On Thursday we all trooped off to the train station and took three different trains to get to Salisbury. Salisbury is a quaint little city south west of Oxford. We checked into our quirky hotel and then walked over to visit Salisbury Cathedral and see the Magna Carta on display. The students really were impressed by the 13th century cathedral and the Magna Carta.
At 7:30 taxis arrived to take us out to the Salisbury Plain and Stonehenge. We had a private visit where we were allowed to walk amidst the stones. Our guide, Romy, told the story of the site and the students truly enjoyed the entire experience, especially trying her dousing rods to measure the energy veins through the main portal. We witnessed a lovely sunset and arrived back at the hotel around 10:30 pm.
The next day we visited the Museum to see the archeological finds around Stonehenge and some other delightful exhibits. Back to Oxford via our three trains!
This weekend a group of them went into London for the Pride Parade and other places. We re-convene as a group on Monday as we head into our final week.
Certainly Stonehenge offers many opportunities to reflect on the nature of place. Its very mystery and status as pre-historic offer us slices of time where it meant this or that. Or can we ever grasp what the 3rd millennial BCE humans saw as the world around them? I was struck by how many of the students face-timed their families back home while we were on the site. 21st century channels the sacred silence of the stones. But I also expect that London with its parade in support of Gay Rights will also offer rich food for reflecting on how we shape our rituals and honor one another.
If you would prefer a slightly more reflective take on our visit, see my post in Medium.
Buckland: dead panther, anyone?
July fourth is just another day in England. So we had our class and learned a bit about King Charles I, the Civil War, Puritans and Quakers, what meats one would eat, and Christ Church. William Buckland caught our attention and his goal was to eat every animal on the planet–not all of them but simply to try all of them. The anecdotes in our text were particularly attention getting: jackals under the table munching on guinea pigs. We did ponder if we really could draw a line between eating one kind of animal (chickens, say) and others that seem quite upsetting to us (dead panthers.) Other points of discussion:
- the fall of the great and mighty (King Charles I and Cardinal Wolsey)
- the wives of Henry VIII and his error in blaming them for a lack of a son
- William Penn, the Quakers, and Quaker Oats. Turns out that Quakers had nothing to do with Quaker Oats…
But perhaps the most riveting activity was we decided to hold our very own All Souls’ entrance exam essay on one word. Our word was… pots. This choice was inspiring by an impassioned outcry of injustice and rebellion against the apparent theft of the kitchen pots and utensils, thereby depriving our group from their ability to cook their own dinners. The resulting array of essays were All Souls’ worthy: spanning meditations on Native Americans, poetry rhymed in couplets, one’s family cooking traditions, idea of a pot as the key to civilization, and many more. We hope to publish the full array in the near future.
This afternoon we visited the delightful exhibit at the new Bodleian on J.R.R. Tolkien and his magical kingdom. What struck me quite powerfully is the geography and the language that he created so meticulously and thoroughly. The allusions to the Norse myths were
very strong if not seemingly acknowledged by the exhibit itself.
Another relentlessly sunny day in Oxford! The students are getting the entirely wrong idea of the weather here. I long for rain.
Today we discussed a provocative chapter centering around Alice in Wonderland and the creator, Charles Dodgson. The author clearly loathes him and underscores his seemingly unnatural desire for young girls… to photograph naked. This took us to the west side Oxford to Ports Meadow, up to Godstow with its medieval miracle legends and down through Jericho and the OUP. Our discussion themes were on rowing and competition among the colleges but the big theme was that of art and morality. Should we engage with art–music, paintings, literature–written by people who are immoral and live unethical lives? We were deeply divided on this one. On one side it was argued that what art would be left? Does not the art work take on a life of its own and survive on its own merit, or not? But the other side highlighted that in attending to such art we are honoring or at the very least accepting the artist him or her self. And for artists who are alive, we are giving them money and glory–even as they do awful things. Chris Brown featured in our discussion. This led to a much larger exploration of where morality comes from. Alas, we ran out of time and I cannot offer a definitive response. But spoiler alert: trust neither one’s own self nor one’s society to always be right.
Gate to All Souls’ College
Later in the afternoon we had an official walking tour of central Oxford with Lucy, a knowledgable guide who offered delightful tidbits of information about how landmarks inspired writers like C.S. Lewis but also how these very landmarks now mirror back the great writers in grotesques added to the Bodleian or busts in Exeter Chapel.
Did this faun inspire Narnia?