"Since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be?"

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Through Fire and Frost

So, here we are again, close to the end of another semester. It is 8th Week of Oxford’s Michaelmas term, and I have one more tutorial paper to write, one 4,000 word long essay due next week, and then I will be flying back to South Carolina and this term will be completed. Work has been difficult. There have been several tutorials from which I have emerged with a less than optimistic outlook on my writing abilities. Each week I feel like I have to walk through a tunnel of fire and gravity to come out the other side slightly refined-- shaped into something new. But overall, I would say tutorials have been a very enriching experience.
This past week, Oxford has been frosted and dipped in Christmas lights. There are trees wrapped in white on Broad Street and in the Bodleian Library square. Cornmarket Street is draped with Christmas lights and Blackwell’s book store has Christmas displays in the windows.
About two weeks ago, I visited Blenheim Palace with a few friends from my program. We walked around the sheep-filled fields and breathed in the sharp bite of winter air for one of the first times this year. The palace was absolutely beautiful, and its courtyard was filled with Christmas trees, lights, and a Christmas craft fair. K, C and I were the only ones of my group who went inside the palace. As you entered the courtyard, tents were set up with booths displaying many different kinds of local crafts such as scarfs, hats, jewelry, and art work. Inside the palace was also decorated. Fireplaces blazed with enormous light, and dining tables were swathed in crystal and holly. My favorite room was the library, which consisted of a long hall with ornate books which filled the walls from floor to ceiling. The long windows of the hall afforded glimpses of the intricate English gardens, complete with fountains and statuary. On the other end of the hall was a large organ being played by a staff member of the palace. The thick music filled the room like a strong wine and I felt like my lungs were being filled with water. I breathed slowly and wanted to lie down in front of the fireplace near the books and the organ, and fall asleep.
Walking outside the palace rooms shocked me back into consciousness. K, C and I explored the gardens and winding grounds of the palace. There was a rose garden which still sheltered a few white blooms. I could imagine how luscious it would be in the summer months. At the edge of the lake, there was a waterfall cascading over mossy boulders. The scene looked like it had been spoken into being from a fairy tale I read as a child and have forgotten.
Last Saturday we held a Thanksgiving dinner party at our program house. Almost everyone from our program, plus our directors, professors and their families came over for the turkey, cranberries, dressing, and long-sought-after pumpkin pie (because apparently pumpkin is not a big thing over here). We strung popcorn on strings, cut out snowflakes, played cards, and at the end of the evening, a few volunteers entertained the group with songs, jokes, and fiddle playing. Uproarious laughter filled the house, and for a while it felt like I was a part of a home-away-from-home. I will be glad to be going home soon, but for now I’m going to enjoy the time I have left in this magnificent city.