Thursday, December 17, 2009

Wrapping up Oxford

I’m getting some pressure to move on to India, so I’m going to try to please my public (Hi Mom!) and get on with it. But, I have to wrap up Oxford first, because I did some pretty neat stuff outside of pubs and eating myself silly.

I bought my travel journal midway through the week at Scriptum, a magical little store that specializes in Italian leather-bound journals and other writing equipment that could be from the last century. Upstairs they have bookends, Italian Carnivale masks, a fox head, and a model ship, along with used books, notepads, address books, and a few smaller journals. Downstairs is wall to wall gorgeous leather, wrapped around thick stacks of paper, in colors and styles that have been in vogue since forever. Writer friends, I know you love your moleskins, but these are far, far sexier. The store will stamp the leather for you if you want your journal to say something, like “Travels” for instance, but I had too much trouble committing to a genre. Maybe next time.

Later that evening I stumbled upon Evensong at Hertford College. In America, I frankly dislike organized religion – everything about it. The zealots, the nonsensical/insane practices, cannibalistic rituals…I can’t find anything good enough to redeem the bad. But in England, I feel completely differently. In England, religion and aesthetics go hand in hand. Truth is beauty, beauty is truth – Keats could have just as easily said that about English Christianity. It is beautiful. The churches, the music, even the ministers make me believe that the human spirit can transcend the animal and become sublime. Despite all the warm fuzzy feelings I get from English Christianity, it’s still, well, Christianity, and I get a little nervous around it. Going into a chapel, holding a book of Common Praise, standing up and sitting down along with prayers, it all gives me the heebie jeebies. And what if I do something wrong? At least I’m past the stage where I thought priests could read my mind (I was six, it’s not that weird). But as soon as the choir began to sing, I was put at ease. Such incredible beauty. And the minister, a round happy-looking woman, preached a message of acceptance and friendship. Oxford is particularly glorious in its secularism. They take the best parts of God and the best parts of man; zealotry is not allowed to spoil intellectual achievement or community.

Later in the week, Xander, Miranda and I met up with some journalists for drinks at the King’s Arms near the Sheldonian theater. Don’t ask me how Xander knows these people; he knows everybody. One was a reporter for radio, and the other a journalist for the BBC – Jamillah Knowles, if you want to google stalk. Despite my aspirations to become a journalist, I don’t get to hang out with journalists very often (like, at all) so this was a real treat. I didn’t want to come off as a rabid reporter wannabe, so I just let them talk. Lovely people! I love journalists. Intelligent, unpretentious (though that could be because they’re British), interesting, witty…sigh. I want to be a member of that club. Jamillah had just come back from Calcutta, so we got to talking about India. She was in town for a couple days covering the Museum of Science’s Steampunk exhibit and wanted to do a bit of sightseeing on her down time. Since the Pitt Rivers museum was on both of our To Do Lists, we wound up making a plan to go together with Xander as our guide the next day.

We needed a guide. Let me tell you, the Pitt Rivers museum is extremely hard to find. I didn’t even know we were there when we were stepping around giant fake dinosaur footprints in the front lawn. But the museum is worth the search: Skeletons of extinct monsters, touchable stuffed displays of creatures you wouldn’t want to touch if they were alive, cases of shrunken heads and totems. The building itself looks like it was made from the bones of a prehistoric beast.

On my second to last day, I had to check off the remaining items on my To Do list: climbing to the top of St. Mary’s (about a mile of narrow staircases for one of the best views in town – terrifying, tiring, and totally worth it); and taking a walking tour.
Walking tours around Oxford cost around £6.00, the cheapest entertainment in town next to buying a pint. Our guide took us in and out of a few of the colleges around the older parts of Oxford, into quads, dining halls and chapels. And I don’t remember one damned fact from the whole thing. I do remember feeling incredibly humbled and in awe standing beneath the portrait of Lawrence of Arabia (the spitting image of Peter O’Toole) in the dining hall of his old college.

The very last thing on my To Do List was to walk through Christchurch Meadows, the home of the luckiest cows in the world, and the smuggest squirrels.


Dogma said...

Lovin' reading about your trip and enjoying your photography as well. Great stuff on both counts.

Pocketmouse said...

That dinosaur head where the woman is touching it is rather hilarious. Something about it's expression...