London Part III

A fine  day in London with as little planning as possible.

12-11-09 11:00 PM

 

When I was first planning this day I was thinking to take it in two pieces. Go out in the morning and look around (which I did), come back to the residence around lunch and maybe use the wifi at Prett Manger (sp) to catch up on some things (which didn’t happen), and then go explore more in the afternoon and evening (which I did). I never made it back to the residence mid-day. I left the residence and stayed out until after I came home from seeing Les Mis.

I don’t want to make an overly detailed description of this day. It was a wonderful day, but might have been more wonderful with my wife and some more family and friends along.

In the morning I took the tube down to Trafalgar Square. I had seen this on Thursday evening, but wanted to look it over in the day time. All the environmental protesters were still camped out. The National Gallery opens onto Trafalgar Square and I made a much-too-hasty visit.  It was Art made by Artists you studied in Art Appreciation. (Caps intentional.) I would think you could spend several days there if you had the time and interest. Then I walked down towards Parliament. I passed 10 Downing St. and saw the Queens Life Guard. (Here is someone else’s’ video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FV0NigoxITQ I didn’t actually see the guard changing.) I got a picture of myself with one of the guards on horseback.  The guard was on horseback, not me.
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I took a picture of the Clock Tower of the Palace of Westminster (Big Ben is actually the name of the bell) and then I walked to Westminster Abbey. Since I was limited on time, I decided that Westminster Abbey would be the one place I would take my time and really try to see. There is a recorded tour that is free with admission narrated by Jeremy Irons. Probably the high spot for me was to see Handel’s memorial… He is buried there along with other composers and authors and, of course, British Monarchs. When I walked out the door after the tour I snapped a picture of Methodist Central Hall, although I did not get any closer than that.  I have heard the Sunday morning music is excellent.
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From there I walked over to the Thames and walked back in the direction of Trafalgar square (as far as I could tell) both enjoying the view of the sights along the river and looking for a place to have lunch and visit the lavatory. I snapped a picture of the London Eye. I ended up eating at Garfunkel’s.
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After lunch I proceeded to Leicester Square (short tube ride) and, after some consideration, bought a ticket at the discount booth for Les Mis later that evening.

For the next bit I hiked around that part of London. I found the Queen’s Theater, where Les Mis was playing, and I headed towards St. Paul’s Church Covent Garden (WC2E 9ED ) to meet Paul Ayers, the conductor of the City Chorus, for dinner. St Paul’s Covent Garden is known as the “actors church”. Paul Ayres was playing harpsichord for a performance there. He had to leave the City Chorus concert early and I had gotten there late, so we never had a chance to visit. We decided I would catch the end of his rehearsal and then we could find some place to eat.

I had quite an adventure finding this church since I managed to walk past it twice. I could not print anything on the computer at the residence so I had a hand drawn map that turned out to be correct. But the entrance to the church, which was a large structure on the satellite map online, was actually a smallish gate out on the street. I got frustrated and stopped a cab, figuring I would just pay him to take me there. He smiled and told me it was right up the street. So I figured I must have missed the entrance. I am not a very visual person, and it is entirely possible for me to miss something much more obvious than the church entrance. In the meantime I had an extensive (though rather unplanned) walking tour of the Covent Garden area and the West End.. I passed a number of bookstores on Charing Cross Road, took a stroll through China Town, passed a number of theaters, and just enjoyed the ambiance. I don’t know how anyone else reacts to London, but I felt like I might run into the ghost of Charles Dickens at any time. It all looks so… so British everywhere.

When I (finally) arrived at the church I listened to the final part of a rehearsal for the Christmas portion of Handel’s Messiah. It reminded me of home.  I thought it was odd the trumpets were out of tune until I saw they were for real baroque trumpets. There were some ensemble problems that were dealt with (just like home).  I found out afterwards that their rehearsal space was acoustically dead and putting the entire group together in a worship space with typical hard surfaces was challenging. (This happens at home too.)   I managed to take a picture inside before an official looking man asked me to stop.

