I had planned to pack all day following Pembroke, once I woke up (at 11 AM). Instead, I spent most of the day dealing with other details of my departure, particularly closing bank accounts, paying off debts, and returning borrowed items. Along the way I dropped in at Haibo’s room, and she invited me to join her and her friends for a night of open-air Shakespeare.
I had mostly finished packing by the time I arrived at Queen’s College on bicycle. We had reserved tickets for the play, which turned out be Much Ado About Nothing, and picked them up in a nearby court, which turned out to be a scene straight out of the 1600s. I am absolutely serious when I say that, were it not for the folding chairs on risers as seating for the play, it would have been absolutely impossible to tell that the Queen was not named Elizabeth *. Claudio, in some sense the main character of the story, was played by my good friend Chris. The production was in most aspects a copy of the excellent movie version by Kenneth Branaugh, though the songs were original and acceptably good. Overall it was excellent, benefitting hugely from good use of the courtyard itself.
We watched the play seated on blankets on the grass just a few feet from the actors, munching on fresh peapods and the like. Afterward I bid Chris goodbye, then headed off for dinner with the group of watchers. Along the way I mentioned to Haibo that I intended to sell my bicycle, and within ten minutes I had sold it for £20 to one of her friends, using half of it to settle a debt with her. I used the rest of it to buy a calzone from a Cambridge restaurant, and we all walked up to The Mound to eat our dinners.
The Mound, of which I had not heard previously, is technically known as Castle Mound, and appears to have been an artificial fortification about 2000 years ago. Today, at the top of a winding concrete staircase, it is the best view in Cambridge. We reached the top just in time to savor the last few rays of sunset, and as darkness fell we ate and held perhaps the best Cambridge conversation I have had: civilized, thoughtful, youthful, wonderful. It reminded me that a good conversation is both rare and tangible.
We talked until about midnight, then walked back. Haibo came back to my room to pick up some parts associated with my bicycle for her friend. Also, there was another problem. One of my borrowed items was a cell phone from a CME student going the other way in September. He had told me to return it to his friend at Trinity. I had brought it down to Queen’s but forgotten the charger, and no longer had a bike on which to return it. Haibo agreed to make the handoff for me. Making it an exchange between two intermediaries, neither with any interest in the phone.
I tried to locate my friend Tom, whom I can safely name my best friend in Cambridge, and with whom I have spent most of the year, but I could not. Haibo, who is probably my closest friend, stayed and helped me finish off my packing. Unfortunately, as I packed up the final 10% of my belongings, it became clear that about 7% was left over, and would not fit no matter how much we squished. In the end, it was only through Haibo’s help repacking that everything was made to fit into my two suitcases by 2:30 AM, she stayed to savor our last few minutes, leaving shortly after 3. I took a shower, moved my 5 bags down my three flights of stairs, returned my room key, and made it New Hall exactly on time for our 4:05 cab to Stansted.
The cab turned out to be something of its own problem, as it was definitely not large enough for our bags, mostly because I had all of my worldly belongings with me, and in the end we carried some of it on our laps. At the airport I dropped off my bag in “left luggage”, where they were happy to keep it until Tuesday for an exorbitant but inevitable £25. We made the plane uneventfully, and I slept for perhaps an hour before we landed and were picked up by Liisa.
Liisa drove us, in her great old Mercedes, over tremendously picturesque hills back to her house, again without incident despite driving along two-way roads much narrower than twice the width of the car. We rolled up to her green-painted wrought-iron gates, opened them, and drove through. With a tremendous bang.
It turned out that with the weight of five people and all their baggage, we had lowered the car so far that the muffler had hit the post where the gate locks to the driveway, and it soon became apparent that the muffler had completely fallen off. We unloaded anyway and began trying to acclimate.
The house is not a house. It’s a villa. It has high ceilings, marble floors, paintings on the walls, terraces, a swimming pool, a fishpond, gardens… It’s not a huge place, but it’s got class like nobody’s business. It’s also not very stately, with comfort always preferred to appearances. As a result, there are cinderblocks here and there, and there is no vantage from which the house can be appreciated as a whole. We spent most of the day swimming in the pool, the girls sunbathing, with a break for lunch (cold cuts and fresh French breads). We cleaned up for dinner, when four other older international couples arrived and Liisa’s mother served a five-course dinner out under a canopy, each course better than the last, finishing with truly unbeatable desserts. The five Cadenzans present sang two light songs in thanks for dinner.
I went to sleep at about midnight, before the guests had even left. I had been nodding off whenever not standing (or swimming) all day, and had had 6 hours of sleep in the preceding 61 hours by the time I went to sleep. I didn’t wake up until 12:30 PM the next day.
Today, as a result, has been rather short, but there was time to stop by, after another impossibly scenic drive through the clifflike hills, past Roman aqueducts and a rail bridge demolitioned to prevent the Nazis from using it, at the local candy factory. The factory’s specialty is candies and jams made from flower petals, but I instead bought a can of the local extremely bitter marmalade, for my father who loves the amazing but likely inferior British variety.
After the factory we drove directly to the house where we will be singing tomorrow. The house was built centuries ago as a monastery, but has been converted into a mansion, and the grounds have been landscaped as you might imagine, given that it contains a mosaicked swimming pool, a separate pool house, a piano from the 1800s, and one of the very first pianofortes every made. We spent a few hours there, moving pianos and umbrellas, then testing different locations as performance spots, settling on a terrace 8 feet above the guests.
We came back for dinner, which was sausages made specially by the local butcher at Liisa’s request. They were excellent, definitely on my list of top scrumptious dinners.
Tonight the rest of Cadenza’s France contingent arrived, and we attempted to learn “Goodnight, Sweetheart” in time for tomorrow. As I type we are watching “Miss Congeniality” on Liisa’s TV.
Can you imagine a better way to spend two days?
*: well, that and the perfectly flat glass in the windows, but that’s pretty subtle, and even an Elizabethan might not have noticed immediately.