Thursday, June 7, 2012

Another side of the Jubilee

On Tuesday, we took the short train ride from Cambridge to the town of Ely, a small village with an enormous cathedral, built in the 11th century on a much older religious site. The building is referred to as "The Ship of the Fens," since before the fens were drained, the town was actually an island (its name means "island of eels"), so the cathedral would appear to be floating in the middle of the water.

It's an amazing place and a lovely town, and we've visited several times. When we stumbled in there on Tuesday (literally, since I couldn't figure out how to work the complicated wrought-iron latch in the door), the place seemed surprisingly noisy. It was then that we noticed the giant projection-screen TV set in the open area below the octagonal tower, right in front of the pulpit.

The docent apologized, explaining that they were "just waiting for the carriage procession from Westminster to begin"...and sure enough, the TV was tuned to BBC 1's live broadcast of the ongoing Jubilee celebrations.

Apparently, there had been a big Jubilee celebration in the Village the previous day, out behind the cathedral, and the TV was in place so that people could come in to watch the concert from Buckingham Palace.

There were tables decked out in red, white, and blue cloths, bunting strung between the enormous columns in the nave, and tea and cake for sale in the back in case you wanted to sit and have a cuppa while watching the festivities.

In the cathedral's Lady Chapel (always an odd moniker, I think, for a room that's bigger than most entire church buildings in the U. S.), local youth and gardening groups had created floral displays to commemorate each of the decades of the Queen's reign...some more on-point than others, but each touching in its own earnest way.

And I'll admit: when the carriage procession started up, we sat down and watched it, too. How odd to be sitting in a magnificent, thousand-year old cathedral watching TV, seeing Kate Middleton's smiling face rolling past on a giant screen, while some fellow tourists sitting in front of us tried to get their toddler to take a nap across several folding chairs knocked together.

It seemed totally absurd, silly even, until I remembered that of course, the Queen is also the head of the church here. In that sense, it was perfectly fitting. The first event of the morning had been a "Service of Thanksgiving" for Her Majesty at St. Paul's Cathedral, and if you're going to watch it on TV anyway, what better place to watch it than in a fine old cathedral that's many hundreds of years older than St. Paul's?

It's the moments of unexpected serendipity like this that I love most about traveling--the ones that nudge you to reassess your initial impressions of a place or a phenomenon. (Granted, some of those moments don't so much "nudge" as shove, and it takes longer to appreciate them.) And, it made a welcome change from all the commercial Jubilee kitsch I posted about last time. Community kitsch is much more appealing.

(Apologies, by the way, for the way photos are appearing in these recent'd think the iPad would be the perfect distance blogging tool, but it's surprisingly difficult to use for these purposes.)

Monday, June 4, 2012

Jubilee madness

We didn't intend it, but somehow we've managed to be in the U.K. for both the Queen's Golden Jubilee, in 2002, and now for the Diamond Jubilee. And let me tell you, this one's clearly a much bigger deal. Not only are the events grander and more extensive, but the whole country seems to have gone Union-Jack mad, at least judging by the shop windows.

You can find tacky flag-themed souvenirs anytime you like in London, but here in Cambridge, they're generally confined to the cheesiest of tourist shops. Not this time around. It's the rare shop window that doesn't have a Jubilee display with all kinds of patriotic merch in it, ranging from the minimalist to the completely over-the-top. It's been quite amazing to take them all in!

Long may you reign, ma'am.