Thursday, September 22, 2016Oxford
Discovering the Glory of the Radcliffe Camera and An Afternoon with Visiting Friends
Today was going to be a break from routine as I had my dear friend Raquel arriving in Oxford with her mother Renee who was visiting the UK from New York. They intended to take advantage of my stay in Oxford to come and visit and get an insider’s view of the town, as it were.
Morning Chores and Departure for Bodleian Library:
I, therefore, hurried through my morning routine—blogging, breakfast, shower, a review of the article I wish to submit for publication to a scholarly journal—and then I was off. It was about 10.00 am when I left the house to walk along the Thames Path, which is just gorgeous at this time of year, to get to the Bodleian Library. I paused to take pictures of swans, ducks and other mallard life and I frequently stained my finger and mouth with the ripest blackberries that are growing wild all over the place right now. They are sweet and delicious and although very tiny, they are just lovely.
At the Bodleian, I finished the book I was ploughing through and then because the next book I wanted to look at was in the Upper Gallery of the Radcliffe Camera, I wound my way up a glorious staircase with its wrought iron banister and its ornamental ceiling to get to the upper portion into which I had not ventured yet.
Discovering the Glory of the Radcliffe Camera:
And what a joy and delight awaited me at the top! The Radcliffe Camera, named after John Radcliffe, whose oil portrait greets readers at the entrance and whose sculpture finds a place on a niche high on the walls of the rotunda, is a simply magnificent space. It is ornamental in the extreme, in high Baroque style with Neo-Classical pillars topped by Corinthian details, a burst of pale blue painted highlights on the plasterwork of the grand ceiling that is reminiscent of the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral, heavy balustrades, more ornate winding spiral staircases that lead to an even higher floor where the History books are stored (and where the particular book I wanted was to be found). At the heavy dark wood furniture (tables, desks, chairs) scholars sat silently at work, either reading or typing on their laptops.
I was completely entranced with it all and simply could not stop taking pictures of the interior and the outside. In fact, since it was so far up in the building, I had some stirring views of the neighboring Gothic structures from angles that I had never seen before. It was with difficulty that I was able to focus on my reading and I could not stop congratulating myself that I had found this space. During the past two weeks, I have stayed in the Lower Gallery of the Radcliffe Camera and been quite delighted with that ancient space—so you can quite imagine how thrilled I was to be in these confines and how privileged I felt to have a Reader’s Card that allowed me entry into these as-yet-undiscovered parts of the university.
Meeting Raquel and Renee:
I was upstairs in the library for three hours when I received a text message from Raquel informing me that they would be arriving in Oxford in a few minutes. I left my seat with the intention of getting back to the library in the evening after their departure.
Ten minutes later, we had a lovely hearty reunion on the High Street and I met Renee for the first time. She turned out to be an absolutely delightful 83-year old lady with a thirst for all the things about which I am passionate—Gothic architecture, antiques, art, museums, libraries. Although they were hungry and it was close to 1.00 pm, we started our walking tour on our way to the Café at the new Weston Library, part of the Bodleian Library.
A Walking Tour of Oxford:
So through Radcliffe Square we went. We thought initially we would have lunch at the Vaults and Garden café in the base of the Church of St. Mary the Virgin. But, on surveying the place, they decided to go for something lighter. I, therefore, suggested the Café at the Weston.
Meanwhile, we detoured into The Church of St. Mary where we admired the beautifully carved chancel with its panoply of marble saints, the altarpiece of Madonna and Child by the French artist Simon Vouet, the Pillar at which Archbishop Cranmer was tried during the counter-Reformation and the lovely West Window in superb stained glass. Renee exclaimed over everything she saw as she was struck by the city as soon as she arrived in it.
From the Church, we entered the main courtyard of the Bodleian Library where I pointed out the sculpture of Sir Thomas Bodley after whom it is named and the various disciplines that were added to the curriculum as the centuries passed. We crossed into Clarendon Square to see the Clarendon Building by Nicholas Hawksmoor and the Sheldonian Theater by his guru Christopher Wren. We also admired the lovely Bridge of Sighs that connects the two parts of Hereford College.
