Some things you just can't plan on a trip like this.
Like the time I was invited to a party in the Westminster Abbey.
I have been staying with a man who works at the Abbey. We have spent much of the last two days together...including yesterday morning when we opened up the Abbey! There I was, before all of London comes alive (they actually do sleep here!), walking through Westminster Abbey. No tourists. No people outside of the cleaning crew. No camera flashes. The doors are all locked. The sun hasn't really decided to glisten the old stones yet, and all of London has slowed down if only for a time.
We walked into the Abbey, unlocked all of the doors, lit some candles, turned on the lights (the Abbey was never obviously meant for electricity, but there is something stunning about standing in the Nave going from dark to all of the lights coming in...simply beautiful!). In other news, I am told that Guinness himself donated the huge chandeliers. Guinness, as in Mr. Guinness, the maker of beer in Ireland. Go figure.
Well, as the story goes, we were invited to a party to celebrate the Brazilian Independence Day (which was yesterday). So many people in London have close ties to Brazil, including the man I am staying with, and so I figured it would just be some local guys gettin' together for a drink, celebrating Brazilian style...
Well, we celebrated Brazilian style, all right...
It turns out that the party itself was held in the back rooms of the Abbey (where some people live). It's a beautiful old house and if it were to ever go up on the auction block, it would easily go for millions of dollars. But the Abbey owns it, so it never will. And then we walk into the house, and we hear noises from all sorts of people, so much that my friend was a bit nervous to walk in! He thought it was only going to be a few guys, too!
We walk in, and there are around 50 or so people at this party! It was a pretty fancy party, as well! There were bottles of wine everywhere, and it turned out that this was only the beginning. The host had had authentic Brazilian champagne specially shipped in. And all the while, there was this authentic drink made of limes making its way around. And then an hour into the party, more wine comes out. Chardonnay. From Brazil. And then more wine.
And then pao de queijo (cheese bread!) was brought out. Absolutely delicious! So picture this...it's what you see in the movies. There are a few men walking the pao around on these platters. They hop into your circle of people you are talking to, ask if you would like some, then move onto the next group. And as soon as your cup of wine is even close to empty, they bring more around.
And then the announcement is made that food is to be served! Authentic Brazilian food. The dish of choice this evening was feijoada...rumor has it that the Brazilian slaves back in the day would take all of the scraps that their masters threw away from their steaks...and then they would make a meal out of it. Whatever the case may be, the feijoada was a mixture of black beans, pork parts (the leftovers that no one else wanted...imagine what you wish), rice, and some delicious flavorings. With that, we had salad and some interesting dessert that was as dry as they come...yet delightfully tasteful. Just a bunch of little dry pieces of something and some fruit mixed in!
The night wore on...the wine kept coming out. A few turned on some music, and some dancing ensued, but nothing of what I imagine would be truly authentic Brazilian. They seemed much too tame! After all was said and done, there were probably 40-50 bottles of wine gone through, a myriad of new people met...all with ties to Brazil, and a night never to forget.
I met people who walk in front of the queen during processionals, and I even shook hands and had a picture with one of Britain's most beloved organists...he plays all over the world, but he calls the Abbey his home.
After several hours, my friend and I decided to call it a night, and we walked back through the now very dark corridors of the Westminster Abbey. The Abbey was well-lit against the very dark sky, and there was no sound of anyone anywhere.
The stone was cold, the night had a just-above-chilly feel to it, and for a few moments, I could have sworn that at any time, I would see King Henry turn one of those corners up ahead. Or at least I would walk out the doors into the streets only to be greeted by someone on a horse against a star-lit sky. The only light in the dark hallway came from one gas-lit lantern. I felt centuries removed from the London that I had seen in the previous couple of days. This was the London that I had come to love.
I walked outside the gates, and the mood was still calm. Much to my dismay, I now saw parked cars, and soon I was to be greeted with headlights and a flurry of night-owls driving home from the cafes and pubs.
But for a moment, just for a moment, I had experienced London in 1600. In 1400. Even in 1100. The stones still had the same cold they had gathered every night for the past thousand years. The walkway was still filled with the same dirt and stone that untold millions have passed over unnoticed for the same amount of time.
But I had experienced what every other man has experienced as he left the Abbey after midnight for these thousand years. Full on food, people, and delightful memories, we all walked down that same dark, candle-lit corridor together, wondering if we would be blessed enough to see the king tonight.
Part of me thinks I didn't see him last night. But maybe the better part of me thinks I did.