Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Art of Impatient Living

I am going to ask you to do a very difficult thing. I want you to forget all the seasonal trappings that surround you right now and seduce you into thinking that Advent has anything at all to do with Christmas as you and I understand it. I want you to clear out all the “let’s get ready for Christmas!” cheer and folderol.

Why? I want us to think about what Advent is about—the patience required to wait for something extraordinary. There is an agenda to Advent and we often lose sight of what is required. We need to wait for that which we have not yet seen. We work for what has not yet been accomplished.

Actually for me in Jordan, at least as of right now, this is all very easy. There are no radio stations playing Christmas music, there is no mad dash to the Mall for Santa electronics gifts. Moreover, I am waiting patiently for three weeks from now when I will travel the thousands of miles back to my Cincinnati home. So since today marks the first Sunday of Advent I am all caught up in the expectations and required patience for the holiday. I am thinking how interesting it is that we must reconcile the patience of Advent with the impatience of human and 21st century living—wow, that is the problem and opportunity of Advent!

When I have spoken to students over the years who believe that the Bible lacks credibility, one of the reasons that they find it so unbelievable is that the Bible asks us to do things that are manifestly undoable. They ask us to believe things that, if not believable and true, are at least unlikely. We are asked to have patience with the clichés of Advent—light over darkness and hope over despair and gentleness over might and power—and believe that they will come true. Let’s just look at a couple of things—we know that Jesus says that the meek shall inherit the earth but we do not believe that that is likely, or not at least not anytime soon. We know that we are to forgive people who have hurt us, but we know that except in rare and wonderful circumstances it is very difficult to bring ourselves to do it.

So we come back to the patience bit. Oh, patience that cruel muse/demon. Isn’t patience for the unambitious, or the under-achievers? I remember someone joking once that patience is for those who have to take the long view because they can’t succeed in the short run. And, have you ever been told to be patient? Oh, think about studying a language or piano. Or writing. Or learning to tie a tie? Yes, I remember my father urging me to be patient about tying a tie. “Be patient, it will come.” Somehow it is hard to believe whenever such counsel is offered. It is such an irritant! (I know of what I speak—as a teacher of writing, I implore my students to be patient, like six months while they work and work and wait for the breakthrough—I know it feels irritating to the students!)

I guess patience implies passivity and we wish not to be passive, we wish not merely to be spectators at somebody else’s spectacle of achievement. We want to make it happen NOW! There is a line in the New Testament epistle of James that shouts, “Be ye doers of the word and not hearers only!” That I get! I want to do! I don’t want to be told to wait.

I remember as a cub scout we were asked to take a seed and make something grow. I had no interest in farming, but I certainly had an interest in merit badges! So I wanted the biggest seed I could find because I thought that would grow faster. I wasn’t interested in those little packets of seeds—those things would require far too much patience! So we had an avocado once (why we had an exotic avocado in my mid-western household I don’t know, although we did have the requisite 1970s avocado-colored kitchen!) and I got the huge seed from the middle of the avocado and planted it in a pot on the front porch. I raced to see every day the progress of my seed. It took forever—even the biggest seed I could imagine! My father, a master of patience if there ever was one, urged me to calm down and be patient. Finally, after what seemed like eons (what? Maybe 72 hours?!) my father told me in his magisterial way that I needed patience and hope. If one could cultivate those two things, he said, life would be easier and better. I can’t imagine I really agreed with him then, but nearly 40 years after that conversation, I cannot forget his sage advice. A harvest is a result of incredible patience and the hope of things to come. A farmer cannot do anything to induce the rains and development. We have to rely on forces beyond our control. Argh!!!!!!

I am not sure why all of this crossed my mind today, but as we crossed the threshold into Advent all of this came flooding back to me. My father, a master of patience and hope, has never been idle. That was another lesson he sought to impart to me. Tuesday, November 27th is my mother’s birthday—she would have been 74—and the project that was Mary Martha’s health and well-being was my father’s greatest demonstration of patience and hope and never being idle. My father was a sometime farmer for fun, not a real farmer, but you know the kind of suburban guy who plants tomatoes and zucchini and such. But he had the gifts of a farmer, imbuing living things with love, patience, hope, and endless care. He never was held hostage by fantasies and disappointments of the impatient.

