Thursday, October 30, 2008

English Eventide


Afternoon is hail.

The sky goes dark, clouds sweep in
shivering bare trees that crane over stone
and gaze down on leaves who have lost their way
golden and crumbling, scuffing on bridges, blowing
in the bus exhaust and the bicycles that sweep on by
dodging signs and faces, moving forward in the rain.

I walk on beneath the townhouses leaning together
like old men resting a moment on the cobbled hills
and the towers that raise their faces to the rain.

On Cornmarket Street
there's the bagpiper
you can hear him for a long way
lively jig or searing lament, coins glittering
on the plaid spread before him
keeping time with his own toe
not caring who watches, watching them
go back and forth and pour in streams from
glass and steel and stone, veiling
in the rain.

Tourists take shelter beneath the eaves
of modern shops and glowing windows,
playgrounds for the wealthy, their shells
left empty on the grilles that open to
subterranean windows: fast-food wrappers
skittering in the wind, caught short in their flight
against the craning stalks of lampposts, holding aloft
golden blown-glass orbs to pin back the onrushing rain.

Above them there are windows, some dark, some barred
some glowing with a light, and below you see your reflection
locked deep in the sheened cement beneath your feet
and water runs from the curb and gathers in the broken cobbles
and around you the human tiderush, moving in quick
fractions from the negative of a film-freeze, seen through
the looking-glass, and heads down and umbrellas and scarves
jackets and shopping bags held up against to guard
the hissing susurrus and silent crystalline moments
of the clattering fall of hail, bringing down
the clouds and mist and rain.


Evening is clearing.

The clouds break and a breath of flame
touches the low-lying streamers in the north
and the bell-towers rear head and shoulders
back above the scurrying maze of people
to stand there, to reach, ancient walls and
high crenellations standing side by side
with Starbucks and McDonalds, a brightness
a modern plasticity where you step for a moment
you could be anywhere, but then you come free
and down past the tangled wynds with names
like Penny Farthing Lane and Starwort Road
narrow cobbled side roads closing out the sky
and shadows dancing in the licking remnants
of the starburst falling rainstorm now gone.

There in a moment you're alone, and the noise
of civilization gone behind you, you step into the
grounds of a castle, there among the houses on the hill
and the buses and the shops, for a moment you disappear
into history. At the far end of the wall, a buttress tower
and a flag at the top, you stand there, gaze at it
in the light of the dimming sunset, and hear,
"Hurry, my lady.... and go with God."
Footsteps on cobbled stones, and the snows of midwinter
thousands of years ago, brought here in a moment
close enough to touch.

English eventide.
Placing your notebook on the ancient ring wall
bordering a green faerie hill
to button your jacket against
the oncoming chill.
Tucking your scarf in
and turning away
Emerging from darkness
The last of the day.
And in a moment,
civilization returns.

Absorbed in again beneath the gaze
of the towers, who have seen
more than this
more than you.

You walk then, and wish
"you" could see through "my" eyes
a moment that the lens cannot touch
glass dappled with rain.

Step forward, and you're free then
among the hordes waiting at the bus station
and then you're there, not caring
thinking things like, Jesus, Christ Church is beautiful
and watching the wall bend away
through the low trees, looking for its end
lost in the mist.

English eventide:
The streetlamps still catching
an edge of gold on the trees
and the spidered ironwork
clutching a gasp of pale sky
high on the stone cupola
in the ancient towers gilded
by the deepening darkness
and the soft-coming mist
and here on the eve of All Saints
you believe, although what
you couldn't say.
and somewhere, for a moment
barely heard but echoing
shivering the air, to touch
but not to bring back, there and gone:


Thursday, October 23, 2008

The All-Purpose Oxford Update

So I realized that even though I currently don't have any new photos, I do need to update my blog. Readers of my previous efforts will remember that I am not the world's most fastidious updater. Shut up. Although this might have been prompted by me having a dream last night that I would get $11 for every blog post and doing my best to bring my subconscious to life (yes, I am poor) it would also behoove me just to keep a semi-regular record so when I make references to things in the future, you will have some clue as to what I am talking about. But in general, I am not updating not because I am a lazy slob (debate me on that point later if you must) but because I am really, really busy. Take yesterday for example. Up bright and early, a half-hour walk to Wadham to return my library books and meet up with the school chaplain and four other student tutors, then take a bus out to the Oxford suburbs to tour the primary school where we'll be working.

