, I ran my hand over one of them.  I got a crazy thrill touching something that was nearly 400 years old.  

 Posted by at 20:56
Dec 092012

*In the interest of clarity and not boring you out of your gourds, I have broken this day into multiple entries.  This is the pre-service part.

22-11-12.  That’s the way I wrote the date in my journal.  It was Thanksgiving Day and I was in London.  I was so amped up that despite the late night, I woke before my alarm.  In order to give ourselves plenty of time to catch the tube at rush hour and pass through the heightened security at St. Paul’s Cathedral with Hubby’s suspicion-arousing camera gear, we headed down to breakfast early.  Hubby decided to give the Bangers a try and immediately regretted it.  They were flavorless and mealy – let’s hope that’s not typical or I’ll start to believe what they say about English cuisine.  I decided to stick with what I (thought I) knew and had Special K.  Except Special K in the UK is whole grain wheat not corn – Yum!

We ran up to the room so I could change into my fancy shoes and then met up with a majority of the group in the lobby.  The tube station was packed as expected.  We compressed about 90% of us onto the first train requiring the last one on to duck her head so the doors would close.  She spent the short ride with Hubby’s tripod pressed squarely into her side.  We’ve nominated her for a citation for valor.

stpaulsmonumentafarsmall.jpgAs we walked the short distance from the tube station to St. Paul’s, I was impressed by the size of the building itself.  It stands on the top of Ludgate Hill and can be seen for miles, but I had no idea how massive it was.  

They had set up K-rails and barriers all around the structure due to an increase in international tensions and we were subject to bag searches as we passed through security.  The guards ‘ticked’ our names off the master list and directed us to the side door into the crypt.  At the crypt door, everyone was given a badge that said ‘Choir’ to wear regardless of whether they were actually singing. Apparently being part of the Choir gave you the highest level of access possible that day.

We gathered upstairs for rehearsal, passing by 100’s of people buried in the walls and floor.  As we entered the cathedral, I was gobsmacked by the magnificence.



I stood in awe a few moments trying to take it all in until I realized that I wasn’t capable – it was just too much. We were allowed to take just a few pictures inside the Cathedral – a rare privilege. When the youngest member of our group made her way up the stairs and arrived in the main Cathedral, I swear her jaw hit the floor.  She plopped down next to me in the choir stall and after a few moments of stunned silence said, “Is anyone else having trouble concentrating?  I can’t stop looking at everything.”  I assured her that we were and passed her a copy of the order of service.

As the pre-service rehearsal began, we soon realized that Scott was justified when he insisted we listen to him with our eyes.


The sound in the cathedral seemed to rise straight up, bounce off the dome, echo around and come back as mush – beautiful, delicious, harmonic mush.  As we practiced, we heard our voices, not as we normally do surrounding us and our neighbors, but calling  back to us from distance lands in a less recognizable form.  We lengthened our rests to make the most of the acoustics, crisped up our ending consonants, and practiced staying together by watching rather than listening.

Our practice ended nearly a half hour before we needed to be in our places for the service, so I got a change to wander the crypt while Hubby found a seat in the congregation.   You can read more about the crypt here.

When it came time to ascend into the cathedral once again, I realized that I wasn’t nervous and hadn’t been all day – zero, nada, nil, nothing, no nerves.  I spent a minute trying to savor the experience, but it just didn’t seem real.  It certainly didn’t seem real to look out and see Hubby in the front row VIP seats with the American Ambassador!  It turns out that the Pastor of the American Church in London, who was delivering the sermon, had offered him his extra seat.


Before the formal service began, we sang three spirituals arranged for us by Scott Stroman: “Jesus is a Rock,” a swing version of “In the Garden” (or, as we called it, ‘the Hoo-Hoo song’) and “The Storm is Passing Over”.  We sang all three of these songs from memory and it feels like they’ll be with me forever.  As we sang, the thousands of people were still coming in, talking and greeting each other.  As we closed the last song, we began to clap along which startled quite a few people and caused a few of St. Paul’s wandsmen to smile and smirk.

For more on the St. Paul’s Thanksgiving service, you can keep reading here.


