Oxford, the one in England

September 12, 2019

Back then, a book was my best traveling companion

When I told my New Orleans family and friends I’d be spending my summer after college graduation at Oxford, they assumed I’d be heading to northern Mississippi. Probably to pick cotton, for all the good my degree in Political Science was going to do me. When I told them it was “the one in England,” they still thought I was going to pick cotton. Planning to go back there this October after more than 45 years, I realize that picking cotton might have provided the needed structure in my life that neither childhood or adulthood has evidently provided.

Dinner date in Paris after going four years of college with only two

In bringing up my Oxford experience, I can no longer recall how I got from the continent to England back in 1971, but my hitch into Oxford was with a former student who told me that as impossible as it was to get into that hallowed university, it was just as impossible to flunk out. That was fine with me. My sponsors for this six-week “fellowship” had set no parameters of achievement, and I had no plans to step into that academic breach, so my ride’s inside intel was reassuring. It was to be, as the academics say, a gravy train.

We were “enrolled” in Exeter College, one of 80 colleges that comprise the university. It featured a dining hall dating back to the 1300s. We were fed as if the Black Plague held Oxford in its grip. I remember sitting down one evening to a dinner of lamb chop. (“chop” is not a typo) There was only one on the plate, which I had consumed in one bite, and then conspired with a group of fellow starving students to find a pub and get some dinner. We found one that featured full-throated singing, and I was able to regale my group and the locals with a couple of bawdy ballads I had learned on a side trip I had made to Ireland a short while back. The themes were jaunty tales of illegitimate births and ugly women (delineating a revelation of  specific body parts to the tune of a French folk song). These songs are all that I remember from the education portion of the “fellowship.”

The sophisticated Oxford tradition known as Punting

We were force fed cultural history. On a field trip to Stonehenge, a couple who had hooked up during our matriculation, spent an evening among the sarsen stones, and adding a fertility rite potentiality to the myth surrounding Stonehenge’s ancient origins for their efforts.

None of this is particularly informative, I know, but I wanted to share it, since it should help explain why none of my travel blogs have been particularly informative. But I insist it’s not dilitenttantism either. My depth of experience resides wholly in my imagination. External experience merely feeds it. That’s why I can return from a trip remembering so little to share about it,  save that it was as enriching and meaningful as always.

Two Soldiers of Fortune lacking only the fortune

You might ask, “well, that’s all very nice and self-centered, but how is that of any good to Carol? Remember Carol? She’s with you on these ‘adventures in the imagination.'” To which I’d offer only that I am aware of that, and that she has added immeasurably to the enrichment and meaning of our travel experiences. In fact she has a phrase for it that she frequently employs when sees me staring off into space: “Where are you?”

This blog has been about nothing, yet it’s been a lot of fun. For me, anyway.