Wednesday, 18 March 2009

On Interstate Travelling, Meeting Friends, and Celtic Woman

Ok, very little interesting happened between my last posting and Friday 13th. Whilst I could have posted on Friday, I decided that the next 4 days were going to be exciting enough to roll all five into one.

And then, of course, 4 days turned even busier than I'd expected (and also even more fun); thus, this post will round up 9 days of intense enjoyment. The first would be Saturday the 14th; on this day, I went into town to meet up with a friend I've known for over a year now but never met; for the purposes of this entry, she'll be called by the pseudonym she uses for her internet writings: Anne Walsh.

She was taking a weekend vacation in DC, and arrived into Union Station by train; on meeting up, we exchanged hugs, greetings, and a little happy squealing before going off in search of her family at the Natural History Museum (on a Saturday. There is no worse day to look for a family, in the Natural History Museum, than on a Saturday, except a rainy Saturday. It was rainy). A little wandering in the gem and geological galleries demonstrated that they're not only all dataheads with a brilliance for trivia, but they're also universally geeks in the best sense of the word; thus, a lovely hour or two was passed in talk and looking at exhibits and similar, highly enjoyable, escapades, followed by a trip back to the hotel, dinner, and a bit of planning for Sunday.

Since Anne and her family are Catholic, Sunday morning was a semi-write-off: They went to Mass at 9, which lasted til 10, after which I joined them for a look around the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. That's (apparently) the largest Catholic church in the US, and the counterpart to the National Cathedral (and in the North-East, whilst the Cathedral is in the North-West of the District). A beautiful, almost Byzantine church in it's architecture, I took a wander around after arriving at about 9:30 and looked all around the outside; the architect definitely took their cues from the churches of the East, and the inside reflects the same overarching principles of design with mosaicwork in gold adorning various sections of the church, incorporating wonderful effects. I'm certainly going to need to visit again, especially since my camera battery unexpectedly died on me, and because we were rushed in the main body of the Church because of a second Mass; some post-Easter Saturday I'm going to head over there with a fully charged camera and, if I can find it, some sort of Pevsner equivalent for DC. That'll be a fun day, with a nice picture-filled blogpost; for now, let this one image of the Shrine's south door (Church directions; it was at about 45 degrees to true) suffice.

We followed that up by a trip to the Air And Space Museum; again, I'd been already to the museum and so was simply directing people to the highlights - I mostly hung with Anne, who was by this point flagging after getting too little sleep the previous night, whilst her parents, her two brothers, and her sister (they're a Catholic family) all went around the museum; I did, however, make sure all gathered in one place to listen to the Galaxy Song (see Week 2), having been assured by Anne that her parents were the source of her Python-appreciation.


Monday was spent mostly in a car, travelling to Pittsburgh; that was a fun journey, with crazy singing (every single member of Anne's family is a good singer. I am not. I did not sing.) with an added bit of wandering the Strip in Pittsburgh (hereafter Pitt), which is a lovely little area with some very nice shops on it; very much an Italian neighbourhood, and the effects of this on the town's architecture was made even more clear on the morrow.

That would be because Tuesday was spent wandering central Pitt, looking... at architecture. This meant three or four churches, and the library (a part of the Carnegie legacy to the town, next to the Natural History Museum; directions to this involve turning left at the diplodocus, which amused me rather a lot. We took a brief stop in the library and wandered somewhat musingly amongst the bookshelves; Anne had to renew her books, so she did, whilst I just browsed. After that came the real work though; we wandered first to the university chapel, which was a tiny building built in a beautiful Gothic style, overshadowed by the tall tower of the Cathedral of Learning (the major building in the University of Pittsburgh, self-conciously titled that by the architect who wanted to symbolise religion being replaced by education). The interior of the tiny little church felt far larger than it was in part due to being rather tall; a very high church, the east end had wonderful blue stained-glass windows casting a blue light over the whole interior. The whole thing was really rather wonderful, in a transcendent way; the blue light over the whole chapel giving it a lovely beauty beyond the simple one given it by the intricacies of the stonework.

