A few weeks ago I enjoyed a very special evening at the Atheneum Club at the California Institute of Technology. It was a dinner hosted by Dame Fiona Reynolds, the current Master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, who was visiting the US and had invited former students to meet and chat about their time at Emmanuel. Sitting in the oak-paneled library of the Atheneum with all of these people who were united by their time at Emmanuel, I was caught up in nostalgia and pride for the college where I had spent four years learning Japanese as an undergraduate.
My time at Emmanuel was almost magical. Almost everything about the college was extraordinary – the main building, a Renaissance-style chapel designed by Sir Christopher Wren, the beautifully landscaped pond, the Fellows’ Garden with the oldest outdoor swimming pool in the UK. But it was the people there who made it truly special. I realized this when I was a high school student working there as a waitress, I had no real desire to go to university. I had planned to go into some sort of business, but when I met some of the smart, funny, multi-racial, and talented students there, I decided I wanted to be one of them too. I worked very hard, aced my exams, applied and got in. While there, I made some dear friends, exceptional people who were clearly going to do interesting things with their lives. Some are still my dear friends today, though I live thousands of miles from them. Others, I occasionally hear reporting on the BBC from time to time from far-flung places in the world.
At the dinner that night, not only did I reminisce warmly about my time at Emmanuel, but I made some new friends, Krishna and Eva, a couple who really epitomize the extraordinariness of the college. Krishna was a student there in the 1970s and since became a lawyer by profession but he is also a photographer, an avid gardener, music lover, art collector, cook, and is writing his second novel. Eva is also a lawyer and a remarkable painter whose work deserves to be in a museum. They also have two grown children who seem to be no less impressive. Tonight my husband David, son Theo and brother Alan and I all had dinner with Krishna and Eva in their beautiful Spanish home. Over a delicious home-cooked Indian vegetarian meal, many different conversations floated across the table from law to photography, travel, local wild animals, art collecting, and Dr. Who. I had only met Krishna and Eva once before, and my family were meeting them for the first time. Yet the hospitality, warmth and interest they extended to us was truly exceptional. I knew they shared an interest in Asian art, so I give them my book The Arts of Asia: Materials, Styles and Techniques, a book that I hope will encourage their love of the subject. After a lovely evening spent with such extraordinary people, I am not only reminded me of the golden days I spent at Emmanuel College a fair while ago now, but I am also inspired to try to find more of the extraordinary in myself.