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Showing posts from December, 2010

Things I learned in Istanbul

Istanbul on the outskirts of its heart is a place of motion: buses, speeding cars and taxies, and the trams. The buildings on either side of the wide street were like seventies apartment buildings covered in signs and placards and lights. The shops were clothes re-sellers, leather bag stalls, hairdressers, gyro-ceries, cheap wares and street food. Every so often the minarets of a mosque, a camii, would separate the stores, and through the garden grilles were grass covered sepulchers decorated with gold Arabic calligraphy.

There are stray dogs in Istanbul, but there are far more cats



Men will follow solo female travelers (but not very far)
There are far more men on the streets, men and women do not walk together, and men frequently hold hands



Don’t have Turkish coffee with sugar and baklava. The coffee is better black.
The Blue Mosque is not the Haghia Sophia. Both are bigger than they seem.



Don’t try to walk into town, use the tram. It’s cheap and easy to use.
Do take the Nostalgic Bospho…

Flying at Christmastide

Stuck at Heathrow, missed flight, stuck in Istanbul. Now home in South Africa for a green Christmas. Will write more about the voyage later but for now - Merry Christmas.

L'hiver's here

The snow started at 8.30 this morning and has continued to fall, a ridiculous, exorbitant, gratuitous amount of snow for which I am both exasperated and thankful. The city is very pretty in her winter wear, but all errands must be put aside because of the difficulty of walking. Within minutes one is completely covered in snow, which sticks and makes us look like a bunch of sheepish yetis. This morning the people out quietly walking under their bright umbrellas, heads down, feet shuffling, meeting friends silently, linking arms, made me think of Lucy and the faun.



Pauline Baynes' illustration



On St. Giles

I went into Oxfam to find a copy without any luck, but I did find an inexpensive first edition of Christopher Isherwood’s A Single Man, which has been on my mind lately.



There’s a wedding happening in the college today, so I’m keeping my head low and enjoying a lock in with Roberto Bolano, watching the snow from my window.

College Envy

You can't underestimate the seethings and manoeuvers within the Oxford system. It is not enough that everyone has made it here; there are secret loyalties, secret glees, secret shames: colleges and their status anxieties.

I'm not afraid to say that we are conscious of our position as being slightly outside the ordinary Oxford experience: as mature students, even in our twenties, we stand out among teenagers. And HMC is the newest and smallest college, with a modest endowment and a humble JCR, though we do make much of the prettiness of the buildings, the few illustrious college members (Joseph Priestly, James Martineau, William Gaskell) and dissenting heritage, the Burne-Jones window in the chapel, the central location, and the food. We are only one humble step above the Permanent Private Halls, which HMC left behind when becoming a constituent college in 1996.



But when you come up against the older, formidable colleges, the well-endowed institutions, the Grandes Dames - you h…

Ramblings

This week, in a city suddenly emptied of its students and crammed with Christmas visitors and nervous interviewees, has had its moments of misery and fun. For the majority of it I was sick, the weather was below zero, and everything was weary. In a moment of divine inspiration, a friend told me about Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon’s six episode show The Trip (directed by Michael Winterbottom) and I’ve watched it compulsorily every since.



In The Trip Steve Coogan has booked a trip around the north of England to write up various restaurants and pubs for the Observer magazine. Though this was planned to be shared with his girlfriend Misha, in the face of their separation he invites Rob Brydon to join him. This show combines favourite elements: improvised comedy, impressions, pompous conversation, meta-television (how much are the actors themselves?), hours spent over food and wine, Wordsworth and Coleridge, beautiful wintry northern landscapes, and inevitable piano-accompanied melancholy.

As…

The pleasures of winter (to be fair)

- Visible breath
- Frosted spider webs
- Red berries gathered with ice
- The sharp sun
- Mint mochas
- Evening ice skating!

In addition: today I stopped by the Oxfam on St. Giles and found a first edition copy of Iris Murdoch’s The Book & the Brotherhood for £1.99. It was destiny!



(Manic joy; forgive the nose red from sneezing.)

The indignities of winter

- Sunset at 4pm
- the third cold in two months
- unshuttable windows and meager heating device
- thus frigid bedroom
- thus arthritic fingers
- cold toilets & showers
- not enough jumpers
- constant hunger
- hibernation instincts
- sense of the isolation of mankind
- belief in imminent destruction of the planet by comets
- walking around with an unchanging grimace



Who are these people who talk about crystalline walks in nature? And the minute perfection of frost patterns on windows? I’d like to know. I’d make them spend a night in my freezer – I mean room. Consolation: mulled wine.

Poetry as Perjury

Yesterday I had my last tutorial of the term. It’s hard to believe nine week went by so quickly and now we’re saying goodbye to the Victorians, and staring straight across the table into Christmas’s sloe gin eyes. So now I have a little bit of time to I have to catch up on the things I missed.

Last Wednesday Geoffrey Hill, the newly elected Oxford Professor of Poetry, gave his inaugural lecture at the Exam Schools titled “How ill white hairs becomes a fool and jester”. In our excellent seats (claimed a tad overeagerly, unsurprisingly, an hour before) we had a good view of not only the new Professor, but also of the various distinguished people, writerly people, who flooded the room in their London coats, newspapers tucked under their arms, with definitive noses and eye pouches. I recognized Hermione Lee, most of my lecturers, a man who may have been Philip Pullman – I couldn’t help wondering why everyone didn’t just come in with name tags on their lapels.

Tolstoyan, Darwinian, Hill sa…