26 February, 2012

Starry Night

Christ Church staircase: Not just for wizards.
Last night I got to live a little bit more of the dream.  My friend Vicky invited me to be her guest at a black tie dinner given by the rowing club of Christ Church, Oxford.  The occasion was the conclusion of Torpids, four days of races held every Hilary term.  The races had just concluded yesterday afternoon, and there were victories to celebrate.  But the dinner was also a reunion for past club captains and members, as it marked 30 years since women were first admitted to the college and its rowing club.

We took the train out from Paddington and arrived at dusk, when Oxford is very much a city of dreaming spires, indeed.  We came to the gate of Christ Church and were met by a very protective porter.  We told him we were there for the dinner, and he let us in but explained that he was guarding the door closely because some Pembroke College hooligans would likely try to sneak onto Tom Quad that night to burn a boat in celebration of their victory over Christ Church.  (I can report that no such bonfire had occurred by the time we left, so well done, Mister Porter.)

"To the Queen!"
Crossing Tom Quad was the first surreal "living the dream" moment.  I was dressed in an elegant cocktail dress (indulging my inner Kate Middleton wanna-be with blue lace), the stars were coming out, and from across the quad we could hear laughing voices ringing in the great 16th-century staircase.  I imagined the years between the World Wars, I imagined the Charles Ryders and Sebastian Flytes, I imagined what it would've been like to have had black tie evenings as a normal part of my college experience. 

We began with drinks in the foyer just outside the dining hall (yes, that dining hall).  Introductions, reunions, friendly chatter, photos.  Then the call to dinner.  The great doors opened, and we found our places at the long banquet tables.  For three hours we wined and dined under the watchful eyes of Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, Elizabeth II, and countless great men of state whose portraits line the walls  (What up, William Penn!).  Four courses, two wines, sherry, port.  Toasts to the Queen, to the college, to the rowing club.  Now and again I stopped to look around the room and absorb the fact that I was a little part of its history for a night.  When we left, Tom Quad lay quiet under a clear sapphire sky pinned with a slender moon and brilliant stars.  I think time just might have stopped for a moment.

I don't quite understand why I've been given some of the experiences I've been given.  This is another instance in which grace is befuddling, and I suppose the only right response is to receive it with thanks and enjoy it to the utmost.   Thank you, Vicky, for a night I will remember for a very, very long time!
 
The menu

4 comments:

Vicky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Vicky said...

Every night, before dinner, a scholar of the House says grace. It is in Latin. When Ginny, quite reasonably, asked "why?", my friend Henry answered simply: "Because everything sounds cooler in Latin!". In any case, here are both versions.

Latin: Nōs miserī hominēs et egēnī, prō cibīs quōs nōbis ad corporis subsidium benignē es largītus, tibi, Deus omnipotēns, Pater cælestis, grātiās reverenter agimus; simul obsecrantēs, ut iīs sobriē, modestē atque grātē ūtāmur. Per Iēsum Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen

English: We unhappy and unworthy men do give thee most reverent thanks, Almighty God, our heavenly Father, for the victuals which thou hast bestowed on us for the sustenance of the body, at the same time beseeching thee that we may use them soberly, modestly and gratefully. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

carrie said...

I sort of LOVE everything about this post and your great adventure. Also, I might be obsessed with Dorothy Perkins now. Is the fit pretty true to size? Also, I LOVE YOU!

Ginny said...

Vicky, thanks for posting the blessing! That was something I forgot to include when I wrote this. I believe Lenny's explanation was that it will always be in Latin simply because it always has been and Oxford never changes. :-)
Carrie, yes, DP hasn't failed me yet! Just keep in mind that UK clothing size numbers are usually one or two higher than their US equivalents. So, at home I would've bought a size 8, but here it was a size 12. But yes, the sizes seem pretty consistent.