Monday, 8 September 2008

Nobel Laureates, Eccles Cakes and Drag Queens

partly cloudy, some sun, temps 20

We're having just the most fun in Cambridge! Sorry not to have blogged in the last few days, but we've just been so busy.

Saturday was Michael's big day - the founding meeting of the Christ's Medical Alumni Association. I wanted to look good for the formal dinner in the evening in the magnificent Christ's College Hall. But, as the day progressed, I looked more and more as though I'd been struck by lightening. A hair-cut was in order. perhaps unwisely I asked the young woman with the orange hair serving us tea where she got her hair done. She told me, I went along, and they had an opening.

In retrospect I really should have made it clear a) I wasn't a boy. b) I didn't want to look like one. I thought of this way too late as the hair fell to the floor. It's not that I generally mind Michael and me looking like a gay couple, I just don't one to be the butch one.

Too late.

Fortunately I think the evening gown I was wearing to the dinner that night made me look a) more feminine b)like a drag queen. Even more fortunately the Brits are way too polite to mention it. or ask.

There was an afternoon tea as part of these Christ's College celebrations. We went to that and met some very nice people. then Michael and the alumni headed off for the secret meeting and the rest of us were invited to...get this...visit the old library and the spectacular collection on John Milton - wh0 went to Christ's College in the early 1600s! I almost fainted I was so excited. The combination of getting into the normally forbidden old library - and seeing the first editions of Paradise Lost was thrilling.

The library, of course, is tiny. Back 500 years ago when it was built a collection of 20 books would be considered substantial. Now it's filled with spectacular first editions. For a bibliophile it was like a heroin hit. And to look at (not touch) the Milton firsts (this is the 400 anniversary of his being there) was amazing. I've always loved Paradise Lost. Was one of those strange kids in english class in school who actually loved reading it, and would memorize sections. In fact, I use parts of it in THE MURDER STONE/A RULE AGAINST MURDER. So it was even more moving for me.

Then Michael and I raced back to the apartment to change for dinner - then ran back through the narrow, cobbled streets to the college. I'd never been into the Hall. We were late, and everyone else was seated. Two long rows of men in dinner jackets and women in evening dress. Candles on the tables. Ancient stained glass windows glowing. It was like something I'd dreamed since being a child. To be surrounded by history, learning, thoughts, ideas. Food.

Michael had studied the seating chart and knew we were at the head of our table, and who we were seated beside. My dinner partner was - Michael prepped me - none other than the former Master of Christ's College. Which is a little like having dinner with you-know-who himself.

We sat down and Michael got to talking with the charming man beside him, and I turned to my companion and after apologies for being late and comments on the lovely surroundings and smoked salmon I asked - 'So, what do you do?'

'Oh, not much of anything, I'm afraid. I sort of muddle along.'

Alarms started going off in my head. I've come to be able to decypher the Brits. When they say they 'muddle along' it means they're either the next in line to the throne, a billionaire, or a Nobel prize winner.

Or, the former Master of Christ's College - a senior British scientist. I finally, slightly too late, remembered.

But he was lovely. Very fun and funny. Alan Munro is his name and we spent part of the evening talking about perfect poison's to kill people. He came up with a great one, I wrote it down and plan to use it in a book very soon.

It was, as you might imagine, a magical evening.

The next morning we went to Christ's College for breakfast with the 'gang' - and the man across from me, beside Michael, really had won the Nobel Prize - last year. Happily I'd stopped asking people, 'And, what do you do?'

My favorite moments from 2 days filled with wonderful memories are - running through the night streets of Cambridge with Michael, looking so handsome in his dinner jacket and backtie.

Listening to him talk about his book with the Nobel laureate, who was riveted.

And then having mid-morning coffee in the Master's garden - a secret walled garden few are allowed into. It's closed to the public and a stunning space.

We're spending the whole week here - bliss. Today we went to the dazzling Whipple Museum - a small scientific museum down a tiny back road...but what wonders it holds. Then had lunch at the Loch Fyne Oyster and Seafood restuarant across from the Fitzwilliam Museum.

Now we`re home, carrying eccles cakes and diet coke - the Times and the Independent newspapers.

I`m sure to wake up soon and find it was all a dream. and that`s OK. At least I dreamed it.


Elizabeth said...

Loved your story about the Master. The same sort of thing happened to me in Washington--twice! In the first case I was at a performance of Handel's Messiah (our 10-year-old son James was singing in the National Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys) when I struck up a conversation with the gentleman next to me, also a choir parent. Only later did I learn that he was a major TV celeb and political pundit. I don't think I said anything particularly stupid, but I'm not totally sure. This is what comes of never watching television. The more embarrassing incident occurred when I was made a designated welcoming parent to an incoming family at James' school. I innocently called up the wife of a prominent Bush appointee and asked if she and her husband would like to come for tea. No, they couldn't, I was told since they would be out of town. Probably just as well. We later met her (she was/is a professor at Georgetown University) at field day and, in between the tug of war and the relay races she grilled Bill rather brutally on World Bank policy in Afghanistan (he had just returned from Kabul). I hope she doesn't read this blog!

Louise Penny Author said...

You looked neither like a butch, nor a drag queen. You looked ravishing; and were the hit of our table, garnering glances from those seated far down the table as well as those near. And I love you.

Louise Penny Author said...

Dear Elizabeth,

What fun stories! Thank you for making me feel less singular. Of course, when people do it to me I don't care at all. I'm always afraid at conferences to ask people, 'Are you an author?' when I think I should know. They when they say 'yes' and tell me their name I either have never heard of them or never read them. Then I feel doubly bad. And yet, again, when it happens to me I never expect people to recognize me, know my name, or have read my books. If they have that sure feels wonderful - but I'm never upset if they haven't. So I'm not sure why I think others would be.

Louise Penny Author said...

Dearest Michael,

Thank you, my dear. It's it lovely that you never once wonder why people were staring at me? Thank you for only seeing beauty.

Anonymous said...

talk about a heroin hit. although i think it would be more of an upper, possibly coke or meth, but certainly the fumes of earl grey tea, choking strength, in a bone china teacup would do it.

this has got to be one of the best travel-cambridge columns a bod could ever find. what a jewel. such a powerful, you-are-here sense of the ancient library, the hushed spaces, the sodden cool fall weather, the dark night streets, the rich stained glass light falling upon a goodly company of learned men and women, the sharp british wit as louise, adorably collected as always, concocts a murderous poison recipe with her dinner companion, a distinguished molecular biologist and former master of the college.

you go, girl.