Thursday, November 24, 2005

Merry Old Crappy Weather

Jay and I are in Merrie Aulde Englande right now. While we are about to enjoy an American Thanksgiving dinner in Oxford, I did get in to London the other day. Nice Rousseau show at the Tate Modern, but highlight for me was going to Harrod's. All of Piccadilly was lit up beautifully... Fortnum and Mason's windows also a delight, with vignettes from A Christmas Carol. So disappointing that all of the Plum Puddings use hydrogenated oils... I have tried to give them up since I saw Ariel's documentary on the subject! Anyway, I broke down and bought a pudd' at Fortnum and Mason's, but at Harrod's I got almost a kilo of all the Syrian desserts that we had with Christoph and Diane when we visited them in Damascus. Such a treat to eat after dinner last night!

Big fun the other night when Jay and I went to Christchurch College (known to the Harry Potter movie going world as Hogwart's Academy) for Evensong. Just lovely cathedral and the choir's singing was bright and clear in between the old walls.

Afterwards, we showed up for dinner at Pembroke. If Christoph wanted to, he could eat dinner there every night, but spouses are not allowed (how do you like that... any other guest is welcome).

The whole event was amazing. Talk about tradition! We gather in the Faculty Common Room (looks like a gussied up version of Pat's ballroom) for either orange juice or dry sherry. Chit chat or read the paper, tut-tut; all very cordial and British.

Then a senior faculty makes the first move and we all shuffle in pecking order into the college dining hall, lit like a Rembrandt painting. The students are already inside, seated in long refectory tables, sans food, conversing away like kids in any college dining hall. We find seats on our own raised table at the far end, and Christoph made sure that I was in a position to face the entire hall of students. Crack! goes a gavel hit by the senior prof at the head of the table and everyone falls silent for the prayer. Then it's chow time. I don't recall it, but I imagine that the students received their meals family style at the tables. But elegrantly tassled pink menus on our dais showed the three courses we were in for... white fish with tapenade (served with a lovely German white) followed by venison with cranberry sauce, glace potatoes, and three vegetables (served with a nice Cabernet), and then strawberries & pineapple Romanoff. Well, that was divine!

God knows what glop the students had to ingest, and I did indeed feel amongst the privileged. Say what he will about the needy coffers of noble little Pembroke, Christoph gets a nice perk on the meals. We cracked the gavel again to begin our parade past the students, who all had had to wait for us to finish before they could leave... but off we went to a private hall where lunch is usually served to the faculty. By night, more baroque candlelight, and four decanters of after dinner drinkies. I tried the port this time, and there was fruit and little packaged Pembroke Chocolates, too. Every night these guys can eat this way; it was astonishing. They finished by passing around the snuff box, which I could not resist. It does clear out the sinuses, but it's a tobacco product and you definitely feel the nicotine jolt. Well, that's not the end of dinner, because we finished up at the common room with coffee (or choice of brandy) or sparkling water. Hoo-boy!

It rained hard for 15 minutes as I wrote this email, but now it's brightening outside. A wonderfully fragrant turkey is roasting away in the oven and we will be eating in an hour. So nice to be in from the cold.

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