From there, we headed to St Paul's Catholic Cathedral. Again, this was in the Gothic style, but rather lower and longer; inside, it was far lighter and simpler, with a more low-church feel but enough high-church atmosphere to remain clearly Catholic. Unlike the Chapel, the stained glass didn't make a semi-dark interior but rather a light one; and nor did it create one, unified effect across the whole building, rather allowing light in and helping to create an airy atmosphere, of freedom. Anne described it as being the sort of church that one feels like one can fly in, and we had a nice discussion of the classifications (not by any means official ones) of churches, deciding on four simple categories.

The fourth category is the one her local church falls into, St Maurice; out of the city somewhat, it's a very modern thing, but without any real theme, or style - an odd church, to say the least, that didn't have any real atmosphere, whereas the other churches had a feeling of the divine about them. A very odd place of worship on a number of levels, with conceptual art taking the place of more traditional work; I personally, and I believe Anne concurred, thought it was more artistic, and less conceptual (in the sense that the concept wasn't clear, whilst the art was rather big). The rest of Tuesday was spent in idle talk, and preparation for a Wednesday flight to Rhode Island, as well as discussing outfits for the concert on Saturday.

Rhode Island

Wednesday was spent on an airplane mostly, travelling from Pittsburgh to Rhode Island. Having missed our original flight, we had to get new tickets, which was fun, and fly via Newark in New Jersey rather than via Cleveland; such things happen, and were in this case sorted rapidly, which meant we could happily continue on our journey to meet Brit in Providence. As such, the rest of the day was spent happily relaxing and moving in ways that airplanes do not allow, and greeting various people such as Brit's mother, sister-in-law, and nephew, who at 18 months is unbelievably sweet.

Thursday, we wandered Providence hunting down some flats for Brit and Anne to move into. Anne's decided she's got what she can from where she is in life, and wants to move on, whilst Brit's at the age of flying the coop a little; so, moving in together in Providence is the plan at the moment. The fun of flathunting is, it seems, increased when you do it in pairs, and trios work especially well, if you bring a friend along for moral support - I got to learn all about the right questions to ask when looking over somewhere you want to live, about reasonable prices, and about the sort of thing that increases the costs beyond the simple rental price (things like heating bills et cetera). That passed an enjoyable day, and Friday rolled around; it, like most of Saturday, was spent relaxing, although Friday also involved picking a Californian up from the train station - Josh, who was visiting MIT (which is in Boston, an hour's train journey from Providence). Once our four-person group was thus assembled, the final item on our itinerary could be achieved...

Celtic Woman

Some groups are one-hit phenomena, and some are intended to be a one-hit phenomena and then just... outgrow themselves. Celtic Woman, from the potted history I heard, started off as a one-performance group at The Helix in Dublin; that was 3 years ago, and there's been 4 CDs and DVDs released since then, each attached to a different tour or set of performances. I'd not heard of them til December of last year, when I was given a ticket to their performance in Boston on Saturday 21st March by Anne; in fact, this was on the understanding we'd all meet up and go to the performance, since she already knew I was going to be in America. So, we all got dressed up (I helped Anne and Brit both choose their outfits and augment them, and both looking stunning, as did Josh, although with his blazer he was more than slightly reminiscent of a cricketer) and got our train to Boston.

The theatre itself was stunning; a rococo (I think) interior richly decorated with lots of twiddles and images of all sorts, I wanted to get a picture but photography within the theatre was strictly prohibited, sadly. The pictures recalled classical scenes beautifully rendered in a Renaissance style, whilst the amount of gilt and leaf spread around would probably drop the price of gold somewhat significantly were it ever to hit the market. Absolutely beautiful all the same, though.

However, all that vanished when Celtic Woman took the stage. The girls have incredibly powerful voices, with immense flexibility and skill; they took on all sorts of pieces, from popular music such as Cyndi Lauper's True Colours to Sting's Fields of Gold, and Billy Joel's Goodnight My Angel to Van Morrison's Have I Told You Lately. They also performed some traditional pieces like Last Rose of Summer (and an instrumental based strongly on it with the fiddle, on which more later, taking the vocal line) and originals with strong traditional styling like At The Ceili; their Irish accents set the music off beautifully, and their choreography was wonderful.

