Tuesday was lunch with a friend from college who’s studying here in Oxford. It was a nice reminder that though paths diverge, they can also come back together unexpectedly, even if it’s in the middle of a hectic schedule in a busy city, and even if it’s only just for lunch. Unfortunately in all the catching up, I forgot to take a photo of said friend and food! Dinner time was fusion-y SE Asian food. This was pho+laksa, which was super delicious, but I wouldn’t quite call them pho+laksa. Do you sense a pattern in our food choices? Let’s say we’re stocking up on a certain palate before an uncertain food future.
Wednesday morning spouse played hooky from conferencing and was our adven-tour day. We took a walking tour in the morning (for free 99) of the historic university city with a fantastic guide, which really satisfied my inner history nerd. We were late so the group left us, but after some grumbling and wandering and poking around, we found them and were able to join right in! I did a paid tour of one specific library last year, but there’s so much here that I was happy to do it all again. Everything here seems to be a superlative–the “first” or “oldest” or “largest” of something. The oldest English-speaking university in the world. The first pub ever. The Bodleian library has the rights to any English-language book and periodical ever published in the entire world forever, and their already massive collection is growing by the millions so quickly that they’re running out of space. It’s like a hoarder’s fantasy. They essentially have a monopoly on all print written in this language. I’ve got to say, there has got to be a kind of serious superiority complex about this place. The cradle of the empire. But I digress–more on this later. Went into the first Oxford college ever, learned about gargoyles and grotesques (functional vs. nonfunctional), and why the exterior walls of lots of buildings in the city have indelible black soot on them (pollution from burning coal up until the 1950s, when the clean air act went into effect–haven’t cleaned off some walls, so they’ve got thousands of years of gunk). Then checked out independently the Museum of the History of Science (see spouse pictured with Einstein’s blackboard). Then lunch in the Vaults and Garden Cafe, the old congregation house in the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, just like a thousand years old, nbd. The meal itself was a rendang and curry, which seem to be pretty commonplace here. I knew this about curry, but not necessarily rendang. (Thanks, colonialism.)
Finally caved that evening with all the salty food that we settled for a simple meal like we would have at home back in NYC. Just rice and greens. Okay, and some shrimp dumplings and veggie soup (not pictured) and tea. Ironically, this very blah-seeming meal was one of the more expensive ones we’ve had this week. Probably a result of all the pieces we tried to add on, but well worth the cleansing effects, and I definitely felt much better! It’s like someone hit the magical reset button. I even feel less jet lagged.
Thursday morning I adven-toured solo into the Ashmolean Museum, the–yup, you guessed it–first university museum in the world. Again, history nerdistry activated as I meandered through the endless halls and galleries full of artifacts from all time periods of all corners of the world. I reminisced about my studies in myth, religion, art, politics, and the like. Antiquity, masterpiece, story, wonder. And then I faceplanted onto this exhibit smack in the middle of a main atrium: East meets West. Chinoiserie on display in all of its orientalist glory. The classical example of cultural appropriation in the pieces of western art that were done in “Chinese style” and the literal Columbusing of this ish. I know very well that it’s not these artifacts’ fault for being made hundreds of years ago and simply existing in a glass case now; it’s just jarring and a downright tacky #aesthetic which comes out of a certain mindset. Let’s boil this down to the essence of the Orient and put all those elements into one figure that is completely other from our refined and proper ways.
Now then two whole days later, to the final point. At long last, we arrived in Bonn this afternoon. Too tired to write about that whole kerfuffle right now. For now, let’s just say through one bloodshot eye that we finally got our home cooked meal. To be continued…