In the house of my childhood we were not supposed to speak about Christmas until after my mother’s birthday. So until November 27th had passed, we were not allowed to jump and cheer and wish and beg and cajole and upend the Christmas cheer truck. What a funny thing, in a way, but totally in keeping with my parents’ ultimate goal to cultivate patience and hope in some desperate children.

So why the desire for a lesson in patience in Advent? Like everything else, it is about more than we think. We are not really anticipating the commemoration of the birthday of a little baby in Bethlehem, but the fruition of some divine plan, the culmination of human hope. I guess Advent is reminding us of really re-births and that possibility of getting it right, of mercy triumphant and truth triumphant and joy triumphant and peace triumphant. I don’t know about you, but certainly in this neck of the woods, those concepts would be a miracle.

I don’t think it is about waiting for something in the past either, of merely recreating those moments. There is no hope in history, no age, no season to which we could return when everything would be fine. There is no place in history where it really has worked. Soooo, I guess, there is no better time or place than where we are right now. Oh, wait. Our time and place right now doesn’t work. Soooo, the only place where we can invest, where there is a harvest worth aspiring to, is in the future.

This is the language of Advent. This is not merely a “waiting around for something interesting to happen,” but as with the farmer, a working for which we wait. Impatient living is what we do. Impatient living isn’t about just keeping busy. Working well for that for which we wait is the essence of Advent hope.

I remember one time when I was in college and I asked my mother how it was that she never seemed to give up on her situation with MS. How did she not give up? As she did often, she turned a little moment into a mini-sermon. She agreed that it would seem that there was plenty of opportunity and reason to give up, but she reminded me that God does not give up on his creatures, although we must have given Him millions of reasons to give up. She said we need the patience of Job and we must always live in the anticipation of hope.

How fitting that my mother’s birthday is always around the time of Advent. No one exemplifies patience and hope better than my mother and father—and at her birthday I get the invitation to Advent. Advent hope is not an invitation to easy, silly optimism, nor an invitation to mind-numbing despair or hope held hostage to experience. As my mother would surely sermonize if she had a blog (I would love to have seen her creative blog entries!) Advent hope is an invitation to translate the energy of impatience into the art of expectant living in the here and now.

Happy Birthday on Tuesday to you Mary Martha Griley Leistler! I thank the good Lord that you and your Kenny Babe were my parents, trying to tame the impatient young man, modeling patience and hope and love. I hope you don’t mind I spoke about Christmas before Tuesday. It feels kinda good to get away with something!

Bring it on Advent—I accept the invitation.

P.S. I just googled Advent 2012 to check and make sure today is the first Sunday of Advent. It is not! Next Sunday, December 2nd is the first Sunday of Advent, 2012. Well, I suppose my impatient living wanted me to speed it up, but I will go ahead and post the blog entry anyway…enjoy the week anticipating the season of anticipating!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Reckless Abandon Under Control

Last night I went over to my dear colleague Reem’s house in Amman for the second year in a row for Thanksgiving. About 18 people, family and family friends, gathered for this American-style Thanksgiving. Last year I wrote in a blog entry about my first time for Thanksgiving with Reem’s family:

Reem’s mother and father have lived in Georgia, in the United States, for a long time, and just this fall moved back for awhile to Jordan to be with Reem’s grandmother, her sweet and feisty 90-year old Tateh. So Reem’s mother and father know of Thanksgivings.

Julianne and I come over to Reem’s family’s house, and the mother is putting the finishing touches on a splendid meal. She has a schedule on the refrigerator of when to get everything done—ahhh…a woman after my own heart—and has it all mapped out. Soon the guests arrive—Reem’s aunts and family friends for decades spill into the apartment. The dishes spill out of the kitchen, the two kinds of stuffing, an American-style and an Arab-style stuffing, broccoli salad, beets, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, and a beautiful turkey. We gather round and hold hands, and Reem’s father offers a stirring prayer. He thanks God for our blessings and abundance and gratitude for flourishing lives. While I know really well only two other people in the room—Reem and Julianne—I am surrounded by a loving family and devoted friends and a sense of sincere thanks. It may not be my blood family, but in this moment of food and thanks, it fills the void. This is a family that has had to be peripatetic: they had to leave Palestine in 1948 and then they left Lebanon and many have left Jordan to America. But through it all, these ties of family and friends have obviously sustained them.