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After the concert he asked if I would like to eat with some of the singers. I was more than happy to do this. One of the singers had a number of tokens for a personal pizza for five pounds at Pizza Express. I had passed a couple of these during my wanderings. I said I was good with it. We hiked to three different Pizza Express stores only to find them all packed full . Perhaps everyone in London had a token for a pizza for five pounds… Paul and I talked during this entire time about all manner of things musical and not. While we were checking on the last Pizza Express, we were crowded into the door by a large group of people dressed as Santa (Mr. and Mrs.) who were making merry, to say the least. More about this later.

We had just passed a Thai restaurant that appeared to be deserted. So we had a committee meeting with the group and decided to eat Thai food. It was a little disconcerting to enter an empty restaurant. The little voice in the back of one’s head keeps suggesting that there must be a reason, and not a good one, for the place to be deserted. As sometimes happens, the little voice was completely wrong about this. The food was excellent and we had a great meal and excellent conversation. I have not been able to figure out where this was, in spite of some creative Internet searching. I was glad to get to know Paul a little bit, since his decision to program my piece had led to this adventure. I also enjoyed getting to know the singers. One of them has a music publishing business that involves making modern performance editions of early music. I got his card.

One of the women, a soprano, was recounting her experiences as part of a group of younger singers that were joining forces with an older, perhaps established, group for a performance. Some of the more senior singers were making a lot of noise about the younger singers necklines and hemlines and dangly earrings. I told her about the alto that was in our church choir when I first joined who was very possessive of her seat. When the new choir director came in (before my time in the church) he swapped sides with the sopranos and altos. Rather than move to the other side, my friend decided she would just sing alto and keep the same seat. The singer said, “Do you mean she actually refused to move to the other side of the choir loft and instead switched parts?” She was a very sweet lady and friendly as can be, but, yes, that is exactly what she did. It looks like these sorts of problems can happen anywhere.

After dinner, Paul took me to a corner on Charing Cross Road so he could point me in the direction of the Queen’s Theater. I probably could have found it by this time, but I didn’t want to be late for Les Mis. We had our picture made by a double-decker London bus and parted ways.

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I have never been to a musical of any sort by myself before, and this made for a different experience. I really enjoyed Les Mis. It is a great show, in my humble opinion. I thought the cast was a little slow warming up to things in the beginning, but the energy level kept unfolding in a marvelous way. As in all Cameron McIntosh shows, the pacing is excellent. The cast was wonderful top to bottom, as one would expect. Anyone has seen this show is going to remember the moving set piece(s). The story, as in the original prose, has a lot to say about redemption, love, giving of one’s self, and persistence in well-doing. As in all great works of art, it left me a lot to think about This and several other things that happened before, during, and after this trip have left me with the idea that I am going to have to write some things down about my current life philosophies and theologies at the end of this journal. Life is so full of miracles that we tend to accept them as a part of every-day life and don’t even notice them. That is all I will say for now.*

For some unknown reason, I turned to the right when I left the theater and walked to the corner. Looking down the street I saw a holiday lighting display over the street. I knew that this would lead me to the advertisements for A Christmas Carol that were suspended over the street at Oxford Circus. I knew it would be quite a hike at the end of a long day of hiking, but I decided to make it my last experience as a tourist in London. It was just the best end of a long day. I saw more lights, more people, more London architecture, and altogether had a very satisfying walk. I was grateful at this point for all the time I have spent in the past year trudging on a treadmill at the fitness club. My body just kept finding more cardio-vascular capacity. According to the map, it looks like it is almost 1.5 miles from St. Paul’s Church, Covent Garden to the residence at 9 Deans Mews if you actually take the shortest path.

Sister Eva heard me come in and came to my room to talk about getting a taxi in the morning. We talked about the timing of things and decided that I would need to bounce out of bed at around 5:45 AM to get to Heathrow the recommended time before the flight. I called for a taxi, using a number Eva gave me, to take me to Paddington Station to catch the Heathrow Express.No automatic alt text available.

This is Eva Heyman, my amazing host.  She is amazing.  It is worth googling her life story.

 

I have a lot of gathering and packing to do. I have an extra tuxedo with accessories to fit in the same two bags with the rest of the stuff I brought. Ah well…..

More soon.

