Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Ash Wednesday

So, the party's over and the season of penitence has begun!

This year I've decided to give up eating meat (specifically red meat and chicken, as I'll continue to eat fish a couple of times a week).  I don't see the value in depriving oneself of something just for the sake of it, so  I've chosen meat because I believe that I probably eat more meat than is good for either me or the planet.  The concession to fish is mainly to accommodate my younger daughter who is fairly horrified at the thought of having to eat nothing but vegetables for 40 days.  I shall also make sure that there is a selection of sausages, chicken, fish fingers etc for her to supplement the veggie dishes.  It is, after all, my fast, not hers.

I also think it's helpful to do something positive to complement the negative, to take up alongside the giving up.  So I'll be reading chapter a day of  Lent for Everyone - Mark by Tom Wright.

This hasn't been a particularly easy day to begin, a busy one, not ending until almost eight.  My daughter was eating leftover chilli with a baked potato, which I couldn't share.  So I took advantage of a £1 deal on a carton of New Covent Garden leek and potato soup, which wasn't nearly as good as my own but was quick and filling.

I shall read my first chapter before bed tonight.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Infinitas Gracias

On the recommendation of my younger daughter's art teacher, we took a coach up to London yesterday to visit three of its lesser known museums housing 'collections'.  The first was Sir John Soane's house in Lincoln's Inn Fields, the second the Hunterian just across the square and the third the Wellcome collection on Euston Road.  Three fascinating collections of classical art, natural specimens, medical equipment, and art inspired by the human body.  If you haven't seen them and are ever given the opportunity to do so, then I highly recommend all or any of them.

The highlight for me was the Infinitas Gracias exhibition at the Wellcome, featuring over 100 Mexican votive images.  These are specially commissioned pieces of art, painted on tin roof tiles or plaques, offered to a saint as a sign of gratitude for a miracle.  The votives date from the 18th century to the present day and commemorate the answer to prayer in a variety of situations from ill health, to sexual infertility, to operations, to accidents, to criminal incidents, to sickness or loss of animals, to natural disasters, to revolutionary acts - a unique insight into the life of ordinary Mexican people and the faith that has enabled them to deal with its trials and tribulations.  The paintings vary from childlike pictures to sophisticated scenes but are all bold and brightly coloured, featuring characteristic depictions of the saints and a written description of the events along with their names and dates.  There were also audio visual interviews with some of the people involved, including the delightful Maria Isabel Cuellar who recalled her failure to cook a decent tortilla as a child.  In despair she prayed to Senor de Villaseca who eventually rewarded her faith, whereupon she presented him with her first successful tortilla as a votive offering.  As someone who has tried and failed, on several occasions, to make a passable mayonnaise, she had my sympathies. 

I found the simple faith portrayed by these poor Mexicans deeply moving, as was their compulsion to give thanks.  The website offers the opportunity to commission your own 'ex voto' and it has got me thinking of what I might like to give thanks for and how I would illustrate it.  I wonder ...

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Classical Gas

It's been a long time since I last sang in a classical choir.  Not since I was at school and university.  Highlights of my 'singing career' include Zadok the Priest with Leith Academy in the Usher Hall and Mozart's Requiem with Edinburgh University in Dunblane Cathedral.

My dad was brought up in a Scottish Episcopal church where he was a choir boy.  He, and my Mum,  sang in the Pune Choral Society so that, despite being brought up in India, I was exposed to European choral music from an early age.

A few years ago, after having spent a long time on the waiting list, I joined the Gasworks Choir.  It's an 'acappella choir' (Italian for 'in the manner of the church' ie unaccompanied, as opposed to 'cantata' which is accompanied).  I initially found it quite scary to have to sing without music, but I soon got the hang of it and have thoroughly enjoyed singing a wide variety of different genres.

However part of me still yearned for the choral singing of my youth and so I was delighted when Dee announced that she was going to start a Classical Gas choir.  After two workshops to brush up my rusty sight singing skills I attended the first practice this morning.  We started with three pieces by Byrd, Vivaldi and Lauridsen, each completely different yet equally beautiful pieces of music.  They're not easy and will require a great deal of practice at home if I'm to master them but I'm relishing the challenge because I'm certain it will repay me many times over.

An added bonus is that we will performing our pieces in the inspiring setting of St James Priory, a former Benedictine priory and the oldest building in Bristol.  It promises to be a night to remember.