So last night before we go to dig into the wondrous bounty of Reem’s mother’s food, we stood and sang the “Doxology,” and Reem’s father offered a prayer again. This year he added a new feature of thanksgiving: gratitude that Jordan was safe and managing the volatility around it and coursing through it. It was obvious from the vibe in the room how important this note thanksgiving and stability for their beloved Jordan was.

In the last two weeks I have received a number of emails and calls wondering about my safety and what was happening in Jordan. I decided I needed to discuss what I thought was going on, and I remembered the sermon title from last week’s meditation at the church I attend. The speaker entitled his sermon, “Reckless Abandon Under Control,” and discussed how we needed to discern God’s timeline for the trajectory of our lives. As I listened to the sermon, I kept thinking about that title—is this an accurate statement about the events and situation in Jordan right now???

If you read The Economist or almost any other political journalist, or listen to reports on the news, they all seem to claim that Jordan is in upheaval—maybe even finished. It sounds so strange to read that when each day of the week we go about our business at school of educating adolescents. It seems so normal! Now, granted, I live in a bit of a “bubble,” 30 minutes by car to Amman, and behind walls (in case you have ever wondered, once you are on campus, you never see the walls) protected by security guards. But each day hundreds of students and teachers and workers come on campus, and go about the quotidian tasks of a school. So when I look at the news reports, this upheaval seems about as far away to me as if I were back in Cincinnati.

But I don’t want to sound as if I have just buried my head in the sand—there are problems coursing through the veins of this kingdom on the fault lines of Middle East tension and trauma. Let’s leave Gaza alone in this blog entry—I just want to explore what is happening in Jordan.

Almost two weeks ago the government announced that the price of gasoline and home heating oil would be going up. (It is helpful to put in perspective the hike: as I understand it the cost of the heating oil rose from 6 JDs to 10 JDs. Even if you don’t know a JD from Jasmine plant, you can appreciate the significant rise in price.) There were fairly aggressive protests in various places throughout the kingdom about the price hikes and worries over whether or not this would become another Middle Eastern government toppled. This comes after the violent civil war in neighboring Syria which has sent between 100,000 and 200,000 refugees fleeing into Jordan.

I am not saying it has been an easy year for Jordan, but I do think the reports of the demise of the kingdom of Jordan are greatly exaggerated. (Thank you Mr. Twain for that sardonic comment!)

As an outsider I can’t decide if I have more insight since it is not my homeland, or so much less insight because I just don’t get it. I can’t change my outsider status, so here are my observations about the current situation in Jordan: the King has a substantial legacy of legitimacy in Jordan, both spiritually and politically and diplomatically, with a population dependent on the government for many things. Price hikes are unpopular, yes, but the monarchy has a legitimacy with the people. Many people revere King Hussein (who died in 1999) more than you can imagine. The police in Jordan are not seen as a joke or as torturers. About 20 months ago when I went down to watch a “protest” I noticed how as men marched by, police handed out bottles of water. The police, as I see it, is not the sharp end of the stick of a dictatorial regime. Jordan is not like Syria, Iraq, Libya, Egypt or Yemen. Given the number of protests, there have been few deaths. These determinedly non-violent protests often result in counter-protests of Jordanians driving around waving their flag, shouting support for the King, and praising Jordan.

Moreover, Jordanians treasure their peace and stability. They take enormous pride in being an oasis of calm in a desert of volatility and violence.

Ahhh…but let’s not be naïve. Could all of this crumble? Of course it could, but it seems unlikely to me. For every protest and the burning of tires and yelling, there is also vocal disgust for the vandalism and lack of understanding about economies. But, but, but, my historian’s mind reels with other examples of this, from Paris to St. Petersburg to Tunisia, etc. Let me not try and predict the future, but let’s look at some of the real problems facing Jordan:

Number 1—the situation in Syria and the threat of a violent spill-over that could destabilize Jordan. But one thing I have noted is that it would not surprise me if that kind of external stress would not actually galvanize Jordanians in a powerful way. The typical tension of East Bank Jordanians and Jordanian Palestinians could be transcended by such a threat.

