Between Ghana to the States, we’ve stopped off in London for a few days. Getting out of Ghana was still easy but they have added the additional Inspected by Ghana Customs, step where you take your bag across the airport to have some guy peal off a sticker and place it on the outside of each checked-luggage bag, saying “Inspected by Ghana Customs”. Wow, that did a lot of good.
Going to London, the kids were not so excited, but now that we are here, checked in, and have begun seeing the Queen’s city, I think they are glad to be here. But I could be wrong, it could just be the proximity to Chain Food. It is still amazing to see how Americanized London has become, as Suzanne and I both remember in earlier days when the menu options range was between fish & chips and steak and kidney pie. But not these days, chain food is everywhere, and Starbucks!
Mom & Dad: O’Neils’s Irish Pub, for fish and chips and seafood stew.
Things we noticed getting in a Taxi (alternatively five things you wouldn’t see in Accra)
1. Didn’t have to bargain the price (should have, since it ended up costing over $30). In Ghana, that kind of money would get you a cab for a day.
2. Everyone had their own seats.
3. Driving on a different side of the road. Fox adds, “remember its not wrong, it is just backwards.”
4. Cab didn’t smell, and loud African music (or as often country music) isn’t blaring.
5. And the driver was a woman.
We were expecting cold and rain, but for our three days, London was bright and beautiful. Bright – How strange it is to see the sun still shining at 9pm (and for that matter 5am), in Accra, the sun sets and rises at 6pm, every single day.
[This is the Tower of London, but I took from Wikipedia when I forgot to take one, duh!]
The Tower of London was amazing, consider that construction began 1000 years ago, and today they are still working on it. We were glad to see that it had won the “Loo of the Year Awards” in 2003, and 2005, but were wondering what happened these past few years. The Beefeaters are still as animated as ever.
[this “beefeater” was our guide]
The tour ended in the chapel, where our beefeater guide looked around and saw every seat taken and said, “the rector would like this now, wouldn’t he?” There was nervous laughter in the room, and I thought about that remark the next morning in the mostly empty Westminster Abby, where we were waiting for the service of Matins to begin. We were five of maybe 100 people who had come for worship. Coming through the gate, the rector stopped us, and asked why we were there. You see on every other day of the week there are tours—and they are packed—but on Sunday morning, the rector wanted to make sure our reason for being there was pure.
I can’t imagine a service of worship being more different that the African ones we are used to, a boys choir instead of a band; one hour long instead of two and a half; lots of quiet time-no hand clapping, dancing, or waving our arms. Instead we stood, or sat, or knelt, all in this ancient and oh so mystical historic cathedral.
I looked around, not 20 feet from where the remains of Brittan’s kings and queens were laid to rest, and felt sacred for being there, as if the walls were somehow saturated by all the prayers made there, from maybe services like this one of Matins, which has been held daily here for the past 1000 years.
I thought of all the great artwork I had seen the day before at the National Gallery, how it felt to actually view these paintings that I had come to love, when I used to use them to illustrate scripture in my sermon, as part of the story. But here in the National Gallery it wasn’t only about pictures, it was about legends, the story behind the pictures. For example, Saint Christopher [click here], who is the patron saint of Travelers. The legend goes that he was born as a tall and strong Roman named Reprobus, who later, sought out a Christian hermit, to learn how to serve our Lord. The hermit brought him to a dangerous crossing point in the river, and suggested that he serve here, as a human ferry, taking people across the river on his back. One day, he carried a small child across the river, who became heavier and heavier, and the water rose. until they were both almost lost. But they made it to the other side, where Reprobus asked what had happened, and it is said that Jesus spoke to him saying at that point he had born the weight of the world (other legends say, the sins of the world). Reprobus was then baptized by the child, and given a new name Christopher, which means Christ-bearer.
But the newly baptized Christopher was not convinced, and so he asked for a second sign, and the Christ-child told him to stick his wooden staff in the ground, where it miraculously began to sink in roots, and grow leaves, and if you look at the painting, you can see all this in it. What you don’t see is years later, when he was martyred by the emperor Decius, and then in 1969 removed from the list of approved saints by the Vatican, for lack of evidence.
I don’t remember seeing anything like this before, but the National Gallery has several unfinished works, works done by the masters that were, for whatever reason, not completed. How fascinating it was, for a non-artist like myself, to see the behind the canvas, or at least between the paint and the canvas, to see the technique, the blocking, and how, if just for a glimpse, the artist got from a blank canvas to finished painting. It made the rest of the paintings seem more approachable, more real, as if they really could be their sum of the parts. That Michelangelo left the Christ unfinished in this painting made me wonder if it was a metaphor for the paintings in our own lives, that finishing Christ is just part of our faith walk.
London was wonderful, but expensive. Fox said that the prices were the same as in the states, but in pounds, and right now, the pound is strong, really strong. For example that subway dinner the kids had as their second meal in London, cost over $24, for only two foot-long subs. Ouch.
[You’re not paranoid if they really are always watching you]
Finally, in Ghana, being obrunies we had gotten used to be watched, and in London, we had the same feeling, but this time it was the security cameras, everywhere. I think we all look forward to being back in a land where there is nothing special about us, and we fit in, if only for a few months.
I’m trying something I used to do before my Flicker account filled up and I was too cheep to upgrade, posting extra photos (and in larger format) at Google’s Web Album. So if you want to see more photos on London [click here].