Thursday, December 25, 2014

Back In Oxford

This is me hugging the Radcliffe Camera, because I love it. LOVE.

This post was written intermittently during my all-too-brief week in Oxford.  I got three weeks off of school for Christmas, and because Maurizio was going to be in Oxford that week, anyway (on his way to a ski trip, which he wanted me to join as well, but having never skied before and not being altogether certain I would like it, I thought I would save the money this year and maybe try it when we live a bit closer to some slopes), I decided to join him in my favourite city and then go home to New Jersey for the other two weeks.  My family assured me they could spare me a bit longer (though they would always prefer that I spend all my time at home!), and I found a flight that wasn’t too crazily expensive.  And I am so, so very glad that I did it!

Thistly Cross...thanks, Chequers!
It is possible that I had the rose-tinted glasses of fond memories—as well as a not-altogether-positive feeling about my current abode—firmly affixed as I traveled back to Oxford, but I was enough aware of them to be on my guard and to pay special attention to my feelings.  I was curious to see if things might have changed, if the absence of the majority of the people with whom I had studied would alter the face of the city for me.  They always say that a college town feels completely different once you are no longer part of the university, and I would say that is true for Oxford, but because I lived there for two years after I finished my studies, I was able to establish enough of a non-university network to sustain me even as those doing their various degrees came and went.  Of course, I was always attached to the university through the rowing team, as well as through an associate membership with the MCR, so maybe I am not entirely qualified to comment on the matter.  Perhaps all I can say is that visiting Lincoln and having Carmella remember my name was at the same time a comforting surprise, and exactly how things ought to be.

I am here and it is wonderful!  I have wanted to be back in Oxford since the moment I left it, and now I get to be here, albeit for a very short time.  Already my week in this beloved town is more than half-spent.  But I have had such good times, and I have been so very happy.  There has been rowing, cycling, meeting up with old friends, much drinking of tea and of cider (hurrah for The Chequers always having Thistly Cross on tap!), visiting of favourite haunts, admiring of beautiful buildings, greeting everyone and everything with a smile (“good morning, street sweeper!” “Good morning, Rad Cam!” “Good morning, Isis!”), and being welcomed back by people as varied as the lady at the bank, the man at Boots, and the gang at the Half Moon.

It turned much darker a day or two later.
There have been two major mishaps, which have served only slightly to detract from the joy of this trip. The first was on Sunday night after rowing, when I was cycling back up to the house where we are staying.  I was on the Cowley Road, going past what I thought was a parked car (no lights on or anything), when the door opened right in front of me.  I cried out and swerved but couldn’t avoid hitting it pretty hard, and I was knocked off the bike.  The man was very defensive when he got out, shouting that there was no way he could have seen me (despite my flashing lights) and that he had definitely looked in the rear view mirror before opening the door, but eventually he helped me up and checked my bike and asked if I were okay.  I had a bleeding scratch on my hand and my left arm was sore, but I said I thought I was all right, and I got back on the bike and rode away.  The shock of it had me crying all the way here, and everyone was worried about me, but Allan took care of my bike and Elaine fed me a delicious dinner, so things brightened up considerably.  My upper ribs are probably bruised, because it hurts when I stretch them, and I have a pretty serious bruise and scrape across my arm, which was swollen all that night and still hurts days later, but I will survive. 

Then, on Monday morning I was supposed to row at 6:55, and Maurizio set the alarm on his new phone, but I guess he did something wrong, because it didn’t go off, and we woke up at 7:45 and I had no way to contact anyone, and I was extremely upset, because leaving people stranded by the river in the early morning is the WORST thing for a rower to do and I never, ever do it under normal circumstances.  I sent apologetic emails and Facebook messages, and eventually found a phone number for the coach/coxswain, who was probably back in bed when I got through to him, and who accepted my apologies with a sigh and told me to get some rest.  The next morning I brought homemade peanut butter to the boathouse as a form of peace pipe, but I still felt terrible.  Thankfully, the Lincoln College Boat Club will always comprise the most classy and generous people in the world, so I was forgiven and permitted to row again.

Dear, dear friends.
One of the most wonderful parts about being back has been the opportunity to catch up with some of the incredible people that I became friends with during and after my studies.  I have told them on more than one occasion that I felt it nearly miraculous that we had all happened to be here together, because I had never before met people more in tune with my mind and way of thinking, more like me in a most fundamental and unconscious way, more naturally destined to be my friends by virtue of our perfectly kindred spirits. It seems silly to think of it in these terms, but it was like finding a group of soul mates from all over the world, who had, for some inexplicable reason, an innate connection with me.  Even more miraculous was the discovery that time and distance had not dulled this connection, and we caught up on each other’s lives and shared opinions and feelings with the same ease we had always had, and were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves so much in agreement.

Best hosts in the world!
Now I am in the plane flying home across the Atlantic, and though I am very happy to be seeing my family, I remain very sad to tear myself away once more from that ancient city of dreaming spires. Today I visited Lincoln and stumbled upon the wedding of an old acquaintance, and I saw that one of his groomsmen was my college adviser.  After giving them many hugs and congratulations, and telling them I might be back for a D.Phil (which plan both heartily endorsed), I stopped by the Radcliffe Camera and gave it a hug.  I told it that I would be back soon, and I hope that is true.  Finally, I had a coffee with Allan and Elaine, who have been the most excellent hosts to me and Maurizio this week, before getting onto the AirLine bus and riding off to Heathrow.

I have gloried in every moment spent in Oxford, and felt more than a bit of nostalgia and longing, but really a sense of coming home which I actually had not quite expected to feel.  I have spoken to many people this week about the possibility of applying for a D.Phil, and I think really I must do it, because I need to be back there, where I feel that I belong.
The final sunset, from Heathrow

In 1823, literary critic William Hazlitt wrote the following in an essay about Oxford:

"There is an air about it, resonant of joy and hope: it speaks with a thousand tongues to the heart: it waves its mighty shadow over the imagination: it stands in lowly sublimity, on the "hill of ages"; and points with prophetic fingers to the sky: it greets the eager gaze from afar, "with glistering spires and pinnacles adorned," that shine with an internal light as with the lustre of setting suns; and a dream and a glory hover round its head, as the spirits of former times, a throng of intellectual shapes, are seen retreating or advancing to the eye of memory...We could pass our lives in Oxford without having or wanting any other idea -- that of the place is enough."

Clearly, I concur.  Farewell for now, Oxford.  See you soon.

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