Number 2—I have heard the phrase “fiscal cliff” a thousand times in the American press recently about our economic woes. Talk about your fiscal cliffs—well, Jordan is at that precipice. The budget is far overdrawn, like by billions, and the government needs cash and worries about the future of more loans. Hence the price hikes in fuel. But there is so much economic investment in Jordan from countries from around the world that I wonder if they would just sit idly by. Or do I sound like the surprised college sophomore whose father must finally rein in the reckless spending habits???

Long, long ago when I taught Economics in my first school, the Latin phrase Ceteris paribus came up regularly in the study of economics. The phrase literally translated means “all other things being equal or held constant.” That phrase may be why I didn’t like teaching economics! How silly is it to try and think of things being constant. The study of History, on the other hand, if it is done well, is about the utter lack of constancy, and the mess of history and trying to deal with and understand the stew of simultaneity.

So that’s where I am about Jordan. I think the fatalist tantrums are overstated. But all of these scenarios for the future involve a certain tendency to follow the past. The government has done well in going to various tribes and having tea and coffee and straightening out messes. The king has looked at his neighbors and learned from their mistakes. The protests have fizzled away. The police have managed to keep the protests from getting really out of hand. People have loaned Jordan money. The easy prey that Jordan seems to be in this pivot of the Middle East has not swept away the monarchy and its substantially stable government.

In my judgment the protests have seemed a reckless abandon, but one that is under control.

What will come next? I think that again requires the careful consideration, the prayer, the discernment and the wisdom of what the timeline reveals. The stakes are high. As Reem’s father offered thanks for our health and our bounty, I also join him in his prayers for the stability and future of this Middle Eastern kingdom, my home for the last 65 months.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Kingmaker Ohio

Yesterday my dear colleague Tessa invited me into her 10th grade English class to, as she said, “tell us what this whole election thing means to America.” Tessa is a South African, a doyenne of the independent school world, a veteran world-traveler, and yet, she said, “I do not know what to make of this Electoral College thing.” So I went into Tessa’s class to demystify the Electoral College for them (she doesn’t know this, but my mother’s college senior thesis was on the Electoral College—I guess it’s in my DNA!). I spoke to her 19 students about how the Constitutional Convention of 1787 came about after the fairly disastrous years of our newly won independence in those not-so united states. How fun to explain to them—without any false modesty—the supreme importance of my home state of Ohio. If you have watched any news analysis at all, it does come down to those 18 prized electoral votes from my Buckeye state. We discussed how candidates spend almost no time in 29-vote New York, or 38-vote Texas, or even 55-vote California. We briefly pitied 3-vote Vermont. I tried to explain it is not just because I hail from Ohio…but we know…the kingmaker swing state of Ohio, perhaps just a few counties actually, may determine the vote in this presidential election.

Today I put together a special Election Day outfit for school! (Just in case you have not been made fully aware of how eccentric I can be!) I had on a bright red shirt (in honor of the red states) and blue trousers (in honor of the blue states) and a $3 tie I bought in New York’s Battery that has the words of the preamble of the Constitution, an image of the U.S. capitol, and a blindfolded Lady Justice…go American Justice and Democracy!! I had to explain my outfit to a few people.

I had to explain my outfit in part because there was not the buzz and excitement around campus today about the Election Day in the U.S. that there was in 2008…the mood was not really subdued, just pretty unaware and/or blasé. In 2008 there was considerable buzz and excitement here. We had made plans for people to watch the final returns starting at 5:00 a.m. our time in the Dining Hall. If you remember, over 80 students got up to watch (that was half of the boarders at the time!) The U.S. Embassy had a glittering party at a fancy hotel in Amman on Election night. I never got an invitation to a party this year from the Embassy. Maybe I sang too many show tunes or patriotic songs in 2008, I don’t know. But I looked in The Jordan Times today, and on page 3 there was a smallish story headed by, “Many Jordanians indifferent to US election outcome.” The article was about as lackluster as the responses from “ordinary Jordanians.” Essentially, everyone quoted said the same thing: sorry, just not interested. They did not marvel at the phenomenon of democracy, and even though it is the print media, you could practically see the shrugging and grousing with the lines, “Whoever wins, it’ll be the same foreign policy anyway.” Some of those interviewed called Election Day, “a charade,” another “a sham.” It came down to this general consensus from those “ordinary Jordanians”: “it will be the same for us.” What they mean is that they have seen it long enough to know that United States policy will be about unconditional support for Israel. “They will be on Israel’s side no matter who is in office,” said an IT professional. A salesman lamented, “All I know is they will enforce Israel’s unfair policies against the Palestinians.” As veteran politician Tip O’Neill once noted, “All politics is local.” Tip got it right.

