“Gluten free,” I asked at the head of the line. I had been told to make my request known when I got to the head of the line.
The other fingers of the priest fumbled under the chalice he held with his one hand. “Yep,” he said as he brought out a silver snuff box from under the base of the chalice. We were standing under the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and I was soon chewing on a rice wafer.
How could I not want to go? I had debated whether to take Communion. After all, I was sitting in a row which would be lead straight up the altar with a panoramic view of the choir.
“You must drop names,” I was advised later that day at an informal meeting. I suppose that part of me wanted to see St. Paul’s because I had heard about Wren’s building here and there, the splendor, the symbol of the city dropped into odd conversations. I also had an acquaintance who had been invited to the Royal Wedding back in the day. She didn’t attend. How could she not want to attend? I wondered. Well, to each their own. I sat under the dome thinking about these matters and more.
In preparation for the service I watched some videos about St. Paul’s on YouTube before leaving to catch the bus. One video was from National Geographic which had a horrendous soundtrack and a pandering scenario script which made me cringe. Since when did National Geographic sink so low? Driveling information that was barely any information. Quickly I switched to a lecture on the archaeology of St. Paul’s site and found this much more satisfactory. The medieval octagonal chapter house? Fascinating. Afterwards I stood at the location of the chapter house, delineated in the ground.
“Today we are practicing stillness and inactivity,” my hostess said to me cheerfully as she packed her lunch to go to her Alexander Technique teacher training. I was lucky to have found her.
London has always been a bit of a challenge for me. The last time I came, nearly ten years ago, I stayed in the lovely basement flat of, actually, a senior Alexander Technique teacher. One of the first generation after Alexander. She is and was gracious. I remember the chill of autumn indoors and I guess we mostly did Alexander things, although we went out to see “Hay Fever” with Judi Densch one evening and we managed to wander into the National Gallery. The occasion was primarily a work trip and not a vacation. My hostess also made a point of explaining to me that one could, if willing, wash oneself thoroughly with a cup of hot water. I remember feeling keenly I was not to abuse the hot water supply and remember to sit and move with mindfulness as F.M. Alexander instructed. When you are around Alexander Teachers you get used to being constantly observed, and by this I mean closely observed when you do things like: stand up or reach for a tea bag from the cupboard.
The time before that, twenty-five years ago, I went to London to visit a friend with whom I immediately had a falling out. I have a solid recollection of walking behind her back to the house in the far out burbs of London well past midnight with the distinct impression that she was trying to shake my tail. Having squeezed past the front door before it shut behind me, I left a few pound coins for tea and departed in the morning without saying goodbye.
Last month a friend said: I have rented a flat in Chelsea, there’s a sofa bed, why don’t you come? The plan sounded well grounded. I agreed. Only to find out that the place was a shoe box and I ended up sleeping on a suite of rubber padded fleece bathroom mats on the floor for a night or two until rescued by my acquaintance studying stillness and inactivity.
But back to Wren. When, I wondered, did they put those mosaics in? I tried to imagine the place with the original white washed corner half domes. Must have been the end of the 19th century. I will have to look this up; sitting pretty I made a mental note and continued to admire the choir boys in their robes, one of whom had turned down his ruffles. I couldn’t believe I had made it into St. Paul’s. Next up, last day in London, Wren’s Kensington Palace. Why not? After all I finally had a moment to myself as a tourist in London.