Once we reached Broad Street, we made straight for the café where we had a lovely lunch of Singaporean Laksa Soup with hunks of buttered bread and sandwiches with salad—all of which we shared—at the Café of the Weston Library. The food was delicious and in the catering provided by Benugo, I have to say we were very satisfied. Raquel and Renee were very pleased to be seated inside as they were cold—London, it appears, was much warmer than Oxford when they left in the morning.
Back on Broad Street, we stepped into Blackwell and Co. bookstore so that they could see the underground Norrington Room before we crossed the street to go into Oxfam—it turns out that Renee also shares my love for thrift stores! She was as happy as a kid in a candy store as she looked through the racks, but pretty soon, we entered Exeter College where I gave them a very detailed tour of a typical Oxford College—from the Porter’s Lodge, to the dorm rooms, from the Chapel by Sir George Gilbert Scott (which they adored) to the Margery Quadrangle, from the Junior Common Room that leads into the Fellows’ Garden to the library tucked away at the back. We climbed up the steps that led to the ramparts of the college from where we had fantastic views of Radcliffe Square and where we took a few pictures.
As we made our way downstairs, we left Exeter College and walked deeper into Turl Street so that Renee could poke her head into some of the antique jewelry stores that she also loves. From there, we walked across Broad Street to take a look at Balliol College and to see the spot at which the martyrs were burned at the stake before we actually got to the Martyrs Memorial at St. Giles. This afforded us nice views of S. John’s College as well as the War Memorial on the far side.
Our tour of Oxford ended with our entry into the Ashmolean Museum as Renee also has a passion for museums. We took a look at some of the highlights as that was all for which we had the time. They saw Rembrandt’s interpretations of the senses or ‘Sensations’ which I had seen a few days ago with Rose and Carol and the two most famous paintings in its collection—The Hunt by Paolo Uccello and The Forest Fire by Pietro de Cosimo before I led them to the Alfred Jewel. Renee wanted to wander freely into every room as she was absolutely taken by the period paintings but Raquel had her eye on the time.
Close to 5.00 pm, we left the museum, passed the Randolph Hotel and arrived at George Street where we stepped into Debenhams as Raquel needed to buy something. Just a few minutes later, I was bidding them goodbye after what had been a really terrific afternoon and they were on their way. They decided to take the train back to London as that would probably be faster.
Back to the Upper Gallery of the Radcliffe Camera Library:
It had been grand to spend time with my friends and I enjoyed every moment; but it was time for me to get back to work at the library and since it stayed open till 7.00 pm, that was where I spent the next two hours. I am sorry that my time in the Oxford libraries is coming to an end, but at the same time, I know that I will find these books at the libraries in London as well—where I will continue with my research. For the moment, I savored the thrill of sitting and reading in the Radcliffe Camera—a memory that will stay with me forever, I am sure.
Errands and Dinner and Bed:
I bought a couple of things I needed-chocolate eclairs for dessert, for instance, from Marks and Spencer—before I walked back home. Twilight was falling swiftly over the city and at Folly Bridge, I saw the salmon pink and navy blue streaks that sunset left in the Western sky. It was so beautiful.
Ten minutes later, I was back home, having a very early dinner—my Lamb Jalfrezi with bread, eclairs and ice-cream for dessert. As I munched, I watched Jamie Oliver on the Food Network on TV and suddenly felt as if I were home again in Southport.
My entire stay in Oxford has been so fabulous because it has made me feel fully at home, deeply cozy and cossetted and entirely pleased at the time that has been placed at my disposal and the great use I have made of it.
I fell into bed early (by 9.00 pm) after brushing and flossing my teeth. With just another two days left ahead of me in Oxford, I have a lot of chores to do (laundry, cleaning, tidying, repacking) before I leave this lovely university city, I have a couple of people to see as well. The next two days will be quite busy—so I have made another To-Do List to make sure I leave nothing out.