Tuesday- July 3rd

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?





Friday June 29th

Today we got our classroom back and we met as scheduled in the morning.  Two of our cohort did not show up which worried us but they were OK in the end.  Hmm…

Jericho- the council houses

Our chapter was inspired by the Inspector Morse mysteries.  I have watched all of them and loved every one, including the two new spin-off series, one featuring Sergeant Lewis on his own and the other a young Morse set in the 1950s Oxford.  Our presenters rightly pointed out that there is not much about the TV series in the book but rather a tour of north Oxford, including four of the 5 women’s colleges, Keble College, and the Museum of Natural History. Since we had visited that yesterday the images of place were clear in our collective heads.

We did have a lively discussion on a number of topics:

  • the appearance of women’s’ colleges and why education for women was so controversial; while the colleges were founded in the last quarter of the nineteen century, no students could earn a degree until 1920!
  • the meaning of free speech and the parameters for discourse across differences
  • the immigrant experience and how the US has always been suspicious of those coming into our country from other places, including the experience of many of our own ancestors
  • language as a tool for inclusion or exclusion

We had hoped to visit the Museum of the City of Oxford but were disappointed to find that it is closed until 2020.

Walking along the Oxford canal is an adventure, albeit a warm one in today’s hot and sunny Oxford.


Wednesday-June 27th

We travel to London

Since the colleges in Oxford are hosting their Open House for today and tomorrow, we do not have our official classroom.  We decided to designate today as “London Exploration Day.”  We all caught the X90 bus into London c. 9:20 AM.  Well, almost all.  One of our troop failed to wake up in time but to give him credit, he navigated his own way into London town and found his fellow students.

My co-leader went off on his own adventure as did I.  I decided to explore Belgravia, the rarified atmosphere of the rich.  Growing up off Sutton Place, NYC, this was not unfamiliar territory to me, even if I viewed the typical array of super-high end establishments.  My need for Fendi and Ferragamo is pretty minimal, by that I mean non-existent.  But I enjoyed walking the streets with the hints of privilege behind the Palladian windows.

a fairy tale referent

Today we wanted the students to go off and experience getting lost or at least turned around in a new place.  Finding one’s bearings, getting disoriented/re-oriented is part of situating one’s self in the world  New places bring stress, a loss of direction, but also opportunity and adventure.  Tomorrow or the next day we will find out what they discovered.  I suspect they were rather inventive in their negotiations.