Friday, November 20, 2009

'Tis the Season in Londontown

LONDON - As I look out the window of my parkview room in the Metropolitan Hotel, I see flashing lights of green, red and blue illuminating the trees of Hyde Park. They are part of a big seasonal display, complete with artificial snow, in the famous park during the long approach to Christmas and end-of-the-year holidays.

I haven't seen London so done up in Christmas gear before, though I have been here at this time before. Big shopping arteries such as New Bond Street sport overhead electronic bows and ribbons, and name-brand shops such as Fortnum and Mason have holly and boughs from Christmas trees in front. At the posh Burlington Arcade on Piccadilly - or in Piccadilly, as the Brits say- glittering seasonal decorations abound. I am mainly window-shopping this far ahead of Dec. 25 - for me, as an American, the season doesn't really begin until after Thanksgiving - so all this is eye candy, but it's still fun.

I am not a churchy person, but I do enjoy the cultural, non-commercial side of Christmas, and London, a world center of art and culture, has that covered, too. The British, like those other masters of Christmas, the Swiss and Germans, open up churches to all for music and art celebrations of the season. One such moment provided a highlight of my current visit to London.

Like most visitors, I had been outside St. Martin-in-the-Fields many times, standing on the steps between its dignified columns to gaze out over London and take-in the sights of Trafalgar Square. But, oddly, I had never gone inside. I rectified that last night, to hear a program of, chiefly, Vivaldi compositions played by the accomplished Feinstein Ensemble. The church pews were hard enough to challenge anyone's faith, but the acoustic renditions of Vivaldi with flute, recorder, oboe and other sonorous instruments were inspirational. To complete the picture, St. Martin's lights were dimmed and the beautiful, vaulted interior was lit largely by candlelight.

When I left the performance for the nighttime walk back to the Metropolitan, I felt I had been blessed, not in the overt religious sense, but simply by virtue of being enveloped by such loveliness.

Christmas in London can do that.

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