The King and I
The King and I attended the coronation yesterday; he from a throne, me from a bedroom. I had not intended to be there. I’m not a monarchy follower. But the Times invited me, and it was 06;30, so I clicked. My English friend, Sue, had said she wanted a channel where the announcers would know the difference between the Prince of Wales and and the Duke of Cornwall (I think this is a title switch for William but I’m not sure). The Times thankfully had no commentary. As I tuned in, a boy’s choir was filling the space of the Westminster Abbey with the sweetest sounds. So I stayed.
While Charles laid his chubby hands on various artifacts symbolizing many virtues — although assembled through sticky fingers and requiring the labor for their composition of who know how many subservient peoples — I brushed my teeth and attended to other morning rituals.
There were many incantations of “Long live the king” and “May the king live forever.” Was Charles III remembering the final days of Charles I (beheaded) and Charles II (suffering bloodletting and plasters of pigeon dung applied to his feet — the source for the latter piece of information was a medical research colleague of my former husband’s at our dinner table in Georgetown — and hoping he might indeed live forever. I wouldn’t blame him. Although he is a couple of years younger than I, he no doubt is giving more thought to his own death. But nowadays we die hooked up to infusions of poisons or our body’s oxygen cycle breaks down (Sherwin Nuland, How We Die).
It was hard to tell what Charles was thinking. He looked bored or as though he might cry or vomit. What are the appropriate facial expressions for such an event?
Charles III was in fact second fiddle to the clergy, just as the monarchy was to the Church of England. The main cleric told God he was Justin somebody of Canterbury. I didn’t catch his full name, but I thought of Justinian the Great, the 6th century Eastern Roman Emperor, whom I can picture from the mosaics of San Vitale in Ravenna. Charles III’s Justin needed another robed figure to hold a binder with his text which apparently he had not memorized. I guess that’s understandable. This was the first coronation in 70 years, so he had never conducted one himself. The Times cameramen allowed me to see that some bits of the text he was to read had been highlighted with a yellow marker. I have a new-found interest in Canterbury as I’ve recently come to know that my ancestors wills from the 16th to the 18th century are stored there. And I have a recently published book, The Wife of Bath, on my reading list. Such were my thoughts at the coronation.
Justinian the Great in a photo by Petar Milošević https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40035957
Charles, too, not II, was — like me — changing his clothes. He was helped out of one garb, reveling what looked like his nightgown, and then redressed in a gold bathrobe. I would, without assistance, take off my flannel nightgown with an improvised Scottish plaid and put on my jeans once I finished my morning exercise routine. But the next bit gave me reason to think about my genes.
“Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed by thy name…” I said the prayer along with Justin mildly amazed that I still know the words (almost) flawlessly. I learned the prayer as a girl but have not repeated it as an adult. I’m fairly sure my kids could not recite the Lord’s Prayer. They might not even know what it is. I was doing sun salutations when we got to the prayer. Yes, this coronation was to be diverse and here I was performing an ancient Indian, i.e., colonized people’s, ritual. Fitting.
My weather report said the day would be warmer than previous days and sunnier. I planned to be out in the garden. as soon as I finished breakfast. By now the newly crowned king and his queen were inside a gold chariot that must have been the source for Walt Disney’s pumpkin-cum-carriage. Outside in London, it was either raining or had just been raining. the streets were wet; rain had splashed the camera lens. My English friend, Sarah, had told me, Bill and Mijo before we ventured out to walk the Cotswold Way some years ago in May, that May was the rainiest month in England. Why had the royal crew chosen May for the coronation when it could hold it anytime. Maybe there is a high probability it will be raining any day in England. Maybe the horses — Lord there were so many horses where were they all stabled when not parading — prefer a cool wet day if they have to carry drummers and trombonists down paved streets.
Disney’s chariot passed through the gates of Buckingham Palace. A bagpipe blew. The King and I were finished. He had his instructions from God about how to behave. I was heading out to play a form of God dictating to plants and seeds my plans for the season. I know, and I suspect the King knows as well, that no matter what our plans may be, forces beyond our control will have the final say. Amen.
Well, you and Charles share an interest in plants, even if your bathrobes don’t match.