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*The Happy Rock Way blog is partly the result of this trip.  I began to see that I needed to write things down. I don’t journal all the time.  But I find myself referencing the same stories often when I talk to people and I thought it would be nice to have them available online for after the conversation was over.   I hope you enjoy reading.

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A Trip to London -Part 2

The Saga of the Luggage

and

The Big Concert

December 11, 2009 12:00 Noon
It is the big day! The concert is tonight at St. Pancras Parish at 7:00 PM. My bag has still not arrived. I called the 800 number they gave me which turns out to be the Heathrow baggage counter. They said that the bag had indeed arrived on the previous night and was put on a truck at 8:00 AM and hmm I wonder why you haven’t gotten it yet…..

So Heathrow called the courier and then called me back to say that the truck had needed to deliver some urgent medical supplies first and they were now promising my bag by 3:30 PM.
December 11, 5:00 PM.
Just a quick note. My bag is still not here. The Heathrow people finally gave me the number of the courier to eliminate all the calling back and forth. My bag is supposed to be delivered by 5:30 PM but I am not optimistic. If it isn’t delivered by 5:30 PM I am going across Cavendish Square to John Lewis again and by something to wear to the concert. I was on the phone for a long time to United Airlines baggage in the USA and they said they would pay for clothes if I needed them and I really need something to wear. I think if I wait any longer it won’t be possible to get the clothes picked out and paid for and then put it all on and take a taxi to the concert.

Since the Sisters have been in-and-out during the day I have had to stay put so I can take possession of the bag if it arrives. Someone was here for awhile around noon so I did leave for about an hour. I found a nice Italian restaurant that appeared to be fun by actual Italians. I had Parmesan encrusted chicken with some kind of really delicious cheesy pasta. Other than that I have been checking email, reading my book, and just kind of hanging here waiting to hear the door bell ring.
December 12, 12:00 AM
(I confess that I this has been severely edited after the fact to make sense, maybe, of my ramblings)

I am back at the residence (I have never heard them call it a convent) after a great concert. The performance of “Close By Me Forever” went just great and I had a great time meeting the members of the choir, the musicians, and the conductor afterwards. More about this later…

I went to a pub after the concert with some of the choir members. Rahul, who is the treasurer who actually paid for my music, invited me to go with them. We left when the pub closed and here I am. It seems like pubs close early. (I know there is more to this..) {Edit: This dates back to WWII, I was told.}  It also seems like a lot of people visiting London are here for a good time and they start drinking around sundown. Since it gets dark by 4:15 PM, that makes for quite a party.

My bag was not at the residence by 5:30 PM, so I took off for the John Lewis store which was a short walk across Cavendish Square. I talked to the first guy I found in the men’s department and told him what I needed to do. We looked at a lot of dark suits but we couldn’t find an acceptable size in both coat and trousers for any of them. So we looked at tuxedos and found a coat/trouser combination that fit great. The pants were about 2” long… During all this the sales guy had to go to some place where things were stored to check sizes on things, so this took quite a little while. While he was off looking for things I picked out a tie and talked to another guy about a shirt and found socks. They went off to look for sizes of shirts for me too, and then after we had found everything else and the guy was looking at shirts I went to pick out shoes. We narrowed it down to two choices and then they had to get the right sizes of those as well!!! They just display one size. They go through this door and wait for the box to come up a little conveyor belt which seemed to take forever since I was in a hurry. After I tried on the tux jacket, the only things that didn’t have to come from some mysterious other room were the suspenders, bow tie, and socks. The shirt came with studs in, thank goodness.

At last I had tried everything on and it looked like I was getting close to having an ensemble for the evening. I came out of the fitting room with the trousers in my hand and got ready to pay. The one remaining hurdle was getting the pants pinned up in some fashion since they were too long. John Lewis doesn’t have an in-house tailor. By this time there were two more men helping me, one that appeared to be another sales person and another who was older, wore glasses, had less hair, and appeared to be something of a supervisor. I still needed to pay for everything and time was growing short. So the older man said I should take the tag from the pants along with all the other merchandise and get in line to pay. He kept the pants. This line was too long, but it moved quickly. Of course there was no tag on the tux jacket so I had to wait for a price check. (110 bps) Finally I paid for everything with plastic money and went back to the fitting room to retrieve the pants. Mr. Supervisor had found a woman who worked at the store who sewed. She had stitched up the pants well enough for me to wear them for the evening. The supervisor must have had an excellent eye for clothing, because he pinned them up and the woman put in a temporary hem and they fit just right when I put them on. In fact, they let me put the entire tux on in the fitting room. I thanked everybody and gathered up the clothes I had worn in, which I ended up taking to the concert. It was about 6:30 PM.