(NB: I am now a member of said student tutoring program, which is a weekly commitment to take the bus out to Blackbird Leys and spend an hour or two both reading with the kids and providing a kind of big-sister support they may not get at home. It sounds like a lot of fun and a great opportunity, and I'm looking forward to it officially kicking off in two weeks). Once we got back from the school, it was lunchtime, so I had time to scarf down a Cornish pasty and a milkshake (found a great little shake store with a lot of character) and do some reading before packing up and heading off to my psych tutorial. (Tutorials, in case I haven't fully explained, are the core of the Oxford educational system and consist of your tutor assigning you a stack of books/research papers to read, and an essay or presentation to write, then you get to sit there for an hour and basically listen to them give you detailed point-by-point feedback on what they think you need to do better. It is an intellectually humiliating but ultimately worthwhile experience, and the SLC system is based in part on that -- we have regular classes and classwork, but we also meet every other week with our professor in order to pursue an independent topic that we then write a very long "conference paper" about at the end of term. So SLC has prepared me for this, and I imagine it would be a shock if I was coming from a big state university).

In any case, once the tutorial was over, I had gotten hit with another stack of homework for the next one -- books, papers, etc. etc. So I went to the Experimental Psychology library to pick them up, but since they were overnight-only loan (lame) I took them back to Wadham and parked in the Wadham library for the afternoon, read them and took notes on those bad boys, then went all the way back to the Experimental Psych library (getting dizzy yet?) to return them, before going (yes) all the way back to Wadham again for a meeting on the other half of the student tutoring program. (Do your feet get frequent walker miles? Maybe I'll get crap for free). Anyway, that means I'm going to London tomorrow (Friday) after my writing tutorial, to work with two other students to put on a workshop about the Normans. (So it's my task to get them to do creative pieces about William and Harold. Okay, I can handle that).

I've spent the afternoon doing some housecleaning and reading my way furiously through three of the four books I need to have finished by tomorrow, which has been enjoyable. It's actually raining here, which is not as expected as it might sound (the weather has, for the most part, been great). Quiet evening, maybe some dinner later, and then busy tomorrow before the weekend hits. That's not too much different, as I no longer have Saturdays (they are used to write my psychology essays, since that's the first off-day I have) but at least I have Sundays, in which I have continued my long-established routine of finding a coffee shop and chilling for a few hours before attending the Wadham College Evensong service, which is transformative and beautiful. I have quite enjoyed being able to reconstruct a spiritual side of myself, and Oxford has helped tremendously with that, among others. I have found myself thinking of it as home, even my little flat out here on Iffley Road with my three other flat-mates. I'm always out, doing things, keeping busy, seeing people, planning, and not to mention, all that homework. Yeesh. Still, I wouldn't have it any other way.

In summation: yes, alive, yes, happy, yes, busy. Whoof. I'll check in again whenever I feel like it's been a while or something interesting happens, whichever happens first.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Photo Diary: Downtown Oxford

After a few days mainly characterized by vast amounts of walking and attempting to stop spending money, I now have another photo diary to post (and looking through my album, I see that I took a crapload of pictures, so this may have to go in two parts). This covers downtown Oxford (Broad, High, and Cornmarket Streets) along with some (read: one, more will come later) shots of the Bodleian, and Balliol, Merton and Christ Church colleges. After I was done meeting my psych tutors today, I just, uh, took the very long way home. And get to truck all the way out to North Oxford tomorrow to meet my writing tutor, so I'll take more pictures then, and I also need to get started on my first official Oxford assignment (YAY). It's for psych, about social cognition in infants. But that's the boring stuff. The pictures are more interesting.