 Posted by at 20:56
Dec 082012

After visiting the British Museum, adventuring and beer tasting in Greenwich, and a marathon choir rehearsal, we decided to go out.  For the average person, going out after 9 p.m. is not a big deal, at least for the average Angeleno.  For me, the quintessential morning person, this requires strength, determination, and the promise of some great reward.  In this case it meant the opportunity to go pubbing with friends and my first fish and chips in London, I thought.

We spent quite awhile debating the merits of each pub.  It finally came down to two: the one with good beer or the one with good fish and chips…..Since a majority of us hadn’t eaten dinner, including a teenager, fish and chips won out.

We plotted a course to the Tottenham.  Smuggling the teenager through the pub on the upper level, we filed down the stairs into the restaurant.  We were halted midway down by a stern sentry – the kitchen was closed. We reversed course and mustered in the back of the pub while a scout scanned the street for options.  The mission focus narrowed: Find Food.

An intelligence officer remembered that Noodle Oodle, the restaurant our travel agent recommended, was nearby.  An advance guard took off down the street to reserve us a table while others stayed behind to update the rear guard on our new location.  Just as we arrived at Location Bravo, they turned the sign to ‘closed’ and secured the location.

Our options were becoming limited as the minutes ticked by so it was time to narrow our focus:  find someplace open that was still serving food. We back tracked to the only place we recognized as a food establishment: the Cornish Bakehouse.  We squeezed into the tiny take away shop next to a local who viewed our presence as an invasion which required him to defend his position by gathering all the chairs at his table close so as not to lose them to the opposition.

I requisitioned a Lamb and Mint pasty and took up a strategic position in the opposite corner while the troops filed in for chow. The meal was typical enlisted sustenance: warm and filling. Long after curfew, we wended our way through the ever-present maze of London pedestrians back to our barracks: mission accomplished.

 Posted by at 20:13
Dec 082012

After our adventures in Greenwich, we dashed back to the hotel and grabbed our gear for rehearsal: my music and Hubby’s camera.  Hubby was along to document the choir’s trip and this would be his first chance to photograph us all in one place.  We strolled up Tottenham Court Rd at a Londonish pace and were buzzed in through the back entrance of the American Church in London.

Here we combined with the rest of the choir – some professional, some amateur –  that would be singing in St. Paul’s Cathedral for the Thanksgiving service.  We also met the conductor/arranger/composer Scott Stroman for the first time.

It was great to be part of a larger choir and really feel the music how it would be performed in St. Paul’s.

Scott began by warming us up and taking us through each of the five pieces (3 spirituals, an original Gloria in Latin, and a Samuel Barber setting of a James Agee poem).  


It was kind of like being conducted by Severus Snape…in a good way. You could feel him pulling the music from you.

The spirituals were supposed to be memorized and now I know why.  We didn’t sing a single one as written: he led us from chorus to verse and unison to harmony as the Spirit moved.  It was an exercise in trust and our ability to watch and follow. Quite a wild ride!  


 Posted by at 14:00
Dec 042012

A few days before we left for London, there was some chatter going around about visiting a brewery while we were there. A member of the choir had some restaurant connections and wanted to go check out one brewery in particular.  As it turned out, this was a private tour for just four people, and Hubby and I were two of the four.  I’m not sure how that happened, but this afternoon was one of the highlights of our trip.

We set out from our hotel on a rainy afternoon to catch the tube into an area of town we hadn’t yet been: Greenwich, home of the Greenwich Royal Observatory, namesake of Greenwich Meantime.  We were headed south of the Thames and East of the Isle of Dogs.  Yikes!  The first part was easy: take the Northern Line South to Waterloo and then take the Jubilee Line East to North Greenwich.  We soon discovered that the Jubilee line was slick and gorgeous compared to the trains we’d been on before.  As it dumped us off at the North Greenwich hub, we could see the dome of O2, aka the Millennium Dome, hovering nearby.  Ah, well, another time.

not-there-yet.jpgHere was the tricky part of the trip: the bus.  Not for lack of planning, though. We had two maps, we knew which two busses would get us nearest the brewery and we even knew what stop to get off.  The tricky part was navigating the bus drivers.  Tourists that we were, we checked with the driver when we boarded, “Does this bus stop at Blackwall Lane?”.  “Yes.”  “Can you tell us which one that is?”  “Just listen, you’ll hear it.”  Um, ok.  We sat as close to the driver as we could and listened closely to the announcements for Blackwall Lane.  After a half dozen stops, it felt like we had gone too far, so our fearless leader stepped forward to ask “Is this Blackwall Lane?”  “That was a few stops back.”  We bolted off the bus onto a nameless street.  


