After breakfast on Saturday, the 26th, the choir split into four groups for guided tours of York. My group (mostly the basses and baritones of choir), learned a lot from our tour guide Roger. Here are a few memorable facts, if you’re into that sort of thing:
1. “York” is derived from “Jorvik,” the Viking name for the city (there were other names before that as well.) 2. “Minster” simply means “Ministry,” a place where anyone gathers for worship. 3. The Roman Empire dwelled in York from 30 AD or so until about 400. Later, Anglo-Saxons came (from Saxony), followed by the Normans from Normandy (the Normans were the “Norsemen,” that is Vikings.) 4. People have sung a daily morning service in York Minster for over a thousand years (by singing there, the Nordic Choir would continue that tradition!) 5. It took 250 years to finish York Minster. 6. Guy Fawkes, baptised in St. Michael de Belfrey Cathedral, became a devout Catholic and moved to Spain in the 1600s where he subscribed to the Spanish notion of reclaiming all of Europe for Catholicism and learned to explode things. Then he returned to England to attempt to blow up Parliament in 1636 (I think?) because he wanted the Church to have more power than Parliament. (You may be familiar with “the fifth of November, the gunpowder treason and plot” from the movie V for Vendetta.)
Among many other places during the tour, we walked along the old Roman wall. It’s pretty cool to experience history like that.
At 11:00 that morning, we sang in York Minster cathedral (which, as I said in my last post, is the largest Gothic cathedral in northern Europe.) The sound was breathtaking. With the exception of one song, we sounded as good as we ever have. The sensational chills I felt as each cutoff rang throughout the cathedral was probably once in a lifetime, and I’ll probably never forget it.
After our performance and a tour with Roger around the inside of the cathedral, it was time for lunch. I ended up with Andrew Gonzalez, and we decided to go out for Indian food (there are many Indian restaurants in York.) We found a good one called Mumbai Lounge (I think that’s what it was called), where we feasted on Mango Lassi (a sweet yogurt and mango drink) and lamb with spices and vegetables. After great food and conversation, we flipped through the York City Guide and discovered that it was one of only three or four days in May that there were horse races at the racecourse. Within a half hour, we found ourselves walking along a large stadium towards the ticket booth. I was feeling a bit sick by how much money the experience might cost when a man approached us and offered his two tickets to the races for free! As he walked away, we discovered that they included “Owner and Trainer passes,” which would admit us to the best seats in the stadium! We laughed at our incredible luck as we made our way to the special Owner and Trainer entrance.
Of course (and not to surprise), the snobby gate attendants asked us “Where did you boys get those passes?” We explained honestly, and they finally decided to take away our prime seat passes but let us into the stadium. They said that “they wanted to avoid any conflict” that would result from giving us the fancy seats, which I interpreted to mean that “even with legally-obtained free passes, American college riffraff with untidy hair are not fit for the elite class, especially if one of them is not wearing a tie.” (Ties were indeed required for certain sections of the racecourse, and I had not worn one for the day, as we impromptu decided to go.) Despite our frustration with social hierarchy, we were ecstatic to enter the races for free!
The racecourse was like something out of a bizarre dream. It was a modern evolution of the races we see in movies-- there was a gigantic stadium and electronic screens intermixed with the classic white fences and tents around the green course. Everyone was dressed up-- while a few could be seen in casual clothes, almost all men were wearing fancy gray or pinstripe suits with fashionable ties, belts, sunglasses, and shoes; and the women with fancy dresses, flower pins in their hair, fancy shoes, and sometimes sunhats. Everyone seemed to have a plastic cup of beer or a cigarette. The social scene brought out many of the things I dislike about Europe, namely the social class divisions, and the carelessness with garbage. It irritated me that people so wealthy and concerned with appearance seem to tolerate and embrace dirty bathrooms, assorted trash including paper towels and beer cups covering the ground, and cigarette smoke tainting the air.
More than anything, a day at the races is a social experience. Each race lasts for no more than two minutes, with one every half hour or hour. In between, all the time is reserved for socializing and, of course, betting. If one wasn’t too busy chatting, drinking, or smoking, he/she would go to the tent where each horse is paraded around a ring before the race, allowing people to see how physically ready for the race it appears. Based on that, and on speculations published by different newspapers and a variety of statistics, people are able to make bets on which horses will win. Then they go to little booths scattered in front of the stadium, where they can place a bet. Gonzo and I picked our favorite horses, and each offered two pounds to a booth. They took our pounds and gave us receipts listing the bet we made, the amount we bet, and the amount we would receive if we should win. I bet 2 pounds on an Irish horse called Catfish, and would have won 26 pounds based on the probability of the horse winning as calculated by the booth. Unfortunately, Catfish came in second to Pay Freeze.
Gonzo and I stayed for three or four races, and then walked back to the city center. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon through town and into the Yorkshire City Museum Gardens, which are covered in Roman ruins. On our way back to the hotel, we passed St. Olave’s Church, one of the oldest churches in York (named after the Patron Saint of Norway).
After dinner at the hotel, I planned to journal a bit and upload some pictures to Facebook before going out with friends for Andrea Keuper’s birthday. I decided after I fell asleep for forty-five minutes after dinner, however, that I wasn’t in the mood. I sat around in the hotel lobby as one album of my pictures took three hours to upload, but this gave me the chance to socialize with a bunch of friends in the Choir, including Dr. Hightower, Teresa Procter, Sam Jones, Shane Wilson, and Katie Moan.
Travel tip #1: Don’t waste time with a crummy wi-fi connection. Upload photos later.
Travel tip #2: Time for conversation with someone you don’t know well should be regular priority.