The entrance into the Bodleian quad. As you can see on the left, a great deal of Oxford is being renovated right now.

The Sheldonian Theatre, where 'freshers' get to go for Matriculation. Which is, they put on silly gowns and do a lot of prancing about. Since I am not a fresher, nor enrolled at the University for the full duration of my undergraduate work, I sadly get to miss dressing up and prancing.

Looking from the Bodleian down Broad Street. Balliol is just a bit further and on the right.

A peek into Balliol, which depending on who you ask is the oldest or second-oldest college in Oxford. Amusingly, the board just to the bottom of the shot claims that it's the oldest with a founding date of 1263, but they might want to take that up with University College, which claims a 1249 founding date.

Almost at the corner of Broad and Cornmarket Streets. Just to the right there is a small church and a graveyard.

And this is the graveyard. Probably haunted, like most of Oxford is supposed to be.

My camera has a bewildering habit of deciding to flash or not to flash (it must be the electronic Hamlet) whenever it wants (or does not want) to, so this picture is a little dark. In any case, this is one of the oldest buildings on Cornmarket Street, at the corner of Cornmarket and Ship.

Looking back down Cornmarket.

A part of the Examination Schools, which are apparently hiding all the lectures in Oxford.

Cobbled Merton Street, which leads off High Street.

A corner of Merton College.

A better look at the tower.

And the front of the Merton tower. As you can see, it was actually a lovely day, which evidently is something of a rarity for England, but I'm getting a bit spoiled, since both today and yesterday were so nice. And as I was leaving, they actually rang the bells, which was both unexpected and quite nice.

One side of the front quad of Christ Church College, which is one of the largest, most beautiful, and most tourist-centric colleges in Oxford.

The other side of the front quad.

The distinctive bell tower of Christ Church. Again, my camera playing shenanigans with the lighting, also partly due to the shadows.

I just realized I forgot to get a picture of the staircase into Hall, which I could swear was the one where they filmed Harry and Co.'s arrival at Hogwarts in the first movie (it looked awfully familiar...) That is bothering me. In any case, since bits of Christ Church were used for Potter, it's probably shown up somewhere.

Christ Church Hall. I am now realizing that several of these photos are a little blurry for some reason, which is annoying. I didn't think I was waving the camera around.

Looking the other way in Christ Church Hall.

The interior of Christ Church Cathedral, but this picture is also rather blurry for some strange reason. Clearly, supernatural activity.

The altar in Christ Church Cathedral.

Looking back to the bell tower from the entrance to the cathedral.

This is I believe the entrance to Queen's College, with the spires of Magdalen (pronounced, bewilderingly, Maudlin) in the background.

Somewhere on High Street. No, I can't remember where.

In any case, there will be more pictures tomorrow, since I'll take a detour through the Bodleian on my way back from North Oxford. I ran a test route on Wednesday and am halfway certain I know where I am going, and I have proved to be remarkably adept at navigating, but even then, this could end in humiliating failure.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Photo Diary: London

So here are the results of my trip to London, gleaned before my camera decided to die (fortunately, nothing TOO interesting was missed due to its determination to eat my batteries). The SLC group hit up the Tower of London together, but after lunch, we were left to do our own thing, and my friend Kimberley and I had a fine time knocking about London and seeing the sights, all the while attempting to locate the bus that would eventually take us back to Oxford. (What we learned: find a helpful Irishman). We got to Westminster and Buckingham Palace, then wandered somewhere past Hyde Park, getting rather tired, before we ran into said helpful Irishman, then dozed for most of the hour-long coach trip back to Oxford.