The supervisor man took me out to the curb and showed me the taxi stop. It took me a while to figure out that I wasn’t actually standing in the taxi line. In the UK, lining up is a high courtesy. So I had to get in the back of the line when I figured out where it was. Of course there was one taxi about every seven minutes or so. It was after 7:00 PM when I finally caught a cab to the 7:30 PM concert. The cabby spoke with a heavy cockney accent and it was really tough trying to communicate. I finally was pretty sure he knew how to find St. Pancras. The Friday evening London traffic was about what you would expect. I was wondering if they choir would be nice enough to repeat my piece after the concert was over if I missed it. I was sorely vexed at United Airlines and their baggage courier. If they had just told me that my bag would be late….. I could have bought a ticket on the Heathrow express and gotten my luggage much sooner. As it was my luggage got a tour of London and I spend a day in a wonderful city waiting on it. I was thinking how disappointed everyone who had helped make it possible for me to make the trip would be. We turned a corner and just stopped! It took us three lights to make a right turn, which is the British equivalent of a left turn. We weren’t there, but we were on Euston, which I knew was the right street. He let me out across the street from the church to save some time. I gave him a ten-pound note and told him to keep the change, picked up my new bag of old clothes, and booked it down to the light. It was about 7:35 PM. I figured that you never put a world premier piece at the very beginning of the concert, but who knew?

I went in through a door that was so large that I would not have guessed that it was a door except there was a wheelchair access ramp leading up to it. It was only about a 3” step. So I gave a push, it opened, and a hugely loud siren started outside which I was letting inside. So I kind of helped the door close and went over to the ticket table. I gave my name and the woman at the table fished out an envelope with my name on it. I took the ticket and went to the door. There was no singing happening so another woman, who was manning the door, let me in. She had an interesting Slavic accent that was a surprise after the plethora of British accents I had heard so far. She never took the ticket. I still have it for a souvenir. She asked if I was supposed to be singing since I was wearing a tux. I said no, that I was, in fact, Robert Reck. This elicited nothing but a quizzical response from her.

I found a set behind two of the Sisters, Pamela and Jean, who were at the concert to hear Eva and Lotte, the two Sisters who were in the choir. They looked happy and relieved to see me. I finally had a chance to look around and take things in. During the breaks in the songs I took some pictures of the crowd and the church in general. (Probably being an uncouth American, but ah, well, I had to have pictures.)

The concert was excellent. The choir did a great job and the rhythm section sounded like they had played over a hundred concerts with the Swingle Singers. (The bass player had, in fact done just that.) The trumpet player rocked as well. Paul Ayers’ arrangements of Handel were a lot of fun. At last it was time for my piece, and he took a little time to announce that it was a world premier and that Robert Reck,the composer, had come from Tulsa, Oklahoma to hear the performance. Sister Pamela kept pointing at me and trying to get me to stand up, but I finally managed to convince her that it was normal for this to happen afterwards. I did stand up after Paul turned around so that I could shoot the video that is posted on Facebook.

It was just the best. After all of the hassle and stress of the day, to finally be in the hall for the performance was a mixture of relief, joy, expectation, and anticipation. The bass notes, which lead the listener into the piece. started, the choir began to sing, and I finally was listening to the first performance of Close by me Forever. I had finished this piece in 2006 after writing the basics of the song over a year earlier, and I had traveled across the Atlantic Ocean, survived the whole luggage/tux buying adventure, agonized through a cab ride that seemed to last an eternity, and here it all was. The choir did a great job. You could tell they really liked singing the piece. I had written chord symbols into the parts for this performance since there were bona fide jazz musicians playing the parts, and the pianist put a really nice hype on the last chord. Very tasty.