Well, it’s not 2008 here or anywhere else. In 2008 our election invigorated Jordanians because they felt there might be a change in the air for issues near and dear to their hearts. But you know, my ardor for Election Day is undiminished—I just understand the political thing a little better.

I had a great talk with one of our foreign exchange students from China. I learned as usual far more than I might have “dispensed” in talking with him. First of all, I learned that the Chinese people my student knows are utterly fascinated by American democracy. He said that a pop star scored a hit in Beijing by talking about the Electoral College for 33 minutes! Did Tessa try and wrangle him for her class??

He explained that interest in US presidential elections is unusually high in China this year because Americans are voting at the same time Beijing is going through its own political transition. A generation of Communist Party leaders will step down next week to make way for younger leaders after a highly secretive selection process.

The student compared what he thought about both systems and their approach to the upcoming political transitions. He told me about a popular political cartoon in China where an American voter covers his ears over all the endless droning campaign ads on TV, while a Chinese man struggles to hear anything from the party congress taking place behind closed doors. He marveled that Americans get to select their own leaders. He reminded me that to the Chinese their own leaders were distant figures whom they have no way of replacing.

Wow. What a reminder of something I have never worried about. We squabble and call names and throw out words like, “evil,” “Nazi,” “idiot” and on and on, but oh, do not forget—we have the power of the ballot box! It may a flawed system—of course it is, but we have a semblance of something, and as the words from 1787 attested, we are working toward “a more perfect union.” I hear Martin Luther King, Jr. words, “I may not get there with you, but someday…” I explained to Tessa’s class who could vote in 1800 and then compared it to 1900 and then to 2000. I talked about demographic changes, about “American Exceptionalism,” and the wonders of pride and the pitfalls of hubris, and I said what my friend Doris Jackson always reminded her students, “Please vote—it is more than a right. It is your obligation—people died for the right to vote.”

My friend from China said the internet has changed everything. They now get more than “state-sponsored propaganda.” They can learn more, see presidential debates. Oh, but then the conversation took a turn. He noted that admiration for the US political system does not necessarily extend to the US itself. They worry about how the US tries to manipulate the Chinese economy and “scold” China.

Campaigns feel like an eternity somehow—but in the next 24 hours there will be a change. Elections will most likely be decided. The rancor will soften. We will accept the verdict of the voters. And most importantly, there will not be bloodshed in our streets over the election results. There is nothing I treasure about America more than these two glorious days in the Fall: Election Day and the sun breaking over a violence-free acceptance.

Speaking of fall days—today I got that special package I have come to treasure every fall. My friend Margot sent me my fall leaves! Margot was a Gap Year fellow in 2007-08 here and in that first autumn away from autumn leaves we confided to each other how much we missed the turning of the leaves. Next autumn, when she was beginning college at Williams, I got a special package in the mail with gorgeous autumn leaves from Williamstown. Every autumn since Margot has remembered and sent me some leaves. What a treasure (both Margot and the leaves!)

As millions go to the polls today—god bless ‘em every one—they will decide on the candidate and party which they feel understands their community and concerns. They will pick leaders in which they find their allies in peace and justice and progress. They will elect the ones who they think will make America better, stronger, smarter and more just. What a wonderful thing. What a patriotic duty!

Okay, it is bedtime here in Jordan, but oh, the night is young for me! In a few minutes three teacher friends are coming over. We plan to stay up all night, biting our nails as we watch the returns on CNN and MSNBC here on Jordanian TV. We will welcome in the dawn awaiting the news from across the pond.

What will my native state of Ohio do? What will Kingmaker Ohio show us in the next 12 hours?????????

