This was not only my first time at the Parliament of World Religions, it was also my first visit to Salt Lake City. I had to sneak away and check out the area.
I was fortunate to have a chatty, tourist friendly driver from the airport. I learned that Salt Lake sits between two mountain ranges on the Western edge of the Rockies. That feels like being in a big comfy bowl surrounded by mountains. Salt Lake is a planned city. Streets are on a grid and an address will tell you how many blocks north/south and how many blocks east/west of the center point you are.
Apparently there is an old law that says all streets have to be wide enough for two full oxen carts to comfortably pass. That makes for wide streets, and “alleys” that look to be the size of residential streets anywhere else. (They run the light rail down one of those.) So when something is two blocks away, it seems a bit further than you’d expect.
In spite of that Salt Lake is a very walking friendly city. Streets are clean, sidewalks are smooth and you can hop on public transportation pretty easily. At the convention center there were always bicycle rickshaws available. At the end of the day, the small fee for a ride back to the hotel was well worth it! Salt Lake also has a broad “rent a bike” program, so if you wanted to peddle yourself it was an option.
I couldn’t stand the idea of being in Salt Lake City and not seeing the lake. I didn’t have time to take a tour bus out. The Lake is a good 10 miles out of the city (beyond the airport). I did manage to find my way along with a nice cab driver who was happy to get out with me and snap a few photos. There is quite the drought, and the lake bed I’m standing in should be filled with water. I did see the lake in the distance and was impressed and appalled. We’ve been hearing about drought conditions in the SouthWest and in California for years. This visual really brought that home to me in a new way.
I didn’t have to ditch the conference for all my tourism. The Parliament arranged an evening of sacred music and dance. It was hosted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and held in the Mormon Tabernacle. This was a real treat. The Mormon Temple is not open to anyone outside of the religion, and then only for special services like weddings and rites of passage. Most things take place in the Tabernacle.
It’s smaller than I expected. The woodwork, the pews, are all handcrafted and painted to look like oak. The organ that dominates the altar is magnificent. The place only seats about 5000 (more if you seat people in the choir, and they did!) I got there early and still chose a seat in the balcony rather than sitting way in back on the main floor.
We were presented with everything from a Muslim call to worship to the Dervishes whirling. We saw dances from Cambodia and drummers from Africa. One of the highlights was a children’s choir made up of children from many different religious traditions. A delightful surprise was the Baha’i choir which gave us a piece based on their liturgy but in a gospel style.
Temple Square is the center of the Mormon presence in Salt Lake City. It includes several visitors centers with museum dioramas of the history of the building of the temple. There are also plenty of dioramas of the history of the religion.
There are other things to do in Salt Lake as well. One evening we were encouraged to go on an Art Crawl (apparently a regular monthly affair in the city). The Jazz Society rehearsals are open as are rehearsals for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. There are several Art Museums in the area around the convention center.
I had a great time. Really enjoyed the Parliament and all it had to offer. Truly appreciated the host city and it’s amenities. I’m hoping I’ll be able to go to the next Parliament of World Religions in 2017.