Oxford Research, Take Two: the scenic route

As it turns out, there is more than one way to see Oxford

My previous trip to Oxford was as a student–I remember the harrowing sense of urgency, feeling behind the eight-ball and out of place. I also recall great trepidation lest someone else realize just how out of place I was, as if there were a brute squad waiting to haul me away as another great pretender. Now, several years later (plus an advanced degree that required mental vivisection and a continental move that required extraordinary relational fortitude), I find Oxford a more congenial place. A friend, Nadia, once recommended a to-do list as a sojourner here, and I have been endeavoring to make good.

Oxford is a little big city. When you are jostling elbows on Cornmarket, or fighting your way through George Street at rush hour–or trying not to be run over by rabid bicyclists near Blackwell’s–you might think you were in a booming metropolis. However, a short walk past the rail and Abbey street put’s you in Port Meadow. (A correspondingly short walk puts you in the University parks). And, if you are feeling courageous about your footwear, you can take the 50 minute walk along the Thames, ending in Wolvercote (and a pint at the Trout Inn). I decided to take this on, after purchasing a pair of sandals; my knee boots were a touch uncomfortable in the 75+ F weather. Setting off, I followed the Thames to a farm path, and then side-tracked to the Perch Inn (trout, perch, are you seeing a pattern?) The lovely local had a sign in the front depicting Alice’s tea party in Wonderland–and so it seemed only appropriate to have tea there.

And so I did, as you can see… Under an old willow tree. It was very literary, I think. After my brief Lewis Carroll moment, I walked on through open grazing ground (I mean that–watch where you step) to a ruined abbey. Off to the right was a lock where river boats were coming through, and just off the road was the Trout Inn. I cannot say much for the service, sadly; I was seated outside and the waitress, of which there was only one, seemed a bit behind the eight ball herself. It was an entertaining view, however, including the bridge, the falls, the ducks. Yes, ducks. They were worse than pigeons for begging, flew right up from the river and would poke their heads over the edge of the nearest table. Funny, really, they did not beg from me. It might be the fact I was eating duck pate… the salad was worth remarking on, though. I must try it at home–Andrea will like it, I think: Fresh greens, thin-sliced fennel, pomegranate and feta rolled in chili powder, dressed with a lemon and oil with fresh pepper.

Now, I should mention that at this point, the new walking shoes were raising complaints from my feet, as I do not yet have summer sandal callouses. I was limping like a three-legged dog by the time I arrive back on Beaumont. Looking for a respite and some coffee, I happened into the Oxford Playhouse. There, advertised out front, was the Alston Dance Company. Ballet, you see, but very lyrical. They have gotten some good press, and they were playing three sets that night at 7:30. Some call it serendipity, others call it God… I tend to favor the latter, as I believe the Lord is a lover of dance and the arts. The sets began with Out of the Strong–danced to Prokofiev’s sixth Piano Sonata. I don’t know much about it, but I sat next to a retired Oxford Librarian who brought me up to speed on the piece. He was a treasure, actually, and made the night more enjoyable as theatre in general is a dish best shared.

The second piece was called Light Flooding into Darkened Rooms. It was intimate and choreographed to lute music. Somehow it seemed very sad to me, and yet the music was occasionally jarring. The result was my mind wondering and my eyes focusing on a moth which kept diving into the hot lights and tumbling like a suicide into the dark. This strangely captures my feelings about that dance, and though wonderfully done, I was happy to see it end.

The final piece was one they are well known for: Rough Cut. The program called it exuberant, and they weren’t exaggerating. What fun! The clarinet and the electric guitar, of all things, and leaping–dancing–wiggling. It was lovely. My favorite part might have been the work of one dancer; he was wiry and built small, but it seemed he was having more trouble staying attached to the ground than leaving it. Just fantastic!

And–let’s not forget–I DID get my creature comforts. The playhouse has two things to recommend it apart from its lovely shows. First, there is a second floor lounge with wi-fi. I ordered up a coffee and a bit of cake before the show (felt deserving after the long walk). Second, in this lounge is a bar, and if you are inclined you can order before the show to have wine delivered to you during intermission. And so, between pieces, I was looking out a long window and discussing the finer points of academic research with an agreeable librarian, Cabernet in hand. There is only one thing that would have improved the evening, and if you know me at all you can guess it–but alas, Mark is back home in the US, having returned to work last week.

An enjoyable day, overall, and one I am thankful to have experienced here in the scenic side of Oxford.

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