Lost in Riga

Untimely ripped from the photo sessions in the Anglican Cathedral and the rhapsodic family party that was flowing i am all too soon stifling tears of joy and wild gratitude as the cab speeds towards the airport, clutching for comfort a lone stem given to me by Katherina. Go back go back whispers the inner voicing haltingly there is no better place to be transported to than back among the cobbles and the echoes, the soft shadows of the old town. 

This plane cannot be the right place to be, raucous Russians cry down the length of the fusliage to each other while my body screams for sleep. Even Douglas my alter ego dozes fitfully beside me, ceasing to bother me for his anticipated prowl in the wild west end.  Eventually we spill out into Liverpool Street Station to have the gates of the last tube slammed firmly shut in our faces. Quite adrift i am lost in the many exits, to find myself alone in a desolate city square, only a small jar of honey from sister Katherina for sustenance and no clear way out of the money-making haze.

Three gates to the North, three gates to the South. A fragment of a song clicks in my inner juke box. ‘Where do I go now? Where do I go? What do i do?’ The beat builds, the mantra grows into a protective cloak that guides me towards a cab. I am not alone but surrounded in that empty square by the ghosts of circling singers chanting responses to my pleas for direction. Happy for the relief of the cab but in truth would have been content to have dropped my bag in the Square and allowed our Suskanouska lullaby to carry me into dreamless sleep. A sleep that would be blessedly free from the interruption of Mick and Bill’s synchronised basso profoundo snoring.¬†

Sunday morning and Hyde park and London in general is bathed in autumn sunshine as the city dwellers enjoy the days before the winter comes.  It is a city without scale though. I seek out the lanes, need to take stock of my situation in a cellar with dark coffee while crunching into a Mandelu Kroisante, allowing fragments of almond to fall into my lap. All the while as i wander, flaneur without purpose, the songs float in my head to the backdrop of Turner skies. ‘Follow your dreams, folllow your dreams, walking ….’  Louise is with me and as happy to let me drift as she is to hear fragmentary tales of our times together. I fight to suppress anxiety about the teaching assignment to be delivered on Monday to massed ranks of eager/ anxious students, an assignment that I had only learned of days before.  “That’s all right, thats all right’ I hum by way of reassurance.

We go into St Martin’s in the Fields amid the Pearlly Kings and Queens of London mass turn out for their Harvest Festival. It is so lovely to talk of them, to hear of their traditions and to try on the retiring Pearly King’s jacket. It weighs a ton and is a splendid extravagant useless garment.  He has to retire as his knees are gone, which is hardly surprising under the weight of all that glitter. He looks impossibly old and happily talks as if his work on earth is done now that his daughter is Queen. Then I find out that he is the same age as me.  Louise is keen to celebrate my birthday and become my own Pearly Queen. We retreat into the cool of the chapel, gathering prayers for guidance from above. I hum her the chorus of Bury me Deep which she really likes. The simplicity of that chapel is stunning. We try a few of those slow descending falsettos to the ceiling. They are returned with interest as they join all the other stray notes ever sung therein. The chapel is ‘very us.’

Monday morning and back on the tube heading towards my teaching fate. I follow a woman rapt in her earbuds who fails to notice that she drops her purse. A following woman picks it up, vainly chasing her saying muttering ‘excuse me, excuse me.’ I let out a full blooded Spooky ‘HIP’ causing the entire underground system to grind to a halt or so it seems.  I feel I should read the materials sent to me by the University but the file will not open. As i walk up the hill among the commuters coming at me like Alto’s out of their factory Mandy sings in my ear ‘you know it is gonna be all right.’ Wrong words but right sentiment. I liked the way those tenors made their own stuff up.

The unfamiliar staff room is full of first day of term anxieties and no little rancour as lecturers revive grievances hibernated during the summer.  I am tempted to try to make sense of some of this emotional swirl, to blend but decide that such effort will only disipate my energies and the prevailing sense of being carried by something more divine that I feel. “Lead us not into temptation but give us some kind of explanation …” I know it will be fine once i have the students alone, all to myself.  I want to be ready.

There are 35 of them, similar to our number, average age 27, no one from the UK, but from 15 different countries and every continent speaking over 50 languages between them. They will be together for a year and are just beginning to absorb the reality of this transit. By way of introduction to me and to their task I tell them of our Riga experience. I relate a tale of a group similar in number to themselves, thirty five strangers coming together over the course of a week to seek harmony and explore potentialities, both musically and in other ways, where music is the metonym. I relate that part of our challenge was to learn songs in Fijian, Georgian, Latvian, Russian, even English.  And i say that I am still buoyed by the fact that we achieved that, culminating in our concert in the Cathedral but in truth much else was realised besides; such as getting to know ourselves and each other at that really deep level where embarrassments and inhibitions were momentarily laid aside. 

I suggested that if we could achieve that in only one week then how far might they go in one year. After several hours of exploratory exercises, moving around the room in different constellations, they spontaneously settled in their chairs in an open circle without bidding but with a perfect sense of timing recognising that the formation process was done for now. We sat in silence but our eyes alive, pleased with ourselves. I asked what they had learned so far about how they would proceed to work together. One student from Morocco said ‘it is simple. We need to learn to blend.’ 

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