Feeling at ease just before I leave. Thoughts and photos two weeks before term’s end.Oxford, Fall 2009
Dear friends and family,
With two weeks remaining for me in Oxford, I’m finally starting to feel at home here. Although I like to think I don’t make expectations for a place before arriving, I’ve realized I definitely did this with my experience here. With the reputation it has, it’s hard not to imagine Oxford as some enchanted land where you’d be continually stimulated and challenged. But like anywhere else you have to seek these things out a bit, and for the first few weeks here I missed the life I lead in Minnesota, flush with a satisfying spectrum of social, intellectual and spiritual richness. As I’ve gotten accustomed to Oxford, I’ve learned to overlook the pretentious elitists, apathetic students and bewildering formalities, and also realized that many of these exist back home as well, though I sometimes prefer to think otherwise. And so, I’ve learned to respect the place in a more genuine way than I did when I first arrived and admired some pretty buildings.
In reality, I haven’t spent considerable time properly enjoying Oxford. Between my marathon in Wales, a weekend in Paris and various day trips to visit friends, I’ve hardly been about. So when I am in Oxford, I’m under enhanced academic pressure to get my work done. One legacy of my semester here will be my greater understanding and appreciation for structures of global governance. My primary tutorial (i.e. ‘class’), Economics of Global Governance, is not only interesting and relevant subject matter, but the tutor is also an expert with incredible experience. He’s worked as a development economist in West Papua for the World Bank, among other dynamic projects, and has an ability to straddle, or at least argue, both perspectives of ‘development.’ His critical knack that led to confrontations with his WB colleagues fertilizes our discussions with an intellectual, moral and ethical grounds that I have not encountered in any academic setting prior. We meet on Friday afternoons at his house, he gives me a fresh espresso and dark chocolate, we chat for a minute about common interests such as triathlons and hunting, then get down to business. I have nowhere to hide from his probing questions, and his assignments are always a vigorous challenge. This week, for example, my essay task related to the UN’s Millennium Development Goals and their assumed global right to development and the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment’s assumed global responsibility not to harm the environment. In a global community, what framework of global identity allows for these (competing?) ideals, and how would the world reach this framework? Who is in the global community, humans only or flora and fauna? Quite the task… In case you’re interested (and I suggest you should be), his name is Tamas David-Barrett and you can find his blog at http://globalstructures.blogspot.com/.
Beyond academics, I’ve been increasingly enthralled with archery and have been learning fast. I’ve even been invited to shoot for the Oxford novice team in this Saturday’s competition against Loughborough University, and I’m keen to improve my skills as best I can before I leave. While I plan to ultimately use archery for nourishment purposes in Minnesota, I’ve found another way to get local game on my plate in Oxford: roadkill! This past Sunday while cycling to Northampton, a city 45 miles north of Oxford, to visit a couchsurfing friend I surfed with in August, I found a freshly struck Ringneck Pheasant lying beside the road. As I couldn’t bear to leave it behind (what a waste!), I did the last 10 miles of the trip while grasping the bird by its long tail, holding onto the handlebars with my other hand. “I’ve had a lot of surfers, and you’re the first person to bring a dead bird,” my friend told me when I showed up. After quick Google and Youtube lessons on preparing roadkill and wild poultry, I learned how to handle the animal, hang it and prepare it for cooking, as well as recipes. Now it’s marinating with onion, garlic and herbs, and tomorrow night I’m going to prepare a royal feast of pheasant stew and seasonal vegetables for some dear friends and myself.
Although the fowl-fun is exciting, one of the coolest things that’s happened to me in years occurred the following day. Monday evening, while sitting at my desk studying Roman law, I received a call from a number I didn’t recognize. “Who is this?” I asked, but couldn’t understand the response at first. After a minute of small talk I asked again, embarrassed, “Sorry, who did you say this is?” “Artemissss!” I heard on the other end. “Oh my GOD!” I shouted back, again and again, not believing it could be true. Artie and I were best friends in high school in Italy, said goodbye in tears in the Milano train station some three and a half years ago and fell out of touch not long after. “I’m studying in London,” she replied to my bewildered stammers. Within minutes I was out the door and racing to the train station to get myself to Paddington. That night we wandered streets, talking and catching up on years of missed time, each of us still in shock each time we looked at each other. So, great things can happen when you least expect it. Here’s to hoping my last weeks have more surprises in store.
(Following are some photos from Oxford, London, Paris and Northampton)
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