Thursday, May 5, 2016

English food and choral singing

I write this at a table on the back porch. It is a beautiful, sunny day: bright and breezy, the air filled with the sound of birdsong and wind chimes. I have tea and dark chocolate hobnobs at hand. I've been to church already (8 am outdoor service for Ascension Day), gone for a walk 'round the neighborhood, am currently blissfully alone at home. I plan to take my first trip to the bakery across the street after lunch to do my daily writing. Would that every summer could be like this. I am full of hopes and expectations; 500 words of dissertation writing a day feels completely within my grasp.

I promised to talk about food, and so I shall. Yesterday's dinner and today's breakfast felt quintessentially, stereotypically, wonderfully British. All of my favorite English foods in one night! Bangers and mash for dinner: amazing. We can't get proper sausages in America. Eton mess for pudding (dessert): strawberries, meringues, and double cream. We definitely can't get double cream in America. And a post-dinner Pimms cup (Pimms, lemonade, strawberries, cucumber, and mint) shared with my hostess, who is generously and enthusiastically including me in her family's plans and adventures for the next few months. Sadly, I'll be out of town for the big upcoming street celebration of the queen's birthday. As for breakfast this morning... Last time in England, we somehow managed to miss out on perhaps the most quintessential English meal: beans on toast. It never sounded all that appetizing. But I am delighted to say that it is, in fact, completely delicious. Quick, economical, and really satisfying. You butter toasted bread, cover it in baked beans (in a tomato-based sauce rather than the incredibly sweet molasses plus brown sugar sauce my mother used to prepare), and then top it all off with shredded English cheddar. Yum!

I'll save my discussions and photos of my new church for another post, but I do want to share the news of today. I attended the morning Ascension Day service at the church down the street. I'd seen before I arrived that the house I'm staying at has a pub down the street in one direction and a church in the other. I hoped both would be awesome. The church, at least, is (saving the pub for another day).

Outdoors and lovely (they say it's usually cold and raining on Ascension Day), I felt very welcomed and right at home. Although I will have to learn a whole new set of responses...the CofE version is halfway between the Episcopal Church's Rite I and Rite II! The vicar played his guitar to accompany the hymn (I didn't hate the effect) and gave a very husband-like sermon on how the Ascension affirms and quite literally uplifts our humanity and bodiliness. He even gave me a tour of the church itself after the service and following parish breakfast. But the most important thing (the end result was totally expected, but the way it came about wasn't) was that it turned out that I was sitting right next to the church's choirmaster! We discovered this before the service, and twenty seconds later I was a member of the choir. She sent me home with a schedule of choir rehearsals, an invitation to sing with the choir any Sunday I'm in town (even if I don't make it to rehearsals), and a copy of the service music. Not surprising that I'd join a choir while I'm here, but did anyone think it would be only 24 hours after landing in England?

This afternoon I have to do laundry (yes,'s what happens when you pack for three months in a single carry-on suitcase!) and pack. Tomorrow morning, I'm heading to Norwich for the weekend, on pilgrimage for the feast day of my patron saint. St. Julian of Norwich's church is having a weekend festival. As if that's not enough (seriously, I'm completely flabbergasted by the undeniably providential arrangements), I'm going to be staying with the nuns in their guest house. I'm a little bummed that I don't yet own a copy of Julian's Revelations of Divine Love (I had to return my library copy before I left the country) but no doubt there will be one available. How nice it would be to read the Long Form of her Revelations while in the community where she wrote it.

I'll be bringing my laptop--at the very least, to do some writing on the 4.5-hour train trip--but I may try to avoid the computer and internet entirely while I'm there. I promise photos and stories when I get back.

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