Go put on your red, white, and blue and celebrate! I’m cheering from thousands of miles away!!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

I had “A Day”

It certainly seemed as if it were tempting the Fates to make the Eid vacation plans meeting Christy again in London! Last year, if you remember my travel plans expertly, I planned to meet TIEL Queen and soulmate Christy in London. Last year it worked—we came from different continents, flew into different airports, traveled to central London on different subway lines—and had no cell phones to connect ourselves. And it worked! Last year she arrived within 10 minutes of the ETA I had established! Dare we, dare we, tempt the Fates that it could work again??!! We dared…

By the way, to refresh your memories, this Eid break is two moons since the last Eid celebration which marked the end of Ramadan. This Eid marks when many pilgrims will make the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. If you don’t go to Mecca, well, Muslim families revel in family time and celebrate and eat a lot of lamb.

As I wrote in a blog entry last year after the trip: “Now came the real worry—how would Christy and I meet up in London??? In the 17 years I have known Christy, while she is a genius about education and pedagogy, well, her genius stops short of being a whiz with plans and meeting and times. I could fill many a blog entry about the misfires over plans and where and when to meet (and not just say 8 hours away, just when we are in a museum and we plan to meet at the end—bathroom stops anywhere practically fill me with dread…will I ever find her again even though we had a plan. See here is the difficulty: we were coming from different continents into different airports. Christy—(oh, how can I put this gently???) is not good with maps or times or meeting points. They all run together and fortunately, the angels have conspired to nudge her along in life so that she stays out of harm’s way. Where shall we meet? I picked Victoria Train Station at Track #1!”

You must have guessed that it couldn’t work out so well twice! To be fair—and I must be fair—it wasn’t Christy’s fault. Her plane was delayed in New Jersey for three hours since they were missing a part to the door. But in our plans with no cell phones and instantaneous email access I didn’t know this. Her ETA at Victoria Station this year was to be 12:30 pm London time. After 2 hours had gone by, and not without fretting and freezing on my part with the Arctic plunge London had last Friday, I called Marcey, our friend and concierge (she was graciously offering free dorm rooms for our stay!) in London and worried. Marcey immediately checked the flight times on-line and discovered that Christy’s plane had had a 3-hour late departure…oh well…Christy arrived about 3 hours after the ETA and we began our London vacation!

Dear Hackley and KA colleague Julianne famously once spent “A Day” with me in Manhattan: she wanted to see what I did on a weekend day and she found out it was a busy, busy day. She has joked since that of all the things she can endure, she doesn’t think she can handle another “Day” with me as I make the rounds doing all the things I loved…

Well, last Sunday was one of those days in London…a beautifully planned and executed “Day” that just makes me smile and enjoy the busy-ness of all I enjoy. I thought I would walk you through “A Day,” a quintessential Day where I hit upon many of my favorite activities and haunts…Here is a run-down of last Sunday:

We stayed in these dorms (quite snazzy by the way with single rooms with a private bath—better than many B&Bs I have found over the years) out on Holloway Road in Islington in London. I woke up a little early, walked down the street on a brisk and sunny morning to go breakfast shopping at the Morrison’s grocery store. Oh, I got some English cheddar, Wiltshire ham, grapefruit juice, bananas and just-baked whole-grain bread. After Christy and I fed ourselves we went to take the bus southeast to church. We decided to attend the service at St. Paul’s Cathedral (and besides the spiritual fulfillment, it would save the usual $25 visiting fee!). The bus took us through some neighborhoods we didn’t know well, we arrived on time, and sat mesmerized at the sights and sounds of the choir. The church was one of those moments in my 1981 first trip abroad—I remember standing agape in St. Paul’s at the mosaics and exquisite beauty of Wren’s dome and cathedral. How moving to start the day here…

After a quick little pick-me-up croissant and hot chocolate we walked down the lane to the Museum of the City of London. We took in a tour of pre-historic London and then went down to look at some exhibits of 19th century London. I couldn’t resist the book store at the museum and I looked at books on Roman Britain and the many novels that could feast on my London obsession. Next we hopped a subway for a neighborhood that wasn’t even on most tourist maps—Stockwell.