Once we got back, it was dark, and we were hungry, so we decided to go find some dinner. We ended up at the Bear, which is the oldest and supposedly most haunted pub in Oxford, and I would have gotten some pictures of it if my camera hadn't been farted out. Accessed down a narrow cobblestone street, it's tiny, with the narrowest stairs imaginable up to the ladies' room, and dark wood panels just a few inches above my head (and I'm a pretty tallish woman). It has hundreds and hundreds of college ties in picture frames on the wall, each signed by someone, and I'm sure there were a lot of luminaries included there, but didn't get a chance to look at all of them. It was quite noisy and boisterous, and Kim and I sat in the back with dinner -- I got a very English meal, fish and chips and a pint of beer. After that, I finally took the bus back home to my flat, which is where I am now, somewhat dismayed at the fact that I keep having to miss all the baseball playoff games. Other than that, and the small money issue, I've decided I never want to come back. Unfortunately, I might have to.

Onto the photos!The entrance to the Tower of London. In case you couldn't tell or something.

Tower Bridge.

This I believe is the White Tower, the central building of the Tower of London (according to our tour guide, a Yeoman Warder of the Tower who also happened to be extremely amusing, there are twenty towers in total, 6 in the outer ward, 13 in the inner ward, and one in the middle. Did you know that? Now you do). The White Tower dates back to 1078 and was built by William the Conqueror, and again there was some renovation going on on the right side that I decided to edit out.

This is Traitor's Gate, the entrance to the Tower from the Thames, through which they brought prisoners. The entrance is boarded up on the river side now, but the gate remains... I think this is one of the coolest pictures I got.

The Bloody Tower, where a lot of the Tower's trademark goriness took place. That portcullis you see is 700 years old, and allegedly it is a bad idea to pause beneath it (so said our tour guide) because the ropes holding it up are also 700 years old... Speaking of the many famous prisoners who were held there, they included two of the wives of Henry VIII (Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard) and Lady Jane Grey. We went into the Tower chapel, where they're buried and which is beautiful, but we were not allowed to take pictures, so that went sadly unrecorded. Take my word for it, it was cool. We also saw where Sir Isaac Newton used to live, but I didn't get a picture of that either. Also, we heard that the first man and last man executed on Tower Green were both named Simon, and the latter was Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat, a leader of the second Jacobite Rebellion. If you're a fan of the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon such as I am, you will know why that's cool. William Wallace was also executed here. (Think Braveheart, except more historically accurate).

A window slit in Beauchamp Tower, one of the inner ward towers, which is famous for having a number of scriptures and names carved into the walls by prisoners there. They've taken most of them out and preserved them now, but there are still a few.

Me in Beauchamp Tower. It was actually a lot darker than this, but then my camera decided to turn its flash back on.

The Tower ravens. Some king (can't remember, it might have been one of the Edwards or Jameses) stipulated that six ravens be kept on the grounds at all times, since legend goes that if they ever leave, the Tower and the monarchy will crumble, and various horrible things will befall England. So, this is 2008, do they still believe in that superstition? Do they still keep six ravens on the grounds? Nah! They keep nine, just in case.

The River Thames from the top deck of our boat, which had a very Cockney tour guide. He said both "nuffink" and "summat," which I thought was very amusing.

Kim with the Tower Bridge in the background, this while we were boating for the wait to leave.

Outside entrance to the Traitors' Gate, which as I said, is boarded up (no need to take prisoners in anymore. The last prisoner held at the Tower was Hitler deputy Rudolf Hess at the end of WWII). But it's still cool.

Not that notable a picture, eh? Well, until you take into account that that unremarkable-looking concrete span is London Bridge. And yes, I know I just stuck that song in your head.

The white building on the right is the working replica of the Globe Theatre, which of course is a famous place for Shakespeareites.

St. Paul's Cathedral, as seen from the Thames. Sir Christopher Wren, the famous 17th-century English architect who designed it, went to Wadham. So yay Wadham.

