Although I don’t take advantage of it nearly enough, London is practically next door. The Eurostar, the high-speed train that goes from Gare du Nord to St. Pancras International, takes two hours and fifteen minutes. In this day and age, one has to tack on the time to get to the station and the probable queue to get through Border Control and Security. The last time I went to London, I nearly missed the train. I thought I was very safe by getting to Gare du Nord one hour before the train left. I don’t remember why, it was definitely before the pandemic, but taking the Eurostar from Paris was a horror show.
I traveled to London this past weekend. My trip had nothing to do with the Coronation of King Charles. However, I had no idea how the Coronation would affect travel. Not much as it turned it. I got to Gare du Nord two hours ahead of departure and discovered that Paris has streamlined getting to the Eurostar waiting room by 1000% (if that is possible). It was so efficient that I was through in ten minutes and sat comfortably answering e-mails and listening to my audiobook until it was time to board. My car was more than half empty. Not too many people from France going to the Coronation—at least by train.
Losing one hour in time, I got to St. Pancras at 2:30 pm. I was greeted by my friend, Andrew, who had come in from Chelmsford, in Essex. What a treat! I am a map reader. I hate to get lost. I hate even more feeling like I have no idea where I am or where to turn to. I memorize everything so that I feel as much in control as possible when I’m traveling. I also print out maps in case my memory decides to go belly up, and I have directions printed out on my phone. All for “JIC”. Last week, all I had to do was follow Andrew to the Underground, to Liverpool St. Station, and then take the train to Chelmsford. From the station, we walked through the grounds of Chelmsford Cathedral, a beautiful, calm space right in the middle of town where one can contemplate inside and outside. The Bishop of CC, Revd Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani, would be carrying the King’s Chalice in the Coronation procession and administering the Chalice to the King and Queen during the Eucharist on May 6th.
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My knowledge of Essex is mostly from mysteries written by authors like Elly Griffiths whose heroine, Ruth Galloway, lives near the marshes in Norfolk, in northern Essex. Andrew took me to the Salt Marsh near Bradwell-on-Sea, due East where two rivers converge at the North Sea. He calls it A Thin Place: where heaven and earth practically touch. The huge expanse of the sky comes almost to the water and one can see the barest of outlines of another shore somewhere. A simple stone church, St. Peter on the Wall was built by St. Cedd in 654ad on the grounds of a Roman ruin. From there, one can walk on a public footpath along the shore. The path isn’t wide and the part in trees is littered with bluebells and white bells, such tiny little flowers that instill a huge sense of peace and comfort.
There is a bird sanctuary and a community known as Othona that welcomes visitors for a day or more to reside and work side by side with the members. With a grey sky that hinted at the rain that would fall later in the day, the beauty of this region is haunting (not quite Wuthering Heights but a close relation). You feel that you have to embrace aloneness and solitude to be comfortable for any length of time. I am sure that planes leaving Paris and flying west towards Ireland and the USA fly right over this area. I have photos taken from a plane window and could see the convergence of water but had no idea of the beauty and remarkable people living in that area.
In London, one had to be aware that something huge was going on. There were Union Jack flags flying everywhere, banners spanning the streets, and people in costumes made out of flags for hats, coats, and dresses. Photos of soon-to-be King Charles looked out of store windows, and regular folk had hung bunting along fences or out their windows. But other than that, I had to look at the news or pull up the Guardian on my phone to see photos of King Charles weighted down in a gold cape and wearing a five-pound crown. Where I was, there was little traffic and nothing else. Not even noise. At the end of the coronation, there was a fly-over of the RAF that went on for some time. I heard no noise and had to watch that on my phone. Truthfully, every photo I saw of Charles had his mouth grimacing. He looked miserable. How long he has waited for this day just to have photos of him looking so unhappy.
I had come to London for a small retreat of a community I belong to. I attended one day and, after traveling in and out of London from Chelmsford three days in a row, I felt weary. So on Sunday, Andrew provided a real treat for me. He took me to the Maldon Quaker Meeting House for meeting for worship. I was raised a Quaker outside of Philadelphia and, though I’m not particularly religious, have always felt closest to Quaker beliefs and actions. When I was younger, I would seek out the Quaker meeting house closest to me. For a while in my twenties, I belonged to the Princeton Quaker community. After moving to Berkeley, California, I stopped going as the meeting seemed to be hijacked by political talk and opinions. I have nothing against talk and opinion but it is provocative, and meeting for worship is supposed to be just that—a place to contemplate larger issues, and please leave your politics at the door, thank you very much.
So for the first time, in perhaps thirty years, I sat in a meeting for worship. It felt like putting on an old comfortable shoe. There were mostly older people there which said to me that the contemplative Quakers aren’t attracting younger members. One time is not a good measure for research. On returning to Paris, I went on a search to see if meeting for worship exists here. Yes, it does—n a rented space in the 14th. So, this coming Sunday, I plan to go to my second meeting in as many weeks!
Here in Paris, the weather is warming up and we are having Spring showers. I look forward to the sun and walking to Parc de Bagatelle.
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