Friday, June 20, 2014

Quaker country to cafes, crusty bread & luscious views

Last day in London and I had an agenda: spend us much time as necessary at the Friends Library with a book written by a Quaker ancestor in 1661, visit the Elgin Marbles at the British Museum and meet up with my family to board the Eurostar for Paris. They were gonna hunt up a tardis (blue British police box that fronts Dr. Who’s giant time-traveling vehicle).

Our London neighborhood
I’d packed up and taken my bags with me, schlepping through the tube and depositing them in a locker for 1£ at the Friends Center. I’d only had one negative experience riding the tube and that was when a man offered me “help” navigating the touch screen for topping off my oyster card, which we found the most convenient and cost-effective way to travel all over London. Never more than about 8 euros a day for travelling during peek times, a little less for non-peek. Had we been staying longer than 4 days, we would have considered the week travel card. Kids under 15 gets all kinds of discounts. Anyway, as I was working through the transaction, the man who’d approached me pushed me through the computer screens and on my way. When I scanned my ticked to enter the tube, the gate wouldn’t open. Fortunately, a patient tube worker asked me how long ago I’d topped off. We walked over to repeat each step when the unhelpful stranger emerged waving my $5. Apparently it’s a regular scheme. The man had neglected to tell me to swipe my card one last time after I got my cash. If you don’t, it negates the transaction and spits your cash back out. Saved by the patient guard, I wasn’t too annoyed at the man. Only 5 euros and, perhaps, he needed it more than I. It all happened so quickly that I had no time to think, just be on my way.

No problem this time, except lifting my bag up and down the steps and unpacking its pockets to shove in into the slender locker, so I would be free until time to collect it and meet my family at San Pancras and the Eurostar entrance.

Friends Library
Beyond the doors of a bustling international center, the Friends Library is quiet and understated. Tabitha was so helpful, telling me it would be 10 minutes before they could get the book for me. So, I lingered and looked around a bit. I fingered the actual card catalogue, fairly rare these days and, soon, she emerged with a very small book nestled on a pillow, carefully and loosely tied with muslin strings. Tabitha unwrapped the ties, showed me how to use the strand of clay weights to gently hold pages down and flip through the book using an acid-free sheet of cardstock.

Old-fashioned catalogue
It was hard to believe the actual book, the one I have heard so much about most of my life, was now in front of me. It was so small, yet a real book; not the pamphlet I had expected that is typical of Quakers. Just me, the book, a pencil, my phone and journal.

I was so very careful at first and took my time reading, then sliding the paper to turn each page. As it became more familiar, I became a little less timid and touched the edge to flip through, something Tabitha said was fine. The publication is composed in two sections: King and To the Reader.

The title was somewhat breathtaking:
To all that are
Repentance from dead works
To Newsness of life
Bu turning to the light in the
Conscience, which will give
The knowledge of God in
The face of Jesus Christ

Dorothea's book
Obviously Dorothea Gotherson was not a journalist with a knack for short headlines, yet she cuts right to the core. She was addressing King Charles II, who had been restored after the execution of his father in the English Civil War and the tyranny of Oliver Cromwell, about the state of England as well as individuals. She asked Charles to not think it below him to read the words of a woman, that she wrote out of love and concern. She begs and prays for England at all levels to turn toward the Light from Darkness.

What thrilled me most, however, were the details of her life and how she came to Quakerism. She is a descendent of Henry III and lived an uppercrust life, though which much affliction until she encountered a people “of one heart and one mind.” After she addresses the king, she calls on all others: “merchants, drunkards, clergy as grey hair judges, and all ye Ladies of England, who walk with stretched-out necks, and wanton eyes … oh, foolish sons and daughters of England.”

She genuinely wants them to be pure of heart and walking with God. I wish I could know what effect her words had. It was hard for me to walk away from her book. I know somehow, some way, some day, I will return to it.

Tabitha, the librarian estimated it would take about 200 £ to restore the book’s binding. She let it rest with me while I perused a book with a chapter on Dorothea.

Elgin Marbles
Leaving Dorothea physically behind, I walked to the British Museum for a quick peek at the Elgin Marbles. As I stood among them, removed from the Parthanon, I was uneasy, feeling they were displayed out of context, but also knowing many more had been exposed to their beauty had they not been. A sign remarked on their controversy, stating they were subject to grafitti and erosion when Thomas Bruce, Earl of Elgin and British ambassador, obtained them by permit from Ottoman authorities. He and his cronies stripped about half of the Parthanon’s sculpture, for which the British Parliament officially paid a few years later.

I didn’t have time to view the Rosetta Stone as my husband and one daughter did, but headed back to the Friends Center for a homey and quick lunch, then to collect my bags and meet my family for our chunnel-train to Paris.

Paris arrival at Gare du Nord/Tad Barney
Our Paris bedroom view
We had booked early enough at $65 each to earn four seats with a table. I’d grabbed cheese, bread, wine and juice at the station so we could enjoy the ride as the young Englishwomen had shown us on the last train. We zoomed out of London with one stop in Ashford to collect a handful of business men. The darkness of the tunnel zipped by and came to represent all of the time we would spend undergound riding the subways in London and Paris. As we admired the rolling French countryside, which we thought looked much like Ohio, the conductor announced a train strike would begin tomorrow morning. We blew that off thinking it wouldn’t affect us, this being our last train ride.

We grabbed a few groceries from a friendly and very small market, then opened the big blue door to our courtyard and began the 75-step climb to our pied-à-terre. Exhausted and happy, we threw open the windows to a wonderful view of Parisian rooftops and slept like logs.

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