Monday, October 30, 2006
Emmanuel is one of many Back Bay churches that lost its congregation over the years as the old Boston Brahmin families dwindled away or left the city to be replaced by moneyed young professionals and by groups of students who don't mind overcrowding apartments made out of the gracious mid 19th century townhouses that line Back Bay streets, just so they can be in the heart of the city. An age of faith is been replaced by an age of fast food. As congregations shrank to nothing, money to maintain buildings that are architectural and artistic treasures evaporated as well. Churches were closed, others hung on by taking in day care centers, renting out function space, inviting other congregations to bunk in with them or, as did Emmanuel, by hosting major cultural organizations.
Emmanuel Music is one of Boston's great musical groups, one that specializes in the 17th and 18th centuries with excursions wherever the rich imaginations of its composers, music director, instrumentalists and vocalists take it. This year they're doing the three great Handel operas based on Ariosto's Renaissance epic poem "Orlando Furioso"—"The Insane Roland" or perhaps "Roland Driven Mad." The Roland in question is the same one who defeated a Muslim expeditionary force from the court of the Emir of Cordoba, marking the end of any thought of further Moorish incursion into Western Europe.
Ariosto's poem was the "Star Wars" of its day, its hundreds of verses filled with wizards, magic transformations created by African sorceresses, and heroes who lead armies being themselves led astray by powerful seductresses in their magic gardens. After the performance which was one of the strongest Emmanuel has put on recently, I drove up to Fritz's and slipped into bed next to him.
Sunday dawned brilliantly on the back end of a terrific storm that had brought heavy rains and howling winds. We took the chain saw up the hillside and began clearing the actual house site. Down on the ground we were sheltered by the low hemlocks and the crest of the hill behind us. But forty feet up, the tops of trees that still had their leaves were being whipped around in a literally roaring wind. It was a fierce-beautiful day, the kind that made me love New England in the first place, and that keep me in love with the countryside, the unpredictable weather and the resilience of the people.
Sunday evening was the October Sweat gathering. We were just eight this time, a serene and intimate group inside the Sweat Lodge, a bit more raucous and fun during dinner. I drove back to Boston after we'd said good-bye to everyone because I had to be in and working early on Monday. The weekends are never long enough.