The 4 singers sang beautifully individually, and when singing together the close harmony was gorgeous; the simple power of the four voices singing together was breathtaking, and what they did to songs I thought I couldn't stand - Danny Boy, for instance - was awe-inspiring; a tune I've heard in malice far too much made beautiful by the singing and style, as well as the voices. The sadness in their slower songs was clear, and the joy in songs like the wonderfully done At The Ceili was uplifting; perhaps their best song was Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears, about the experience on Ellis Isle of immigrants going to America to escape the potato famine. It spoke to pain and joy in equal parts, hope and sorrow; they carried the piece wonderfully.

The most amazing member of the group, however, is also the oldest; named Máiréad Nesbitt, she looks at least a decade younger than her 33 years of age, and has all the innocent energy of one a decade younger still. Costumed in a simple white shift for the first act of the concert, she bounded around the stage on four-inch heels, flirting unashamedly with everyone who shared it with her and with the audience, never losing concentration on her main activity... playing the fiddle with consumate skill and ease, making it look effortless and creating wonderful sounds. Her history demonstrates just how much of a fiddler she is - for instance, she played in Feet of Flames in 1998, with all her energy on display there about as much as it was on Saturday in Boston 11 years on, her command of stage, fellow performers, and audience alike clearly on show, and her passion and sense of fun absolutely intact from their earliest performances. She was absolutely wonderful and totally on form, although one must admit to incredible surprise about some aspects of her performance... for instance, she was leaping about stage whilst wearing four inch heels and never fell; further, she was fiddling incredibly hard and fast but nary a string snapped nor did her bow ever fray or even falter. Astounding stuff, that; absolutely astonishing, it really was. That concert was beautiful, moving, and wonderful, and now, 48-odd hours later, I'm still coming down from the high.

Since then, most of the time has been spent travelling, recovering from travelling, or dealing with the fallout of travelling (I cleaned the room to have somewhere to move and put stuff and sort things out... and did my washing... and... wrote this). But, before I finish off, I'd like to talk about...


First, Anne. That's not her real name, it's pseudonymous, the pseudonym she chose. She's an absolutely lovely young woman, with a wonderful voice, beautiful for singing in; a Python-fan and general slight-geek, her Catholicism leads to some disagreements on some things with her, but her noncombatative personality make them... if not less, at least not a problem between us, which is always nice, because she has a personality even more beautiful than she herself is. She's kind, and has the ability to just look absolutely innocent and say the most uninnocent of things without letting on that she realises, and only looking into her eyes gives away the laughter she's internalising. Engaging and charming... everyone needs a friend like Anne.

Brit's different, in some ways. She's less false-innocent and more up-front about things; she's very bouncy, in a way Anne isn't (which isn't to say Anne's not bouncy, since she is, but... it's different). Brit's more outgoing and, I guess, charismatic than Anne, who can be very withdrawn but once she's stopped being such is incredibly charming. Brit's also a tad more simple to predict, emotionally; she tends towards happiness, to generalise horribly, and whilst mornings are somewhat of an exception to this rule, she takes things in her stride. Except when she doesn't, which is when she gets annoyed... which isn't so fun.

Finally, Josh, the Californian. He's slightly enigmatic; none of the inhibitions your average 18 year old has, let alone the average 18 year old supergenius, he's willing to make a fool of himself in public, in order to cheer up or amuse those he counts as friends. He's willing to call a spade a spade and talk clearly about things he thinks someone needs to know, but on occasion can be slightly oblivious to more oblique strangenesses and subtle teasings. Something of a counterpart to Anne's small stature, he's tall and his personality can just fill a room, and enjoy himself unmitigatedly when the situation allows for it, without embarassment or palaver.

So good people all.

Now, to finish off, I leave you with links to a couple of Celtic Woman videos to peruse at your pleasure.


  1. Sopunds like you had fun, I am dying to knoe what your outfit for the concert was like, or can I guess - black?

    Last post you asked us to keep our fingers crossed for St Andrews...........?


  2. Oh, I sound innocent, do I? And who was it sang you that dirty song on Thursday? Mwahahaha. Thank you for the lovely compliments, though.

    Yep, he wore black. Set off us gals pretty well. There are photos, and he might show you if you ask very nicely. As for St. Andrews... he's a happy liger!


  3. I am so very jealous. That's all I can say.

    (Oh, and the flathunting thing? It'll come in useful next year, when you're trying to find somewhere in this pleasant town. You haven't househunted properly unless you've done it in St Andrews. Be very glad you have some kind of experience.)