Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Sound and Scent of Sunday Morning

Sunday morning is an open window in the gabled bathroom on the third floor in Roger's limestone Victorian row house on the end of Queen Katherine Street nearest Kendal Castle. Out his front door and a few steps to the right puts one on the footpath up to the castle built around 1200 which housed many a Kendal Baron, most notably Thomas Parr, father to Katherine, the sixth wife of King Henry VIII.

The open window in the bathroom lets in the rousing historicity that hangs in the air of Britain. It flows through and mingles in swirled patterns with the steam from the shower that I can move this way and that with the motion of my hand, like a magic wand. It is England, it is the air that smells of coal fire, verdancy, and the lingering presence of many thousands of years of inhabited soil. The earth is so solidly marked by humans in this place, no respite from the workings of man, which has created the inimitable scent of Britannia. It fills me when I am here. It is the stuff of powerful nostalgia . . . the simple smell of place.

Today I accent the scent of Britannia with John Freida's Sheer Blonde shampoo - a bit of wishing on my part. It is a travel-size bottle I purchased yesterday at Superdrug in the Westmorland Shopping Centre, while in a stupor of travel-induced exhaustion. More than buying shampoo, I wanted to lay my body down on the floor with a pack of Superdrug nappies under my head and let sleep take me. Instead we spent our first 20 pounds on things with which to clean our weary bodies in the week to come - letting our various chemical concoctions slide through the bathroom window and mingle with Britain's olfactory ethos.

I have slept now, my head rested luxuriantly on a pillow, in a bed, rather than a pack of nappies on a tile floor. I am readied for the Sabbath which greets me now, through this same open window, with the ebullient tones of Kendal's bells.

In the ten months we lived here in 2003 and 2004 I opened the patio doors of our very small flat on Garden Road every Sunday morning, without thought to temperature or rain, to welcome the bells of the parish church. The sound seemed to pound in my soul, singing to the part of me that worships and finds the contentment of life in faith. "Ring out Wild Bells" Lord Tennyson proclaims. Oh yes, wild, and sweet, and filling the little space that is my home. And for some reason it feels so French. I've not been there. I've really no experience with all things French, and I can't imagine it to be more transporting than all things English, but there you are. The bells roll in through my wide doors and I am pulled away over the English channel into lands certainly no more magnifique than those I now enjoy.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

This is the last stanza in Tennyson's Ring Out, Wild Bells. They are all beguiling and worth repeating. A fit melody to accompany the hours before I go to worship.

I had not thought of the bells in the many hours on the plane, or the weeks of volcanic anxiety before the plane. They are a sweet surprise to me now as I meet my first morning of only six on this short stay.

Why do we not have parish churches and Sabbath bells in the thick of Salt Lake City? Well, at least beyond the Cathedral of the Madeleine. We are near enough that every now and again I can hear it. Back in our days in the Avenues Matt and I had an ongoing inquiry regarding for whom the cathedral bells toll. They are nice bells, but not Kendal on a Sunday morning bells. Perhaps the space which they must fill is just too large in such open sky. Kendal offers a nestled English scale that keeps the reverberations cozily fitted in the streets of the town.

As if the bells are not enough to keep my feet light on the walk to church along the River Kent, when they have finished we are serenaded with delightful bird song. Birds that Susie says "must just be happy to live in England." Like the cows that make such sweet cream because they live on England's "green and pleasant" hills. Maybe the earth itself keeps turning just because it is so happy to have England resting upon it.

This morning, the goodness of life is because England is here. . .and I am in it.


Emily said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Emily said...

Well said. Once again you have given lyrical words to feelings I have been unable to express. In my one short venture to England, I remember feeling as I first stepped on the soil that it felt OLD. Older than American dirt. Is it? Or does it just bear the more weathered stamp of Western Civilization, and THAT is what I'm sensing?

Either way, it's a glorious thing.

k_laurelle said...

no jessica france is not better and doesn't have the same charm or feeling in the air that england does. there is something very special about england... no pinpointing it really, at least not by me

aubtobobtolob said...

Well I am glad you did not sleep on nappies, nor did you sleep so hard you needed any. always good.
I would love to see your country some day, you will have to go with me and the girl. She will NEVER forget your plans! (I don't think I am included in those.) ;-)
we have bells on our street. in Palmyra there is a corner known as 'four church's corner' and two of them toll lovely sounds. We stop and listen all the time. It is a magic thing. almost as magic as my back yard tonight, woods, with a bond fire, a daughter teaching on faith, and fire flies dancing everywhere. I love the good things. like you.