What is eternal

Dearest,

We ate in the center of the Forum. We spread out our 4 euro picnic of tomatoes, Sorrento olive oil, fresh baked  bread, kiwis, and oranges with as much pleasure as the emperors found here in their ancient banquets. There is no joy quite like tomatoes and olive oil in the sun.

Up above the crowds on Palatine hill, we circled the stones and arches to the House of Augustus. We had rounded the corner of history and found the past alive. From far away came the echo of wind pipes (from a Peruvian street performer outside the ruins). It sounded like the old god Pan was playing his pipes still. As I passed each stone wall, I could almost feel a nymph go running by me with Apollo chasing behind. When I turned the corner, there was only a tree there to mark her transformation. Imagine sneaking over the gates at night and finding a table prepared for a feast, heavy with olives, grapes, bread, and meat. Bacchus must host his parties here still. I hear the clash of wine cups and the roar of his guests in the trees. Grazie Roma for inviting us to share yourbeauty. It is a dream awake.
There are places that take my breath away, but then there are sights that give me back my breath. Rome restores. It’s peach hued stucco walls, it’s gelaterias, it’s crowds of Italians and tourists walking the streets for a nightly passeggiata put passion back into each day. My friend, seeing the locals at night, said with amazement that, “Italians live like we would only live on holiday”.
And what a holiday Italian life is! I’m writing  on a green hillside above the city, the eternal city. I believe Rome is eternal not only because of the glory if its past and the sights that survive today, but because time is counted differently here. The ever present to do list is washed away by the understanding that we are small before history. The stress of ‘soon’ ‘next’ and ‘tomorrow’ pales before the certainty that some beauty lasts, but our days will not. And so, Rome’s eternal nature is a gentle smile from the city, reminding us that we are not eternal, but that it is alright. Some things remain. Greatness remains.
Now sit and look at greatness with a gelato
always, truly, sincerely
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Rhapsody… in White

I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.” – Albert Einstein

Dearest,

There is a rhapsody in the sounds of a city. But I sometimes look around and see my generation numbed to the rising crescendo around us. We walk with our headphones in, as if we were born with these little ear-buds attached, and wires hanging down to be connected to iphones. In part, I came to Oxford hoping to throw away all the distractions that numb me. I came to learn that Oxford’s symphony is the spinning whir of bicycles along the road and the steady rhythm of crew boat oars sinking into the water.

I went down to London to see what music a city that holds two millennia of dreams and lives may make. London is a great white metropolis at its center. There are no skyscrapers gashing the firmament like in New York, but instead a collection of white goliaths that look down patiently at our small, hurrying lives. These buildings are quiet giants that are too wise and too sleepy to talk to tourists anymore. Maybe long ago they kept up a conversation, but they’ve fallen into silence.

My bus drops us off beside the Marble Arch. Here I split off from my friends to explore the city alone. I walk along Oxford Street where a current of (alternating by group) lost, excited, loud, shopping tourists drifts around me. I am not here to buy anything myself, but only to be surrounded by these voices. There is the sing-song lilt and drop of Italians with heavily lined smoky eyes and high heeled boots. There are the skeptical tones of a group of French teenagers, smoking along the street corners and looking cooler at fifteen than most of the world can ever look. A mass of shoving and jostling Spanish middle schoolers look out, wide-eyed and ecstatic, as they push their way along the streets. It is like an exotic menagerie, with the cawing and roaring of the crowds fighting with the steady purr of red buses and English taxis for dominance.

Oxford Street is all brightly lit, famous shops where last year’s hit music comes blaring out the glass doors. I can see hunting packs of women going through the racks like a feeding frenzy. Husbands follow behind. At Oxford Circus, an intersection that holds a towering H&M, French Connection, etc. (a veritable haven of capitalism in one corner), I turn right onto Regent Street. It is a relief to get away. But later, it is the sounds of Oxford Street that I keep thinking of, maybe because of how much vibrancy is in the sound of all those lives coming together. When I wear headphones, when I look down instead of out, I miss the most beautiful elements of a city: its living, breathing, crying-to-be heard people. And underneath the buzz of today is the very real voice of all the past lingering in the air. Still awake, still alive in the silence of the old white stone.

always, truly, sincerely

Ode to the Haggis

Dearest,

A feast may be the best way to be remembered. Every year Scots celebrate Burns Night to honor the poet Robert Burns. He was born 1759 in Alloway, Scotland and is today known for his poetry… and his prowess with the ladies (increased by his romantic poetry).