After the sound died away the applause started. Paul got on the mike and asked me to come forward and “take a bow”. Wow. I was just expecting to stand, smile, and wave. I walked down the side aisle to the back of the church and walked up to Paul at the front. I gestured my appreciation to the musicians and to the choir and turned around. To my delight and surprise, the applause was still enthusiastically continuing. I was a stunned. Paul leaned toward my ear and said, “Take your bow….” (You have to imagine the British voice….”So I did.

Then I returned to my seat. I don’t know how to describe the feelings I had at the moment. I didn’t know whether to cry or shout “Hallelujah”. So I just sat there and enjoyed the rest of the concert.

At the end of the concert I was called back to the front for another bow. The rhythm section players and guest soloist and I all got a present, which turned out to be a bottle of French wine. (I immediately thought that it would have to go into checked baggage, for some reason.)

It was just the best talking to the choir and the rhythm section after the concert. Paul had told me that the piece was a favorite of the choir, and many of the choir members said that it was their favorite piece on the program. The mince pies were small but delicious. I had two since I had missed dinner during the tux ordeal. When I went to throw away the pie tin I learned that they don’t have trash in England, they have “rubbish”. The woman with the Slavic accent was all happy too. Paul had to leave early to put his son to bed and relieve the baby sitter. So we made a date for dinner following his rehearsal for Messiah on Saturday.

Then, Rahul, as I mentioned, invited me to go a pub and hang out with some of the singers. I had emailed with Rahul because he was the choir treasurer and he had paid me for the music. The pub was fun too. I sat next to a woman who was working on a PhD in papyrus restoration and talked to a tenor from New Zealand, among others.

Tomorrow I finally have a day to explore London. Kind of like “One short day in Emerald City” in Wicked.

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I should add that the bass player was Alexander L’Estrange.   He is a first call bass player in London and a great arranger and composer as well.   He writes for everything from children’s choirs to the King’s Singers. You can do an internet search.

A Trip to London

I am keeping the original sections of my trip journal.  I hope you enjoy.

London Part I

I am going to post my journal notes a little at a time. I get kind of wordy. It was quite an adventure and I wanted to get it all down. If you really want to know about my trip, read on

Here is the first installment:

December 9, 7:15 PM As I write this I am headed for Chicago O’Hare International Airport from Tulsa. The flight from Tulsa was delayed and I was told I would miss my connecting flight. The guy at the gate was pretty busy since he had another flight leaving from the same gate. So I pulled a large number of papers out of my bag and found the one with the flight information and reservation number. I set the rest of the papers down because it looked like I was going to be there for awhile. I called the United Airlines 800 number and finally got through to an actual person who was as helpful as she could be given the circumstances. She said she could get me out on a flight the next day and that she had held the seats for me in case I needed them.

I then called the trip insurance people to find out if I was covered for any expenses if I got stuck in Chicago or if I needed to book on another airline. Turns out I do have some coverage if the flight is delayed more than six hours. The customer service agent I talked to transferred me over to a guy who was in “reservations” who could help if I could get out of Chicago on another airline. I was waiting for him to pick up when they announced that the ground delay on my original flight had been lifted and were leaving as soon as they could stuff us on the plane. I wasted a mere moment for the guy on the phone and decided I had better get moving. So I shut down my laptop (which had steadfastly refused to connect to the airport wifi network), shoved it in the bag, grabbed the laptop bag, carry-on bag, and the stack of papers, and headed toward the stairway out to the plane. There was another plane still at the scheduled gate so we all got to go down the stairs the old fashioned way. I spoke briefly with the gate agent and he said I should be able to make my connection now. (We will see about that…)

I went down the stairs. And pulled my boarding pass out of my pocket.. I still had all of my papers I pulled out of my bag to find the flight information in my hand. When I was trying to had my pass to the gate agent when my cell phone went off. It was the travel insurance people calling back to see why we had lost connections. Good for them! While I was answering the phone, I managed to drop all of the papers and the next guy in line helped me pick them up. I gave the guy my boarding pass and hustled out to the plane. After giving the baggage guys my “carry-on” bag (you carry it out to the alpine and they put it on) I fairly bounded up the stairs and into the plane. When I was trying to get down the aisle I managed to drop all the papers again. As soon as I was situated on the plane I called United’s 800 number again and I tried to make sure the person I talked to the last time had not given my seat away on the flight from Chicago to London. He said he couldn’t help me since I had called the “wrong number” and I said that it was the same number that had worked the last time. And he hung up on me, as nearly as I can tell. I tried to navigate the voice mail and get back to an agent but I got the “turn-off-your-phones-and-other-electronic-devices” announcement before I could get in touch with an actual person.

