Sunday, August 31, 2008, London
Today was a day of blessings and much sadness. We were all excited as Sunday—The Lord’s Day, pun intended--dawned, eager to get to Lord’s (“The Home of Cricket”) to see our first live cricket match in a gazillion years, when our happiness was shattered by the shocking news of the passing away of my cousin Blossom’s husband Dr. Placid Rodriguez in Madras, India.
Deciding to catch a service at St. Paul’s Cathedral before we headed off to Lord’s, Llew and I walked to Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece for the 8 am Communion Service along quiet London streets that had not yet stirred for the day. The Cathedral is imposing both inside and out, its Baroque decoration contrasting sharply against the austerity of the Gothic design we had admired at Westminster Abbey two weeks ago.The service, rather different from anything we had ever attended—included an Offertory and Communion. There was just a sprinkling of people around as the majority attend the Sung Service later in the day.
When the hour-long service ended, we headed outside the cathedral but not before we stopped to greet the pastor who inquired about whether we were visiting London. Llew responded, informing him that while he was headed back to the States the next day, I would be spending a year as a professor at New York University. The pastor then asked us where we were from and when we said, “The USA”, he wanted to know, “Which part?” When we said “Connecticut”, he asked us our names and when he heard our last name “Almeida” he wanted to know if we were from Goa! I was shocked at how astute his geographical sense was when he said, “Well, my wife is from Goa. She is a De Silva…no, no, I’m sorry…she’s a D’Souza”. Of course, then, Llew had to inform him that I was a D’Souza too! And next he pointed out his wife, Cynthia, and asked us to chase her as she was headed out of the church with their two sons!
Well, Llew and I did not waste any time in our attempt to meet a fellow Indian and the next minute, we were crossing St. Paul’s Road and introducing ourselves to the very warm and friendly Cynthia who insisted that we come over to her place “for breakfast or at least a cup of coffee” (only an Indian could extend such instantaneous hospitality) and we were at the gracious home of Canon Pastor Michael ColClough, Bishop of Westminster, and his lovely wife Cynthia and their sons Aidan and Edward—both very handsome Law students—when Bishop Michael walked in and also insisted that we have some coffee. Of course, we declined because we had a long day ahead, but not before we exchanged telephone numbers and promises to get together again soon. We truly saw it as one of the most unexpected blessings of all to have been accorded the privilege of making such spontaneously lovely friends and I am sure I will cherish them as we get to know each other better. Because fat raindrops suddenly pelted us, the Colcloughs sent us home with a giant umbrella that said “Diocese in Europe” on it and told us to return it at our leisure.
Yes, indeed, the rain did put a damper on our day but not on our spirits. By 10 am, we were headed off to Lord’s, joining a large number of cricketing enthusiasts to watch England take on South Africa in a one-day international match. For both, Llew and me, it was a privilege indeed to have been able to attend this sporting event and we felt hugely grateful to our friend Raju Hariharan of Bombay whose good offices had led us to enjoy these tickets in really superb seats right in front of the Media Box whose overhang also protected us from the rain. For the rain had delayed the start of the match and with the pitch covered up and the game on hold, we explored the place a bit taking in the variety of very reasonably priced food being sold (Australian meat pies and barbecued Cumberland sausages served in giant baps) and gallons and gallons of beer.
In fact, when we weren’t watching the game—which did eventually begin with South Africa batting—we entertained ourselves watching the huge numbers of bottles of red wine and Veuve Cliquot champagne being consumed by the three guys in the seats in front of us, both presumably cricketers themselves. Indeed, I had a terrific time people-watching and people-overhearing and from the snatches of conversation that I caught, I learned a great deal about cricketing culture in the UK today!
Llew and I lunched well and consumed a good amount of Foster’s Lager ourselves as the match began, but before South Africa was all out, the game was suspended as rain came down again in buckets. It was a good one hour before the play resumed. England responded bravely to the target set by their opponents and ended up winning the match rather easily. Llew, meanwhile, purchased a book entitled Coming Back to Me by Somerset cricketer Marcus Trescothick who was present at the venue to sign first editions of his autobiography. He took a picture with the cricketer-writer before we scoured the souvenir shops looking for a T-shirt for my brother Russel and settled for one that had the Indian flag and logo on it and sported the colors of the Indian team—yellow and blue—a truly unique T-shirt for a guy who collects them by the dozen.
It was while we were in the stands watching the game that I called my Dad—a devoted cricket fan--rather excitedly on my cell phone to tell him that I was at Lord’s, when he delivered to me the startling news of the passing away of Placid. In the midst of the applause that was deafening at times as the cricketers hit fours and sixes, he told me about the complications that had suddenly arisen that caused cardiac arrest and led to his demise. In the midst of the cheering crowds, it was really difficult for me to take in the news and while I shared the news with Llew, we realized that it was too late to call my dear cousin Blossom in Madras (Chennai). We sent a text message to Chrissie and I said a prayer immediately for him and the family, all of whom would be assembling in Madras for the funeral. Many of you who read this will know him as the father of Menaka who had spent a year with us in Connecticut after Hurricane Katrina had rendered her homeless.
Deeply subdued, Llew and I took the Tube back home and prepared for our next social appointment—dinner with my new friend Janie Yang, sister of our friend Jonathan Thomson of Fairfield, Connecticut, who had organized an evening out for us with her friends Stewart and Tanya. She arrived at 7. 30 with her husband Jimmy whom I was meeting for the first time in their delightful little Mini and drove us off to the elite neighborhood of Primrose Hill, just north of Regent’s Park, where Stewart and Tanya who live close by, joined us at The Engineer, a gastro pub where we enjoyed wine and amazing miso marinated cod and a fabulous chocolate and ginger truffle tart. The food was absolutely divine and the conversation flowed so easily as I got to know these new friends and hoped very much that they will become part of my regular circle here in London. Llew too had a good time and felt pleased that my attempts at making friends seem to be working out well. He can return to the States tomorrow confident in the knowledge that I have a few good guys here looking out for me. It had started to rain again when Jimmy and Janie dropped us back home after driving us around the legal district of Lincoln’s Inn Field where they pointed out to Llew the famous landmark, Sir John Soanes Museum—which, of course, Llew will have to keep on hold for his next visit to London in October.