After the post about our homely flat and Rachael’s tale of horror about her trip home from the store, we’re worried that we might have scared away a few potential visitors. So, as a way of highlighting some of the things we love about our new home and making a shameless appeal for people to come see us, we’ve decided to do a series of posts about why you should come see our lovely city – as if you needed to be persuaded! Numero Uno – Formal Hall.
When was the last time you had a three course dinner by candle-light? For under $10? In a magnificent dining hall built almost 500 years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence? It has been a while, hasn’t it? Well, if that sounds like something you might enjoy, just come to Cambridge, and we’ll take you to Formal Hall, a nightly feast at Ben’s college!
Here’s how it works: Students have to wear their robes; guests can wear anything reasonably dressy. Everybody walks into the dining hall and stands in front of their seat. Then, a gong sounds, everyone goes silent, and the fellows (scholars) from the college file into the room from a sneaky passageway in the back. They stand around their own head table, and everyone else continues to stand at these incredibly long wooden tables. Next, one of the fellows prays two Latin prayers. Then, everyone sits, and a wait staff wearing tuxedos serves a three-course meal from a set menu. The food is pretty good, but it’s really all about the experience. At about three-quarters of the way through the meal, another gong suddenly sounds, which is a little scary and confusing. Everybody stands in silence once again while the fellows file out of the room through that same sneaky passageway, only to resume the meal once the fellows are gone. When the meal is over, some overhead lighting at one end of the room comes on, signalling that it’s time to leave.
Now, a few things about formal hall that stuck out to us. First, when you’re wearing a suit and a heavy academic robe, you quickly realize just how hot a room full of people can get when there isn’t any air-conditioning. It wasn’t even 70 degrees outside, and Ben had some major sweat stains by the end of the evening! Second, when everyone suddenly stands up in the middle of the meal, you have to be careful to push the seat back far enough. We were both awkwardly leaning over the table, delicately holding our balance and trying not to fall while everyone stood in silence around us. Could have been an embarrassing situation! Third, you have to be strategic about where you sit. The hall has three long rows of tables. The middle table is the most obvious when you walk in, but it’s the two side tables that make for better seats, since you can sit against the wall and get some back support for the two-hour meal. Two hours sitting with no back at a fancy picnic table isn’t the most comfortable way to enjoy a meal!
After the formal hall that we attended last week, we went on a ghost tour of Cambridge, where we learned all about the grim and ghastly past of our new haunt. Ghost stories to come…
A Sad Game of Skip-Bo after a Hard Day in the Office!