We were on our way to Stockwell to see a play that was off the beaten path. As we emerged into this neighborhood—it reminded us of Greenwich Village—we loved the houses and shops. We found our way to the theater, bought our tickets, and had an hour then for lunch before the matinee. We passed a pub, The Priory Arms, that lured us in with its Sunday Afternoon Roast Special. Oh, we found a remarkably wonderful roast beef and yorkshire pudding meal, and the six vegetables. While we had enjoyed our Indian food and Thai food on our trip, this comfort food was heavenly. Christy, in her own hyperbolic way pronounced this “among the best meals of my life!”

The play is a new play called Peter about the effect on the Davies family their friendship with author James Barrie had. Barrie named his newest character “Peter Pan” after the youngest Davies boy and the play looks at the sad realities of that family’s life. Several scenes took place in Kensington Park at the famed statue of Peter Pan and how the namesake wished he had never heard of the little boy who couldn’t grow up. We made a plan to visit the statue the following day. The play was a great matinee…but the day wasn’t finished yet!

I timed it exactly right that we could take the Tube over to Westminster Abbey and make a 5:45 organ concert (again, another way to get into a famous church for free since the recitals are free and you skip the $25 fee!). We sat there in this nearly-1000 year old church enjoying the ogive arches and sumptuous trapping of British regalia along with the Cesar Franck organ piece. A great way to collect one’s thoughts and look back on the day. At the conclusion we headed out for a walk up by Parliament and Big Ben to Trafalgar Square on our way to Piccadilly! We met Marcey for dinner at a Thai restaurant. We regaled her with our completed for plans for the day: we had enjoyed new neighborhoods, church in a spectacular setting, comfort food, a museum, books, walking through a park, a play, a concert, foreign food, historic sights…seriously…like the Days of old in New York—this was A Day! After dinner we went back to the dorm to “meta” about the great day. Last year I wrote in the blog entry: “London is really everything Amman is not: there is variety in food choices, diversity in people, art, theater, bookstores…lots of music and attention to history, clean streets, abundant maps on the streets and easy to understand signs (and signs, of course in English!) and some very good manners.”

The trip is over; I am back doing laundry, preparing for classes and the onslaught of school. But the beauties of the break linger: a change of weather, time with a friend that enjoys the exact same things I do, laughter, exploring, delightful art works, new things to see and taste…just a lovely time. Each day of the trip was in and of itself, of course, A Day. I just thought I would focus on that lovely Sunday…

Oh, but I have to mention the weirdest thing we did…Kensington Palace is newly opened after a two-year renovation for the parts open to the public. It has a hefty visit price of $25 but we decided to go anyway. After all, Queen Victoria grew up here, Diana lived here, they must have prepared it well…

Imagine if film director Tim Burton were in charge of designing a museum. Go ahead—think about it for a moment—what would it look like? Think of his movies and think how he might design a historic museum. That is along the lines of how Kensington Palace is treated in its new incarnation! The strangest part of the museum is the floor dedicated to Queen Anne (she lived here around 1700) and her 18 children who died before maturity. There were piles of suitcases with Anne’s name and the destination of Kensington Palace. There was some wall text about Prince William’s upcoming 11th birthday party. The text began to dance as you read it! It told of how William looked forward to dancing at the party. Sad, but none of Anne’s other children lived so long, the text reminded. The end of the text kept reminding us how William looked forward to the dancing! Upstairs one learned that during the party, during the dancing, William got “overheated,” and soon developed “a fever.” Within days, he was dead. The museum seemed to delight in the macabre elements of Anne’s dead brood: there was a dining room set with 18 places, all with enormous gold bows, all for the dead children. There was whispering around, real recordings of whispers, “palace gossip” the text read, of what everyone said about the seemingly evil Queen with her dead passel of children. One could sit in a royal-esque chair and look up at “William’s dreams,” and see the hologram of the dead Prince. Need I go on? Every exhibit seemed like a Haunted House—seriously!! The creativity was over-the-top and bizarre. I guess children might fancy the place, but as a historic house, it was ridiculous. Eventually we decided to run out of there, run through the park, find the Peter Pan statue, and get back to a much saner real world.

From there we went on to High Tea…but I won’t regale you with any more itinerary nonsense…I am just reveling in the beauty of the Day in Londontown…