Updated: Dec 7, 2019
Blog Post No. 11 (30/10/2019) - The Bird and the Baby
Today was a day I had been waiting for a long time now. About two years to the day, in fact. For me, Oxford is a place imbued with deep meaning. On the one hand, it is a quintessentially English city, England being a place I take as my fatherland. But further than that, it is the ancient seat of academia. My imagination had it is as a city of a hundred courtyards, a coven of closeted academic circles reamed with latin-leaden wisdom. As many of you also know, it was the home of my two favorite authors which earns it an automatic place in my list of must-see sites. There are countless other accolades I could lavish on Oxford: home of the Rhodes scholarship, the defunct seat of the Earls Asquith, Mortimer and De Vere and the jewel of Guilbert Scott´s architectural genius. If Berlin is the Athens on the river Spree, surely Oxford would be the Athens on the river Isis.
Enough rambling then. It was a long road to Oxford, which started with a 1 am sprint across Lüneburg. I slept through my alarm and had to catch the 1:15 train to Hamburg-Harburg, then the 4:30 train from Harburg to Hamburg Hauptbahnhof, and so on so forth until I boarded my flight at 6 am. If that was not a miserable enough commute for you, then the two hours I spent (attempting to be) sleeping in the below freezing Harburg train station should be assurance enough. I will never willing book a flight before 8 am again. By the time I got over Heathrow and to Paddington station, it was already noon. I arrived at Oxford at 1 am and threw myself into the press of people. Sadly, the one reliable difference between the way you imagine the place of your dreams and the real locale is that there will always be more tourists at the real place. Many more tourists. I went through Oxford without a map because I too like to live dangerously. I mean to say that I love the shock of sudden discovery when one turns around only to be facing a famous cathedral or monument.
I first stumbled into the old Oxford castle and climbed the Tower mound, a steep hill that once supported a great watchtower. Only the cellar is left now, but it still provided a good vantage of the city. From that vantage I descried the spires of the Exeter College and some familiar looking cathedrals. But I was not looking for either of those, of course. Most of my good friends have likely already guessed I was looking for something much more small and innocuous, a pub. I could not see the pub from up there so I took to touring the walking district. The avenues were studded with famous colleges wrapped up in campuses great and small, a cosy jumble of tudor-style timber, neoclassical stonework and gothic spires. I passed a great many pubs and got to four in the afternoon before I happened upon a market. There was fruit, which I would have no use for and art, which was expensive. I naturally gravitated to the best stand a town like Oxford can offer: the booksellers stand.
Many books caught my eye, but there was one 2 £ treasure which I have on my desk right
now: “The Oxford Book of German Verse”, a signed 1938 edition. I asked the bookseller about it and we got into a splendid conversation which is still firmly in my mind four days after the fact. Long story short, we talked literature and Oxford history up and down and passed onto the topic of Germany when he asked me about where I live. Coincidences kept mounting as he mentioned that his parents were married in a church in Lüneburg and that he happened to be shooting a Netflix original series that would also be in Lüneburg. If you haven't guessed already, I do happen to be studying in Lueneburg at present. He sent me a free copy of his bestselling book and his friend gave me directions to my true destination, the “Eagle and the Child”. In honor of all that I learned and got from that conversation, I will be taking pictures of all the brick gothic churches in Lüneburg today to give him a jump start on filming and help him find his parent’s marital church. Cheers to Myles Sanderson, best-selling author and the kindest bookseller I have ever met.
As it happens, I am not always the best at directions. I took a wrong turn on the last street and ended up by Rhodes College somehow. As it was getting dusky, I rectified that and looped back to where I started. I knew I would have found it eventually, but it really did feel like running into a lantern in the middle of a primeval wood. I turned and the famous "Eagle and the Child" was just there across the street. This gem of a place is the closest to Narnia I will ever be and as like the Green Dragon or Prancing Pony a pub I will ever get. For those who are confused as to why a regular pub in Oxford should be so special, consider this: the famous Inklings group used to meet regularly here. Some of the more prominent members of this illustrious group were: Owen Barfield, Lord David Cecil, Charles Williams and my two favorite authors and greatest inspirations: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. I founded the Concordia’s Writers Society in honour of this group and was humbled to take a seat where they sat in “the Rabbit Room". I raised my pint to the whole group and read my new collection of German poems. The place had an energy to it and I was hardly the only person attracted.
A couple sat to the table at my left and I asked them who they were here to see. The good man and lady were from Derbyshire and here for Lewis and Tolkien primarily. The lady had actually watched the documentary 'Shadowlands', which followed Lewis’s romance with Joy Davidman Gresham. We talked about the film and I recommended a whole reading list of Lewis for the pair, half of it straight from your 'Religion in Fantasy' class, Dr. Hammerling. The topic soon devolved into Brexit but I got a free interview from the affair. We compared our thoughts on the situation and I shared the newest news from London. I was amused to learn that the couple had not yet realized I was American, but I explained my deal with HPR and my journalism. I asked the man his opinion on voting in the coming general election and got plenty of free comments for my latest article out of the deal. Cheers to Paul and Carolyn for the legendary conversation.
When we said our goodbyes, I closed my day in Oxford. I am honoured to have visited this splendid city and hope to return as a Rhodes scholar one day. The place has such character and feels so strongly English that I shall never forget it. All of the good stories I have ever written trace their roots back to Oxford through Tolkien and Lewis. Special thanks to Dr. Hammerling for reintroducing me to CS Lewis and to the entire class of Religion in Fantasy that went through Narnia with me. Cheers to Ingrid, Victoria, Zach, Mallory, Riley, Liesl, Kenny and Sammy!