The aggravating thing was that I didn’t have time to get my book out of my “carry-on” bag before I gave it to the baggage guys, so I am typing this instead of reading.

So now I am ensconced in seat 5B of this little commuter jet. We well see how the adventure unfolds.

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(Note:  The members of the choir were asked if they could provide lodging for the guest composer.  And several volunteered.)

December 10 8:26 PM London time and 2:26 Tulsa Time
I have just finished having dinner with the three sisters who are at the residence this evening, Eva, who sings in the city chorus and is my contact, Pamela, and Jean. Jean cooked dinner this evening and the main course was chicken tarragon. (Yum). I have been shown about the place and I think it will be good for the next few days.

After last nights entry the plane pulled up to the gate at Chicago O’Hare about ½ hour later than the gate agent had said when we left. It was an amazingly smooth landing after the bumpy flight. When we got close to the terminal you could see the snow blowing across the tarmac and hiding it from view. As we got close to the terminal you could see large pulsating robot-looking sprayers de-icing the planes that were preparing for take-off. A very bizarre sight, to be sure. It looked like a movie scene. I think there was lots of air traffic flying in circles over the lake that all arrived at the same time. I got off the plane and checked to see if my connecting flight had departed. It had not.

Originally the flight from Tulsa was to land in Concourse C, which was the same as the departing flight. Perhaps because of the weather, my flight landed at Concourse B and I had a to go fast. All of the time on the treadmill at the health club seemed to pay off. I kept a brisk pace, even on the people movers. I did rest on the escalators which was just enough recovery time. When I got to gate C15, the plane was still there and the walk-way had not been pulled away. The were trying to radio whoever was supposed to move the walk-way back. It took some serious pleading, but the gate attendant finally called to see if they would open the door of the plane and let me in, since the walkway wasn’t going to move back any time soon. The did!!!! So I hurried on to the plane and found my seat which had not been taken by anyone, thank the Lord.

The flight was long and uneventful. I did manage to get my large carry-on taken away since there was no storage room in the back of the plane. I was glad it was on the plane but, again, I didn’t get my book out to read. Ah well.

At Heathrow, I was in the show-us-your-documents line behind a blues singer and her guitar player from Birmingham AL. Didn’t get her name. We had a nice chat since it turns out we were all Eric Clapton fans. When I went to pick up my checked bag it never came around the carousel. As luck would have it, the computer automatically rescheduled my flight when I was so late getting into my Chicago. My luggage, not realizing this, waited for the next flight out. They are supposed to deliver it to me tomorrow AM.

I took the Heathrow Express to Paddington station and a cab the rest of the way to the Society of the Holy Child Jesus community off Cavendish Square. Eva had said that it is “tucked away” and it surely is. Deans Mews is not much more than an alley. Made me think of Diagon Alley. Sister Eva Heymann took me to my room and took me to lunch at a cafe in a building on the alley. I had a nice visit with her. She is a very interesting person. You can google her name if you want to find out more about her. She showed me a store where I bought a shirt and a pair of khaki’s to wear until my luggage comes. I finally got to take a shower and a nap before dinner.

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Deans Mews

In a bit I am going to go see the Christmas Tree at Trafalgar Square and perhaps find a wifi cafe. I can use Eva’s computer to email but I hate to be on it for any time. I am feeling much better after a shower, a nap, dinner, and evening prayers with the sisters.

The accommodations are interesting. Sort of a cross between church camp, band camp, and a decent hotel. The food was much better than any of those places.
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The residence of the Sisters of the Christ Child Jesus

More to come!