This evening, Felipe Fernandez-Armesto of the Notre Dame History Department (a Spaniard by birth but English by all other counts) took Father Jim Lies and me to The Athaneum for dinner and drinks. I can quite honestly say I’ve never seen anything like it my life.
It’s a 17th Century building not more than 1000 meters from Fischer Hall, remarkable in every respect. Outside, at the curb, The Duke of Wellington’s mounting block (late in life he needed a bit of assistance to get up on his horse. The block is still there, at the curb.
The members bar is exactly as you would expect: stuffy, a bit louche. The request for a martini took a while (“Would you care for that shaken rather than stirred, sir?”). Dinner followed. Each member fills out a dinner card for his guests. A truly odd selection on the menu, but I went with the chilled crab and mayonnaise to start, followed by a beefsteak and greens. Not bad.
The Drawing Room (massive, multiple portraits of people who’ve not been in the building in three hundred years) was our location for post-prandial aperitifs by the fire. The club has the largest private library collection in the world, taking up some five floors. The member’s only South Library was a real treat, since people like myself aren’t really allowed in there. (Photo attached).
Saw and touched a chair used by Charles Dickens to write in. Another chair, long story I’ll tell you later, owned by Charles Darwin nearby. They were admitted to membership on the same day.
It was the sort of club a hundred years ago that was loathe to admit women, though they readily took Catholics and Jews. (Queen Victoria was admitted to dine and drink as a member’s wife, you see). Tonight was Robert Burns night. Kilts flapping about, Burns poetry, and wonderfully, six bagpipers and a drummer on the central stairwell as we ascended to the Drawing Room after dinner.
To my delight (and the surprise of a few), I was able to quote a line from a Robbie Burns poem (To a Louse: 1786):
O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us!
Jim Lies took a couple of pictures of me in the Members Only Library, we retired to the fire, had a last drink and headed out the door for home. It’s unlikely Jim (a C.S.C.) and I will ever have another experience like that again. I’ll fill you in on a few details in Florence.
For now, best wishes from Suffolk Street SW!