We found ourselves in front of the East Greenwich Library with a plaque on the front that read “A gift of Andrew Carnegie.”  It was dark and shuttered and looked as forlorn as we felt.

Now what?

We crossed the soggy street with a gang of school boys in their uniforms to wait for the bus going back the other way.  At this point, the rain and wind picked up to remind us of our orphan status. Bus after bus passed us, none of them the right one. If it hadn’t been miserable weather, we might have abandoned the bus altogether.  It couldn’t be too far, right?  Then we saw our bus coming.  Hallelujah!  Sort of.  The bus pulled up and let everyone off through the back doors and refused to open the front doors so we could board.  Our leader shouted through the window to find out what was happening and got stoney silence in return.  Finally, one of the disgorging passengers explained that the bus terminated here and we would have to wait to catch the next one in about 15 minutes.  Arrrrgh!

Did I mention we had an appointment for this private tour?  And we needed to be back at the hotel right afterwards in order to make it to rehearsal with a director we had never met?  And we were warned not to be late? As the minutes ticked uselessly by, we decided to give walking a go and trudged on to the next bus stop.  It may not have gotten us to the brewery any faster, but it made use of the adrenaline we were producing.  We did catch the right bus and jumped off a stop early because we were nervous about going past it again.  meantime-door.jpg

When we arrived at the brewery, Joe, our tour guide, commiserated with us over the Greenwich bus drivers.

joe.jpgThe tour was fabulous as Joe regaled us with stories of the different beers and their origins: London Lager,  London Porter, and India Pale Ale.  This brewery focusses on creating craft brews based on the historical recipes and characteristics of London’s heritage. 

brew-monitoring.jpgInstead of pasteurizing their beers, they employ two microbiologists who monitor a filtering process that uses the skeletons of microscopic sea creatures.  This means that the Lager is hoppy and carbonated.  Yum.  The Porter is dark and thick, brewed from an 18th century recipe.  Porter gets it’s name from the men who used to hang out on the street corners waiting to be hired to carry heavy items throughout the city.  These porters would stop at pubs along their route to fortify themselves with a strong malty pint, thus the name. The India Pale Ale was brewed in the classic style with more alcohol in order to survive the long journey to India.  My least favorite of the three, it was still a very drinkable beer.


As Joe guided us around the brewery, the tour got more an more technical.  I was impressed by their commitment to quality and their facility was gorgeous.  Stainless steel is very sexy.


It would have been wonderful to stay and sample some more.  Their tasting room was filled with beers from someone famous’ collection (just another detail I’ve forgotten already) including some one of a kind commemorative bottles.   It was an art gallery of beers. I’m still on the lookout for Meantime in L.A.  I’ll certainly let you know when I track some down.

*Our trip back to the hotel was extremely uneventful and smooth.  Not very exciting to blog about, but we were due for some boring bits right about then.

 Posted by at 20:52
Dec 022012


Euston Fire Station


Random beautiful building on our walk.


You can rent bikes in London!  These are on the campus of University College London.


Here are the rates if you’re interested!


Church of Christ the King just off the campus of U. College London. (See that phone booth on the left?)


That’s me ‘in’ the phone booth trying not to puke from the smell.  I don’t think anyone would use this to make an actual phone call. Oy!


A statue in the park on the campus of University College London.


This monument said “To Our Glorious Dead” on one side and then “Remember the Men and Women of the London Midland and Scottish Railway” on the other.  Since they had just observed “The Day of Remembrance” (like our Veteran’s Day), there were wreaths laid at the foot of the monument.

They were made of plastic discs riveted together – kinda’ cool.



On our way back, we found ourselves feeling close to home at the corner of Keppel (the kids’ elementary school) and Gower (a street in Hollywood).


