Not Bath

I had a dream last night in which I sang along to a very accurate recording of Bob Dylan’s Senor.  I remember hearing the guitar, drum, and voice parts accurately for at least one verse:

      Well, the last thing I remember before I stripped and kneeled

      Was a train load o’ fools bogged down in a magnetic field

      A gypsy with a broken flag and a flashing ring

      Said, “Son, this ain’t a dream no more, it’s the real thing.”

      Stripped – There was a stripping pole in the Oxford bar that ASE students (and some staff) visited after our final dinner at University College.  Because our program is associated with Oxford, ASE spends one week of every semester at “Univ,” Oxford’s oldest college (1239?).  One item is circled amidst the other notes/random words that I will select for the blog:

             ‘March 26, 2009.  2:02pm  I’m going to Thom Yorke’s house.’

  Thom Yorke, the lead member of alternative rock group, Radiohead, is reputed to live in pale yellow house at the intersection of St. John’s and Pusey Street, Oxford, England.  Of course, despite the frantic showers and bitter winds that afternoon, I had to make the trip.  But this was not my FIRST attempt.   

My first attempt began at 1:15 on a cloudless afternoon when I saw the last of my program’s punting boats (ASE Punting: 1pm!) floating away on the Thame’s River.  Having overslept my nap, I had arrived just a few minutes too late to join my friends in moving a boat along the water with a long wooden stick.  In an effort to turn lemons into lemonade, I decided to semi-lose myself in Oxford, walking down main and not-main streets alike in a completely arbitrary search for St. John’s street.  Needless to say, I never found it.  But I did stumble upon a beautiful park (which was fenced in, so I couldn’t enter) and a Subway (which, despite wanting to find something ‘authentic’ was delicious.  12 inch chicken teriaki sub and a still water, please.  

But, yes, Caroline and Lauren, ironically two of the few people I had told of my stalkerish intentions, found me on my SECOND attempt, leaving the great castle doors that separate Univ’s campus and students from the petty and possibly dangerous townsfolk that lurk outside its hallowed walls. So we walked along High and Cornmarket Street (Oxford’s main streets), which are just as bustling and colorful as Bath’s (but perhaps with more chains like McDonald’s and Next), more city-like.  Alas, when we arrived, (just about a 15 minute walk from campus) I realized that

ALL of the houses at the intersection of St. John’s and Pusey Street have a ‘pale yellow tinge’

Damnit.  But the weather had lightened up, and so, regardless of whether Thom Yorke actually lived in the general vicinity, my friends and I took some pictures of me in creepy stalkerish poses on the sidewalk (i.e. my facebook profile picture).  True, we didn’t actually ring Thom’s doorbell dressed as girlscouts (like we said we would) and offer him cookies.  But I like to think that his band wasn’t touring South America, that Mr. Yorke looked out from his window and laughed at the boy in his black jacket and black umbrella, dressed entirely inappropriately for bright sunny day that chose to arrive just when we did, at his maybe-hopefully-intersection/house/…doorstep?.

Kneeled– I attended mass at Christ Church.  It’s such a large cathedral that I deleted ‘church’ and typed in ‘cathedral.’  I’m pretty sure there are multiple altars, and that we were only in a specific section.  The entire mass, not being a full service, was just the liturgy of the word.  The chants and songs were sung, mostly in latin, by an excellent all-male choir.  The only let-down was the priest’s homily, which came as the scripted, somewhat nervous voice that broke the mass’s unrelenting authority with a kind of thoughtless gossamer.  So, you’re saying that it is our duty to have children?  Ok…     

Certainly, Oxford had several other highlights which don’t necessarily correspond to Dylan’s song (which are also hard to recall in favor of my ‘aromatic duck wrap, with plum and hoisin sauce.’  See? Variety):

1.  A piano room.  Finally, after nearly two months, I could make my favorite chords again.  I have already forgotten a few details in certain songs, even the middle section in Radiohead’s Reckoner.  And I had no idea how thin the walls were.  Given that this is England: very, very thin.  Still, it felt amazing.

2.  Meg, the wandering Oxford dog.  Well, not really.  She is the porter’s dog, but we would always see her wandering about the quad.  The porter said she gets all the attention that homesick students wish they could give to their pets at home.  What a spoiled mut.

3.  The quad:  imagine a prison.  Now imagine that hundreds of academic scholars pay thousands of dollars to willfully attend that prison.  And rightfully so.  Oxford colleges were meant to keep commoners OUT, and they still look that way.  The good news is that everybody’s window faces out into the quad, and (if I was a choir director), I would insist that my students invade every room, fling open the windows, and begin warm-ups.  Baritones would take the first floor windows, tenors the second, and so on and so forth.  A suround sound of voices would drown out the damned Oxford bells which ring 5 minutes AHEAD of Greenwhich meantime.  Like A1 steaksauce, they are just that important. 

The Disco:  Well, that’s what any englishperson over 40 apparently calls a ‘dance party.’  Staff and students mingled/danced at the disco party.  I learned that Jonothan (Mementos Professor) is a poolshark, that Barbara (Dean) really did dance with David Bowie (she also reccomended that I grow my hair out which, at this point, I might as well do), and that Andy (Dean of Social Life) shares my taste of dance moves.  Yes.  For about 30 seconds, he and I were center stage dancing face to face with one another. 

