Saturday, 22 October 2011
St Paul's: what's the problem?
If you haven't been down to Paternoster Square, you might have a rather grim, media-fed image of the Occupy London protest camp outside St Paul's. I was surprised when I went there on Wednesday to find that the neat and tidy tents were well to the left of the main entrance; the steps up to the two doors, and the entire area around Queen Anne, are completely clear, and welcome as ever was to the hordes of tourists who are now busy snapping the interlopers. When I went back yesterday evening on my way to the Hvorostovsky recital at the Barbican, the path to the side door which leads to the restaurant and shop had also been cleared.
So far, too, it seems, all is extremely well organised: the toilet facilities, the cooking area, the 'Star-Books' stall run by those against the preposterous closure of the libraries. Sure, there isn't one point being made here, and some are bound to be distinctly fuzzy; but it's an arena for ideas. I saw no hint of the off-their-heads ferals who made Parliament Square such a dodgy place to be earlier this year.
But is it safe? St Paul's, having officially told the police to clear orf from protesters who so far show no signs of making trouble, and fielding a clergy many of whom are fundamentally sympathetic, now says it has to close its doors. It didn't make a very clear case for this yesterday, only loosely citing 'health and safety' issues*. The protesters countered that they'd checked with the fire brigade, which apparently has no problem. Worse, the 'first closure since the Blitz' line kow-tows to the worst kind of Daily Mail 'national shame' mentality.
That said, it's clear that there are some potential hazards here, and the main one - that the violent fringe could hijack the cause - is certainly problematic if, as I understand it, St Paul's is liable for anything that happens on its territory. But sadly this hasn't been spelled out properly so far and the cathedral has only itself to blame for vague publicity.
Today, incidentally, you probably won't be hearing from a closed cathedral the thunderous sounds of Liszt's Prelude and Fugue on BACH on the mighty organ - the chromatic upheavals of which contributed to my being sick in the porch of Norwich Cathedral in the early 1980s. As Jessica Duchen reminds us, it's the exact 200th anniversary of the Hungarian's birth. Here he is looking across to the cumbersome facade of the Esterhazy Palace at Eisenstadt (the inscription on the other side is rather odd, claiming Liszt as foremost son of Austrian Burgenland).
And here's his Blauer Salon in Eisenstadt's splendid Landesmuseum, reassembled lock, stock and barrel from the Schottenhof in Vienna.
I really don't have any Desert Island Discs for the occasion, unless it be Arrau in the Benediction de Dieu or Margaret Price in the Petrarch Sonnets, two of which Hvorostovsky spun rather beautifully in last night's recital. Most of the rest I can take or leave - my loss, I know; but so much Chopin last year spoiled me for returning to Liszt's piano music and finding it wasn't as miraculous, under all the wrappings, as I used to find it. Postscript: but then I listen to Cziffra in the Transcendenal Etudes, and I start changing my mind again...
*I've received further clarification from the St Paul's publicity department on what these problems consist of. They list:
· Presence of unknown quantities of flammable liquids.
· Smoking/drinking within the tented areas.
· Potential gas safety within the catering facility.
· Compromised free fire exits, usually open now closed but manned.
· Slips, trips and falls exacerbated at night with cover of darkness.
· Due to the darkness issues on North side, use of naked flame lighting.
· Sleeping risk within the tented area, if fire should break out.
· Public heath issues
b Food hygiene
c Rodent/pest issue
· The issues of rope/guy-lines attached to trees, bollards, lamp standards possibly causing injury to face/neck/upper limbs and trips on low level guy-lines.
· VIP security due to camp protest.
All of which I can see the point of, but two questions remain: whose land is this (one recent report suggested it was a patchwork of St Paul's, City of London and free-for-all territories)? And exactly how does this rebound on entering and using the cathedral - is the fire risk too great?