“As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
 So deep in luve am I:
 And I will luve thee still, my dear, 
Till a’ the seas gang dry: 

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
 And the rocks melt wi’ the sun: 
I will luve thee still, my dear,
 While the sands o’ life shall run.” – A Red, Red Rose

…hence the 12 children with four different women.

Scotch communities gather together to put on a dinner with haggis, whisky between courses, and three different odes: to the haggis, to the lassies, and to the laddies. The tradition itself is historically and politically significant. Burns was not only a lover of women, he also believed in women’s rights. The ode that women stand up and give was one of the first opportunities for women to speak publicly.

A Scottish student, in his kilt of course, was bagpiping outside the door where the dinner was held. We took our seats at long wooden tables and looked around at the imposing stone chapel. It was lit up by candelabras, with light dancing off the faces on the stained windows and the sound of the bagpipes echoing off the walls. We let ourselves be served: soup, bread, wine, the famous haggis, potatoes, steak, and pudding over three hours.

The best moment of the night was the March of the Haggis. Yes, I did say the March of the Haggis. I think they may be making it into a dramatic documentary narrated by Morgan Freeman.

All at once, in between soup and steak, there came the blaring of the bagpipes from outside the chapel door again. We all turned to watch as a stately procession made it’s way through the chapel. First the student in the kilt came in blowing his bagpipe. Then the chef came proudly striding into the chapel with the haggis nestled on a platter in his arms. He held that mix of sheep’s heart, liver, and lungs like it was his firstborn baby. Finally the Scottish girl specially selected to offer the Ode to the Haggis followed them in. The parade made a long slow walk to the hall high table. There, the Scottish girl told the haggis just how wonderful it really was. A few choice lines:

“His knife see rustic Labour dight, An’ cut you up wi’ ready sleight, Trenching your gushing entrails bright, Like ony ditch; And then, O what a glorious sight, Warm-reekin’, rich!”

It was about as Scottish as I could imagine. In fact, any more Scottish and I wouldn’t have been able to understand the 1 in 4 words that I could figure out.

And no, I did not try the haggis. The glorious sight of the gushing entrails on the platter was enough for me.

always, truly, sincerely

Winter Days in Oxfordshire

Dearest,

“Meanwhile,’ said Mr. Tumnus, ‘it is winter in Narnia, and has been for ever so long, and we shall both catch cold if we stand here talking in the snow. Daughter of Eve from the far land of Spare Oom where eternal summer reigns around the bright city of War Drobe, how would it be if you came and had tea with me?” – C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe

The snowing started last Wednesday and has not stopped.  When I wake up, all the roofs across from me are powdered like the gingerbread houses I made as a kid (cough, cough… still build every Christmas). On Friday, classes were canceled because of the weather, so I curled up with a book and watched the window for hours. It is days like these that must have inspired C.S. Lewis to write the Chronicles of Narnia. He was a student and then a teacher at Oxford once. Pulling my drapes open in the mornings, I feel like I’m stepping through the wardrobe in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and distancing myself from my old American world. Unfortunately fauns that look like James McAvoy have not appeared yet.

On winter days in old English college towns, the only thing there really is to do is drink tea and talk with friends. It sounds idyllic enough, but I thought to myself Sunday, “This experience would be improved by cake.”

I’ve noticed this is a common theme to my life.

So out into the snow I went, cheerfully blowing at snowflakes and thinking how lucky I was to be traipsing around in Oxford.  Then my heel hit ice and I slid, oh so gracefully, into a lump of American on the ground. Phone went off to the right, purse to the left, and dignity nowhere to be seen. My mistake was trying to walk. Clearly I should have rented some ice skates and glided off to the grocery store.

Flour, sugar, vanilla extract, eggs, oranges, salt, baking powder, baking soda, sesame seeds, coconut oil, tahini, almond flakes… two hours later there is a beautiful Turkish Orange Blossom cake… fours hours later there is no cake.

Today, having learned how little time cakes last with college students, I went out for my afternoon tea and cake instead. Now, when your friend asks, “Where do you want to go for afternoon tea?” the only answer is The Rose, known for its scones, clotted cream, and tiny tables. Except at The Rose, we are surprised to discover that all the tables are filled with Americans. And that our waitress is from Oklahoma.

But this is okay, because it is funny to find out how many of the ‘traditions’ are actually tourist traditions. Little by little, I hope I brush ‘the tourist feeling’ from my shoulders and begin to fit in… a little?  My voice always gives me away, and somehow I don’t think anyone would appreciate me faking a British accent.

always, sincerely, truly

Dakota

Quote

Wisdom from Austen

“If adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad.” – Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey