A few weeks ago, Ian and I headed to Oxford for a Junior Year Abroad Nostalgia Tour. We went to the Pitt Rivers Museum to look at shrunken heads; strolled through Blackwells and did our best not to buy the place out; walked through the covered market and got a Ben’s cookie; did a blitzkrieg visit to the Ashmolean Museum; walked along the Isis and watched people fail at punting; and – most importantly – visited Worcester, my old college.
Oxford was bumping – the high street was packed; the museums were packed; the pubs were packed; the sun was shining and the whole place was shiny and appealing. That said, I didn’t travel very much in England when I was doing my year abroad and had yet to develop an academic interest in cities), and so I didn’t appreciate how much of the high street was just like any other high street: it was disappointingly corporate, without much in the way of independent businesses (beyond Blackwell’s, of course, which was amazing.)
We did manage to find some essential Oxford at the museums, though. Usually, I am opposed to taking photos in museums. The pictures rarely turn out and it seems a little pointless in general. But the Pitt Rivers Museum is so atmospheric that I found myself snapping photos left and right. Its in a back room of the natural history museum, in a room with a central atrium and high vaulted ceiling, and it doesn’t look like anyone has touched any of the exhibits since 1872. Its amazing. There are tiny models of traditional houses from Malaysia and Nunavut, cases full of fortune-telling paraphernalia from around the world, shrunken heads (seriously. there are lots of shrunken heads), Eskimo outfits made from translucent seal gut and Japanese theatre masks. They’re all crammed into one room with three stories of balcony and one three-story totem pole. Its amazing.
A lot of the fun of going to Oxford is that you live in such a rarefied world — you have access to all these incredible places that tourists can’t get into (which I realise sounds horrible – basically, its fun to live in a world of rigidly enforced snobbery and elitism. I shouldn’t say that, but…its true). So I couldn’t show Ian the inside of the Radcliffe Camera or wander around the stacks of the Sackler Library, or breeze past a porter’s lodge on my way to a tutorial. But we were able to go to Worcester, my old college. It looked perfect, and almost just like I remembered. They’d changed the landscaping in front of my old room, but the lake (don’t call it a pond!) and the Buttery and the entryway all looked essentially unchanged, and just as beautiful as I remembered. Even the mailroom looked the same (and I did go look at it, and cast a glance to my old pigeon-hole, just to be sure). The year I spent at Worcester was challenging (because living in a foreign country is challenging, among other reasons), but I’m so lucky to have had a chance to experience Oxbridge life from the inside. Worcester isn’t one of the richest or most famous colleges, but its still a nauseatingly beautiful place, and Oxford (though a little grittier than Cambridge) is a place with a lot of quirk and charm, especially if you’re willing to overlook the shopping centres.