 Posted by at 10:36
Dec 022012

First morning in London and I was wide awake at 4 a.m. Considering that was Noon in California, I did a pretty good job of sleeping in. I managed to get back to sleep and woke just after the London sunrise at 7:45 a.m. We successfully navigated the electrical outlets and shower head (Brits don’t believe in water pressure?) and had our first English Breakfast in the hotel. I stuck to cottage cheese, yogurt, fruit and a croissant each day as Hubby sampled the various hot food items.

It will come as no surprise to any of you that a trip to the Library was first on my list of things to do.  I have to say that the British Library is no ordinary Library.  I was not surprised to find out that it’s free, but I was surprised to find out it had exhibits.  Since we weren’t in a hurry, we checked our map and set out to walk up to the Euston area of London to check it out.   You can look at the pictures from that walk here.


In the Piazza just inside the gates of the library is a giant scupture of Issac Newton measuring out the universe.  It was done by a Scottish sculptor, Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, who also did a lot of the mosaic work in the tube station near our hotel.  





The British Library is home to more than 14 million books, 58 million patents and 3 million sound recordings.  It’s a major research library with reading rooms for different academic subjects where you can do research if you have a Reader Pass (free as long as you have a permanent address).  It prides itself on making it’s collection accessible.



Inside the library is a model of the entire complex showing how and where the books are housed.





Up the center of the building is a six story glass tower that encloses the King’s Library: printed books, pamphlets, and maps that King George III collected between 1763 and 1820!









I’ve buried the lead a bit here since there’s an amazing gallery that’s open to the public every day for absolutely free that holds some of the most magnificent books and manuscripts I have ever seen.  We strolled through  room containing The Magna Carta, Lindisfarne Gospels, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and, my very favorite, the original manuscript of Handel’s Messiah.  (Handel lived in London for much of his life and the Messiah was performed at Covent Garden).  We felt echoes of home looking at the temporary collection of Armenian scriptures.  I wish I could include images here so you’d get a sense of the beauty of these books.  Of course, we couldn’t take any pictures inside the Gallery, but, trust me, it was breathtaking.


As we walked back towards the hotel to meet some friends for an afternoon adventure, we stopped at a little place called Eve’s Cafe for lunch.  We both had delicious hot paninis which we ate at the little table out front. As we munched, I noticed that we were across from the Bloomsbury Hotel which meant we were in Bloomsbury, which meant we were in Virginia Woolf’s ‘hood, which meant literary tingles with my goat cheese panini.



 Posted by at 10:36
Dec 012012

Arriving in a foreign city in the dark is a bit of a challenge. Everything seems a bit more eerie and surreal than in daylight.  I have now realized that it’s pretty much dark, getting dark, or gonna’ be dark soon when you’re in London in November.

The tour guide from the airport was great, she guided us into the hotel and checked us all in – no queueing for us!  As she passed out our room keys, she promised to return in just 6 short days to shepherd us back to Heathrow for our return flight.

We chatted for a bit with some of our group that had arrived a few days before us and promised to meet up with them soon.  Hubby and I schlepped our bags up to the 8th floor using one of the 4 lifts (aka elevators) available to guests of the hotel.  They seemed to be either cavernously empty or full to the gills.  Thankfully, we found they were equipped with sensors that would alert you if the lift was full, “FL”, or over the limit, “OL”, which happened more often that you’d think.

St Giles Hotel London ViewArriving in our room, my heart leapt for joy at the open window.  I’m a nut for fresh air and we didn’t close that window more than a few times in the week we were there.  Since there was no screen (!), hubby was able to get his camera out the window and take a pic of our ‘neighborhood’ once it was daylight.

I was anxious to get out of our room and experience London that first night.  Fortunately, we had a plan.  We had been invited to the manse of the Pastor of the American Church in London for a ‘drinks party.’  The trick was, we need to navigate the Underground (Tube) in order to get there.

There was some loose discussion about going to the party as a group, but since only one or two in the group had working cell phones and we didn’t know anyone’s room number, communication was a bit limited.   No one was in the lobby when we descended from our room so, not wanting to squander a minute and feeling rather cheeky, Hubby and I set of for the manse on our own.  The tube stop was right around the corner and we plunged down the stairs with abandon.

