The walls of King’s College Chapel are stone-gray; the spindels of ornate carvings come to a point halfway up the walls, directing your eyes toward stained glass that stretches so high your eyes can’t take it all in. Inside this chapel–which Henry VII finished, and which became one of the first Anglican places of worship–you do not sit facing the altar. Instead, a center aisle divides the benches, which face each other. The clergy members, the members of King’s College, and the choirs sit furthest from the altar, and their seats are large, wooden, and have red velvet covered kneelers, with large candles on the ledge of their benches. This was my first ‘major’ outing so far in Cambridge; having arrived less than 24 hours before, I was ready to venture outside the walls of Gonville & Caius College at Cambridge University to complete one of the items on my check list of things to do while I’m here, spending the month taking classes to finish my MFA.
I watied in line for Evensong–the nightly service which features the famed boys’ choir–for 45 minutes so that I would be sure to get a seat inside. The service featured psalms, hymns, and prayers much like the Catholic masses I am used to attending–except instead of invoking the Pope, there were several ‘God Save the Queen’ utterances throughout. The music was wonderful in a classical way; it was sung in English instead of the tradiational Latin, but the choir was truly remarkable. The last performance of the season is on Sunday, so I’m glad I made the time to come today.
Earlier in the day, I wandered around the small city of Cambridge, only giving into my inner klutz once or twice (OK, more like every five minutes) as I stumbled over cobblestones on crowded streets, sizing up the bookstores. [Note to self: even wearing ‘sensible’ shoes does not compensate for a general lack of balance.] I browsed through the Cambridge University Bookstore, right outside the gates of Caius, and spent at least an hour browsing the shelves of Heffer’s, the famed Cambridge bookshop. I am on a spending freeze for week one of this trip, at minimum. I’m taking time to take it all in, figure out what I really want to buy, and get the best prices. For example, the college bookstores sell t-shirts and sweatshirts for twice the price they are sold for in the open market, just down the street. The open market is a collection of tents pitched outside Saint Mary’s Church, nowhere near as expansive as the markets I visited last summer in Ljubljana, but full of the same sorts of things: local hand-made goods, clothing, fruits, etc. I plan to go back soon.
The plane ride here was interesting; on the way over, the plan was nearly empty, as few people chose to travel on the 4th of July. I could have moved my seat, but I was next to an old woman from Ireland who had lived in the U.S. for years and was traveling back to visit her brothers and sisters for one of the first times since her husband of many years died. She looked like she needed someone to talk to, so I spent the five and a half hours discussing her grandsons and her children, and learning about her life in Ireland and America. I usually can’t sleep on trans-Atlantic flights for some reason anyways, so I didn’t mind. But I also didn’t get any reading done at all–she literally talked to me the whole time. We first stopped down in Shannon, where we stayed on the plane for an hour as emergency staff took a woman out on a stretcher–we weren’t sure what happened to her. Then we landed in Dublin, and my friend and I literally had to sprint to our next gate. The way to our gate was through a duty-free shop; my friend just started running, and I had to stop him, as I paused at the computer monitors: ‘We need to figure out where we’re going!’ Luckily, through a series of strange good choices, we had come straight to our gate through the maze of terminals without even knowing we needed to head in that direction!
We arrived in Heathrow not long after; it was a quick walk to the bus terminal there, since we didn’t have to go through customs–we’d done that in Dublin. It was funny in Dublin, as I passed through. The exchange went something like this.
‘Oh, here you go.’
‘And where in Ireland are you headed.’
‘I’m transferring to London here.’
‘May I see your transfer ticket, miss?’
‘Of course!’ Shuffle, shuffle. Dig, dig. The giant ‘purse’ (AKA: extra carry-on that was breaking my shoulder) had swallowed my boarding pass, which was printed out for me at the Aer Lingus desk at Logan.
‘Um, just a moment,’ I said.
Shuffle, shuffle. Dig, dig.
I began to take things out of my bag, kneeling to the ground to do so.
‘Oh, never mind! I believe you!’ the customs agent said, and shoo-ed me through the gate. There is no tolerance for disorganization, which is my specialty ;)
Anyways, I got a second wind on the three-hour bus ride to Cambridge; my friend and I debated the merits of creative non-fiction vs. narrative journalism (is there a difference?) and the use of quotes in memoir (is it possible to remember what you said 10 years ago? Does it matter?). Then, mid-way through a sentence, I found myself asleep, for the remainder of the ride–for the first time in nearly 24 hours. We walked 6 blocks to Caius, not without difficulty. Well, it was fine for me–I had my backpack, my suitcase with wheels, and my ‘purse.’ So I had a free hand for the map and led the way. I learned my lesson about over-packing last summer in Slovenia; I probably came with the least amount of stuff of anyone here–but at least I wasn’t assessed any overweight baggage charges, and I didn’t have to pay for a second suitcase! My friend, on the other hand, had his backpack, plus two suitcases–both of which were larger than mine. So, as an extreme case of anti-gender stereotypes, we trailed our suitcases to Caius, where we were informed we had to go! Quickly! Soon! I hardly had time to take in the Tree Courtyard, over which my bedroom looks, before I lugged my bags up 6 flights of stairs to room 13 in R hall, which belongs to a certain ‘Whiffin, N.’ during the rest of the year–the name was painted in white over the doorframe.
I quickly unpacked, storing the contents of my suitcase in my ample closet, and arranging my toiletries on a bookshelf, and storing my writing materials and books on my desk. The room is huge; it has two, tall windows with beautiful glass, and enough room for a bed, nightstand, several bookshelves, a desk and chair, a table larger than the one at my parents’ house, and a over-stuffed chair and coffee table–plus enough room to do yoga or something on the floor (if I did yoga, lol). So then I ran down four flights of stairs, showered, hurriedly blow-dryed my hair and reapplied make-up and I slipped into a dress and heels–all the grad. students had been invited to high table for dinner.
Picture the Hogwarts dining area: long tables, surrounding by intricate wood panels and tall oil portraits of former headmasters. At the front, is the high table–which serves the same exact food as the ‘low’ tables… except there’s also free wine. Lovely, lovely! I walked only a small loop around Caius after dinner before collapsing in my bed for several hours…
Classes start for me tomorrow: I’m taking a course in travel writing, with a UNH professor, and a course in James Joyce’s Ulysses, with a Cambridge professor. I’ll be in class on Mondays and Wednesdays–I can’t wait to get started.