Thursday, June 28, 2012

Today the humid air turns Oxford into Southern Illinois. I cycled to the store for cold air. There’ll be a thunderstorm. Tomorrow, maybe, as the Yorkshire man at the first aid course I attended yesterday in Kidlington suggested. But we won’t be here, I hope. A friend invited us to his house last week and we have taken him up on it, setting off for Burgundy by way of Dover and Calais. The past week has severely tested our spontaneity: I won’t be sure today is not a day trip until the authorities let us – and our various identity documents - into the country. Should we prove lucky, there’re orchards and vineyards and a week of sun in store for our pale selves.

The choice, as ever, is what books to bring. The winners are:

Emily Dickinson complete poems & letters Simone Beauvoir’s autobiography, vol. 4 Journal of the Goncourts Complete Stories of Mavis Gallant Spurious Swann’s Way Mapp & Lucia

Notably, no Shakespeare. Nothing with footnotes was the rule.

See you in a week, then. Or tomorrow, if we’re turned away. Cross fingers for us.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The long Jubilee weekend is almost over. I didn’t go to London to see the queen floating down the Thames on her royal barge. I watched the rain pour all day and listened to the radio. No champagne, no sponge cake. Most of my friends are passionately anti-monarchy and so the hubbub has largely been afar and mostly consisting of my theft of the JCR’s Commemorative Times for a souvenir. I’ve not been converted to republicanism but I do wonder what royalists mean when they congratulate the Queen for doing such a good job, for ‘doing what only she can do best’ (without any clear indication of what that is). At any rate, the pageantry has been magnificent. And I am counting the Daily Mail’s offer of free Jubilee tea-towels after mailing in three tokens.

This afternoon I begin a two-week language portfolio exam which will count for next year’s finals. In the meantime, I’m trying to keep my brain limber and supple and quiet. So I’ve been reading Susan Sontag’s latest volume of journals, As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh, which I bought weeks ago but has been lost in the tumult of the term. The journals of writers and thinkers reveal a wealth of fragmentary ideas and unexpected anxieties. Sontag’s journals are like scrapbooks of thoughts, film tickets, and books glossed by casual throwaway lines – behind those lines are lived experiences. She hints at plots (matricide, dialogue between Orpheus and Eurydice), and makes lists of ‘Regenerative Experiences’:

Plunge into the sea
The sun
An old city

Or creates her aphoristic judgments, my favourite so far being ‘Style: the manner in which things appear to us as designed for pleasure.’

I suppose I will have to set her aside until the end of June, along with the wonderful letters of Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop, and the mystery-dramas on Radio 4 extra.