The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben on our approach to Westminster Pier.

Big Ben from directly underneath.

Part of Westminster Abbey. In sheer jaw-dropping grandeur, Westminster takes the cake -- this is definitely the place where we were acting most like tourists. It is just beautiful. Most unfortunately we didn't get to go inside since Saturday visiting hours end at 1.30 pm, but we're planning to return for an Advent service.

The front of St. Margaret's Church, part of Westminster.

Me at Westminster.

Detail of Westminster Abbey.

The front of Westminster. Like I said, beautiful. I wish we'd have gotten to go inside, but I guess that comes later.

The gates of Buckingham Palace. Most unfortunately here was where my camera decided to give up the ghost, so the photos have to end here. Note to self: keep more batteries on hand.

Tomorrow I have an offday, so I'm going to sleep in (it's been a busy week) and run some errands. Back to Broad Street, which is also a beautiful part of Oxford, and to the grocery store, which is slightly less exciting. Next week focuses on activities for Wadham "freshers," so we have more spare time. However, I do get to meet my college mum and siblings on Monday, which I am looking forward to. Funnily enough, after formal dinner in Hall last night, I went to the college bar with some of my friends, and ended up meeting my college father, brother, and grandfather. (My college mum's college husband, his college son, and his college father. I have a whole family now. Who knew).

Friday, October 3, 2008

Photo Diary: Day 1

So here are the photos that I took during my first day rubbernecking in Oxford, which was yesterday. This really is an insanely gorgeous city, and since I've not started school yet, I can take photos without it being uncool. So... now that my internet is back (it went out for a full day, and then my housemate fixed it in two seconds... sigh... at least it's back) here we go. A pretty extensive photo diary, and my camera is coming with me tomorrow to London.

My gate at DIA when I first got there (A37, it already said London Heathrow over the door, which was exciting). Not many people. It's light. Now, there is a long time to wait.

My gate, minus the plane. Still in the daytime. This while I was kicking about and doing nothing in particular, trying to kill time. And no, that is not a ghost in the picture, that is the flash.

My gate. Now it is dark, a lot more time has gone by, and there are a lot more people. We are getting closer to departure, which means I am probably jumping out of my skin.

Shut up about my oh-so-witty commentary.

This is my plane at the gate, a Boeing 777 which means it had three sets of three seats and two aisles. Unfortunately, no pictures of the inside of the plane since a) it was night and I didn't want my irritating flash to bother people, and b) they might think I was a terrorist trying to scope out possible attack locations. So, no plane photos.


A photo while my bus was sitting at the departure gate in Heathrow. Notice the sunlight? It's actually been sunny for three whole days in a row. I'm getting my hopes up. This might be a bad idea.

A shot out the bus window of the typical winding Oxford street, lined with houses.

I am actually blanking on which of the colleges this is. So it's the front quad of one of them. Yes, I know, how terribly helpful.

A typical house on my walk in from my flat to Wadham.

The Fir Tree, your average corner pub. As in, there is one every block or so.

The front facade of University College.

The sign on Catte Street, the side brick-paved shortcut that leads past the Radcliffe Camera, Bodleian Library, and to Wadham.

Somewhere in the Bodleian section of buildings.

The front quad of Wadham College, my home college for the purposes of this year. I purposely cut out the right side of the picture because there is some renovation going on which is not quite as charming.

A closer look at the statues above the central doorway.

The back of the Wadham College Chapel, where services are sung by candlelight on Sunday evenings. I think I might go.

The college organ, which I've heard can make the floor shake. Oohhhh...

The interior of college chapel.

Wadham College Hall, where we had a fancy dinner. It looks great by candlelight.

A street bridge, this one taken from while we were crossing the Bodleian quad on our way to the bus stop home.

The view from the bus stop, where it had become a bit predictably gray and rainy. But hey, it was nice again today. I hardly know what to think.

Pictures to come from London tomorrow!