Honestly, I think we were just trying to keep up with the flow of pedestrians: Londoners walk really fast, especially in the tube stations.  Thanks to our hosts and some seasoned travelers in the bunch, our Oyster Cards (refillable Tube/Bus passes) were ready and waiting for us at the hotel so we sailed right through the first set of gates into THE UNDERGROUND.

When they say Underground, they really mean UNDER-ground.  Each station seemed to have it’s own particular scheme to get you down to the trains- straight staircases, curved staircases, escalators, lifts, moving sidewalks, mazes, and tunnels. That first night, I was shocked at how deep we were going to catch the Northern Line to our destination.  I totally understand why Londoners took shelter in the Tube stations during the Blitz.


All the tunnels and pathways are well-marked and there are digital displays at each platform so you know when to expect the next train and where exactly it’s headed.  Unfortunately, we were just a little overwhelmed by everything that first night and jumped on the wrong spur of the Northern Line.  When we figured it out, we just hopped off at Camden Town, switched trains, and sailed on to our destination.


I must say, I felt giddy and triumphant when we arrived at the manse in one piece.


The party was wonderful and it was great to gather with friends old and new to chat over what we’d been up to and what we planned to do with our free time.  



We walked back to the Tube through the rain and arrived back at the hotel with no difficulty at all. I watched Hubby sleep soundly in his twin bed as I wrote feverishly in mine, trying not to miss one detail of the trip so far.  I fell asleep calculating how much we could jam in to the next day.

 Posted by at 15:52
Nov 302012

Ok, first of all, books weigh a lot more than I realized.  So do shoes. And plug adaptors. And suitcases.

Second of all, time slows down when you are waiting for an international flight. I swear that it took eons for them to call our flight for boarding and when it finally happened the actual queuing up was like racing snails. (Please forgive me if I slip into Londonese from time to time.)

Third, putting little pillows in every airline seat is just asking for a giant pillow fight!

Seriously, Virgin Atlantic is a great airline to fly and I was flying with a great group of people.  LAX group

We didn’t have any problems with luggage or boarding, flying or landing. I had time (10 hours and 40 minutes) to do a little people watching on this flight. First there was the slightly overweight middle-aged tattooed guy who undid his belt and unzipped his pants before he sat down and fastened his seatbelt. Glad I wasn’t sitting next to him! Across from me was a 40ish hipster with a genius cut (think Einstein) who was chatting up the blond British chick pinned between him and the window. His opening line was something like, “I’m a song writer and I’ve written a song, but it’s not really a song, but it sounds like a song.” Apparently, she was a songwriter too because they soon devolved into a conversation about ASCAP and BMI and performance royalties vs. mechanical royalties. I left them to their own devices.

The whole flight was really about anticipating the landing and helping my body adjust to the impending time change. We took off just after 9 p.m. and would arrive at Heathrow just after 3 p.m. the next day.   That means I would lose a night’s sleep as well as most of an entire day.  Thanks to the seat back screens where you can choose what you watch, I knew exactly where we were at any given moment: location, altitude, air temperature, head wind – they really do let you in on all the nerdfo about the flight.  

We had dinner somewhere over Utah. I chose Chicken Korma, although the Braised Beef didn’t sound bad either. Apparently I was asleep when they came around with the Tiramisu because it was on the menu, but I have absolutely no memory of eating any such thing.

Between cat naps, I kept my eye on the vitals: -72 degrees Fahrenheit over the Rocky Mountains at 35,000 ft.  

I dozed again, wishing I could recline my seat just a bit more, but glad the kid in front of me couldn’t tip any further into my lap. They flooded the cabin with light after a few hours and came around with more food. While I breakfasted off the coast of Ireland with nearly 300 people I would never see again, I cursed my iPod as the battery died in the middle of Rick Steves’ “Affordable London” podcast. So much for informative entertainment.

Thankfully, we landed soon after ‘breakfast’,  withdrew some pounds (do they call it ‘cash’?) and sailed through customs (we must have, I can’t remember anything about it). Mimi

As we emerged from the bowels of Heathrow, we were greeted by Mimi (Not Me-Me, Mih-Me), our ‘tour’ guide.  She fetched our bus (driven by Momo – no kidding!) and narrated the ride to the hotel through the London traffic.

Stay tuned for London Chronicles #2: A Night in London

 Posted by at 15:45