Saturday, March 15, 2008
Scones and Going Where You’re Not Supposed to Go
I approach life as if I’m always carrying a press pass. To find the story, you just gotta get in and start talking to people.
Yesterday Becca and I went up to the Great Hall on campus hoping we’d find a wedding in progress. It’s this beautiful Gothic building commonly used for receptions, and we’ve got this little project going on involving wedding photos. We see a man out front in a suit and tables of scones and tea behind the building. The organ swells and we wait for the happy couple to exit. But there’s no bride and groom, and we notice some people don’t seem to be dressed for a wedding. We're still very curious about the town car out front bearing an Australian flag and the royal crown instead of license plates.
As people clear the hall, I move closer and closer to the door trying to figure out what was happening. Becca is hanging back and I’m on the steps peering into the Hall. An usher, uh, ushered us in and handed us programs. He explains this was a reception for Dr. Catherine Hamlin, who founded a hospital in Ethiopia to provide free operations for poor women who have suffered injuries from giving birth. The fancy car was for Marie Bashir, the governor of New South Wales and chancellor of the University of Sydney. She’s the first woman to govern NSW and the first Australian governor of Lebanese decent.
The usher tells us this was a charity event with $50 tickets so he couldn’t “formally invite” us for refreshments. Of course, in my opinion, cordial invitations are optional. Becca and I began fanning ourselves with the glossy programs and moseyed on over to the scone table.
Wiping the jam and cream from the corners of my mouth, I suggest to Becca that we talk to some of the other guests. I don’t think she knew I was serious. (She’s only known me for a month.) The fact that we hadn’t been to the reception and couldn’t tell you a thing about the woman in whose honor it was held wasn’t going to keep me from conversing.
I turn to a little old lady and ask if she knew where we could set our finished plates. She didn’t know either but, noticing our accents, asked where we were from. We got to talking and a few of her friends joined in. The women all went to the same church, which raises money for the surgeries at Hamlin’s hospital. When they asked why we were at the event, we offered something vague like, “Oh, we just found out that it was one of the things going on around campus and thought we’d check it out.”
One woman, Jane, told us about her dessert parties that have provided funds for 19 surgeries. After hearing that we were studying abroad from the States, she said she we should talk to her daughter who will be spending next semester in Montana of all places. Before we knew it, Jane was explaining how to take the train to her neighborhood and saying if we called her when we got to the stop, she’d pick us up and bring us to the house. She mentions dinner or bbq, and all of her friends tell us what a great cook she is. Another says, “When Jane invites you over, she means it.”
Well, when an Australian invites me to a new part of town for dinner, I’m not going to turn her down. We get Jane’s information and make tentative plans to go to her house near Royal National Park, which I imagine is pretty classy.
And I thought the scones would be the high point of crashing the reception...