Listening to Michael explain/reinact Shakespeare:  In addition to the several conversations we shared on art, philosophy, religion, feminism, etc, my friend Michael gave me a roughly unchronoligical description/interpretation of Othello’s major characters and plot points.  I probably know Othello better than the average highschool reader.  Although I can hardly spell “Iago,” I could tell you why he is the prime example of the villian who is not.   I can also tell you that if your conversations are compelling enough, a random stranger is bound to join in.  Yep.  Walking down the streets of Oxford, a man overheard Michael and I talking about the secular vs. secular-christian views on religion.  He had been walking along side us for quite some time, and I had noticed that his head was tilted slightly in our direction.  Finally he chimes in:

“You know, having recently converted to Christianity, I’ve found myself pondering the same questions…”

So we had this three way conversation for about ten minutes which ended in a general respect for eachother’s views and a handshake.  Michael said that this kind of thing should happen more and I agree.

The Kebab Truck, Ben’s Cookies, C + G’s Icecream, The Mission (American equivalent: Chipotle):  Delicious.  Thankyou.

PART II of “NOT BATH”:  Ireland

Train load o’ fools – The morning after our last night in Oxford, my friends and I woke up to catch a bus, then a plane, then another bus to Iassac’s Hostel in Dublin, Ireland.  Unfortunately, I must continue this epic adventure in a Part II of my Not Bath blog.  I need to read Slaughterhouse 5, a couple of children’s books, and do some ‘creative writing.’

Preliminary reflections, Scotch Mist

Right now, I’m looking at a bunch of random words….‘Light bulb’, ‘Jamaican street-performer,’ ‘Guda cheese,’ ‘rooftop that says, PREPARE TO MEET YOUR GOD,’ etc. It’s hard to know where to start in this now-almost six week experience in Bath. So I thought I would do some free association by means of Wilco’s ‘Jesus, etc.’ I swear, this will work. And besides, it’s much more fun than starting with ‘Once Upon a Time’ in Bath.

Jesus, don’t cry
You can rely on me, honey
You can combine anything you want
I’ll be around
You were right about the stars
Each one is a setting sun

‘Sun’ Bath has plenty of sunshine. ‘Rainy England,’ despite geography and ocean winds, seems no more rainy than Carlisle/Danville. It’s already getting warmer and brighter. But for you, new reader, it’s still a cold and wintry Bath, England. So cold that you have to wear your gloves and sweatshirt to sleep to fight against the draft. And, go figure, the fireplace in your room doesn’t actually work. That’s right, it was hard times living in your million-dollar uptown apartment (I’m not kidding; location, location, location)
Maids: only come once a week, and, by that time, its already a total pigsty.
Maybe if you had 3 refigerators instead of two.
Maybe if it wasn’t too cold to go out into your walled english garden or walk 5 minutes to Victoria Park. (Even Nicolas Cage only vacations here on the Christmas Holiday).

To quote Cage, “I would probably come here more often if Bath wasn’t so packed with trendy shops, fancy restaurants, and small european cars that don’t signal. And the people!? Ugh! Fashioned-concious rich types and more street performers/simple beggars that I can count on my hand.” Actually, Cage did compare Bath to a “snowglobe, frozen in time.” But we are quite hip, too. I’ve seen people in the streets sing, play the flute (or guitar, drums, buckets, a giant wood-carved oboe, a violin while balanced with one foot on a string), a guy who rides a unicycle while juggling knives in a tutu, and the list goes on.
FYI: That last guy did an entire magic show and called on me to help him balance the unicycle so he could mount it. Of course, as his partner, I had to wear a tutu skirt as well.

And there IS a jamaican street performer, who sings Reggae. He looks is so completely out of place, yet is such an integral part of Bath culture at the same time. My favorite number of his goes a little something like this:
“Oh, I am freezin’. Yes, I am freezin’. Oh, Lord, I’m freezing from the bottom of my heart!” I make a point to give him some change when I see him (Note: I am not done yet talking about the Jamaican singer, as I am not done talking about most of these things. But, alas, I am straying from my song…)

‘Honey’ The food is better here. WHAT? …Yeah. The selection is amazing (vague!) Ok then: Prawn crisps, Apple and Mango Squash (concentrated juice), A sort of fetish for pre-made sandwiches, just two kinds beings english breakfast and salmon/cucumber. AND, ready? If I was an English businessman, I would introduce pasties to the Americans. Meat in a pastry; that’s it. Why haven’t we thought of it? Sure, it can be found in remote areas of Pennslyvania, but why isn’t there one in every town? That makes two products I would sell as a businessman: pasties, and scented candles that, if you so desired, you could eat.

I have to read 200 pages of 100 Years of Solitude for tomorrow, so I must stop. I have covered about .002% of my stay here. But no worries. Because I have jotted down so much more…Dr. Who, sushi, elderflower and lemon tea, an imposter peter pan…its going to take a while, but I’m going to try. But, for now, goodnight.