Sunday... was soggy. The rain had begun in mid-morning, battering the cathedral roof so that we could barely hear the Sanctus bells. In the late afternoon, as we were singing Evensong, a drip began from the highest point above the chancel, the water drops falling and accumulating into a spreading brown stain on the marble floor just beside the choir to the left of the altar. We continued to sing, casting nervous glances upward, fervently hoping the plaster ceiling wouldn't fall on our heads.
Like so many old buildings, the cathedral has roof problems, and during recent years we've had to repair many leaks and damage to plaster walls and ceilings. In the next few years, the entire spire will have to be replaced. It's a huge headache and massive expense, shared partly by the province which gives grants for preserving our architectural patrimonie. When I used to visit London churches, long before my own days as a cathedral singer and parishioner, I often wondered about the small congregations charged with the burden of caring for those magnificent but difficult-to-maintain buildings. Now -- with a newer building, only 150 years old, but a more punishing climate -- I see and feel the problem firsthand, and each new leak sets off a collective sigh among us.
Beyond the porous stones of the cathedral, thousands of cyclists were getting soaked during the annual Tour de l'Isle, and many streets and bus lines were closed. I took the metro after the service and walked home from the nearest station, without a coat or umbrella, drenched but happy, forgetting about leaks and troubles; it was a warm rain, and the scent of lilacs hung in the heavy air.
I left the sidewalk and turned into one of the ruelles, the narrow unpaved alleys in the centers of the blocks between the three-story apartment houses, lined with painted or vine-covered fences offering an occasional glimpse of a backyard garden, criss-crossed with old-fashioned clotheslines on pulleys, overhung with low tree branches weighed down with water. It was dark and secluded in the alley -- there were occasional sounds of voices, the clink of dishes as dinner was prepared in an upstairs apartment, someone practicing scales on a piano -- but these were all interior sounds, turned inward; there were no faces at windows, no dogs barking behind the fences, no couples on the high balconies. Suddenly I felt free like a child, alone with the cats and sparrows, hidden by summer's first lush growth, loving the mud beneath my feet and the exhilaration of being soaked to the skin. My toes squished in my water-logged sandals and I marveled at an improbable flotilla of bubbles the size of ping-pong balls dancing on the puddles.
During the hardest rain, we had been singing a Renaissance verse anthem set to the Song of Solomon, and now, as I walked slowly home, the music played and replayed in my head:
The time of the singing of birds has come
and the voice of the turtle is heard in the land --
Come away, my love,