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"And that sweet city with her dreaming spires,/ She needs not June for beauty’s heightening" -- Matthew Arnold, "Thyrsis", 1865The scholars of the University walk the narrow streets of Oxford, seemingly so engrossed in the life of the mind that they rarely look up to the dreaming spires of Oxford; hardly noticing the many gargoyles, grotesques and statues perched against the blue sky. On a beautiful, spring-like Sunday I took my camera for a walk in the soft afternoon sunshine. Having now lived in Oxford for a long time, it was a wonderful way to rediscover the city. Perched on the roof of Blackwell's Art and Poster Shop on Exeter College stands the sculptor Antony Gormley's seven-foot-tall statue "ANOTHER TIME II". It is part of a series of 100 sculptures; all based on moulds of the artist's own body.Gormley writes "... the history of western sculpture has been concerned with movement. I wish to celebrate the still and silent nature of sculpture. The work is designed to be placed within the flow of lived time. Recently, the works have been placed high on buildings against the sky, standing apart from the shelter and protection of architecture. ... The work is made from iron, a concentrated earth material found at the core of this planet, and each sculpture is massive: a solid body.... ANOTHER TIME asks where the human being sits within the scheme of things. Each work is necessarily isolated, and is an attempt to bear witness to what it is like to be alive and alone in space and time."An artwork for our troubled, lonely times, in other words. As the sun was setting, I walked down to the river through Christ Church Meadow, passing the garden where Alice played croquet with The Queen in Lewis Carroll's tale and found a young student engrossed in the life of the mind. Yet, nature is never far and the Meadow was literally teeming with flowers, roe deer and other wildlife. On the river I spotted a single rower peacefully sculling across the water before sundown. As darkness fell, I walked back in need of the magic of music; and upon my return found this astonishing a cappella version of "Stand by me":
circa 13 ore fa
"... I could not find a beginning or an end of the Icknield Way. It is thus a symbol of mortal things with their beginnings and ends always in immortal darkness." -- Edward ThomasOn a beautiful Saturday morning in early spring, we set out in search of the Icknield Way in the Chilterns. Our journey started by the Old Black Horse in St Clements, where the courts for Shotover Royal Forest were held until its disbandment in 1661. We followed the sun to Shotover Hill and the remains of the forest. En route to the Icknield Way, we went looking for the ancient Rycote yew which is said to have been planted in 1135 from a seed brought to England from the Garden of Gethsemane in the Holy Land. Empirical evidence, however, suggests that the Rycote yew is like to be many centuries older. To get there, we had to cycle the busy A418 but it was small price to pay to arrive at the delightful time capsule of Rycote Chapel; originally built in 1449 by Richard Quatremayne, a close aide to Edward IV. In post-lockdown times, we will have to visit the interior. Instead, we walked along the footpaths of the enchanting Rycote House woodlands, whilst gathering significant amount of mud before cycling on to Thame. We followed the Phoenix Trail on the disused railway line to Princes Risborough to Chinnor Windmill; the historic flour mill from 1789 in the foothills of the Chilterns. Here, we were able to join the ancient Icknield Way along the chalk escarpment of Southern England, which is said to be the oldest road in Britain. The current Icknield Way Trail is a 274 km route linking the Peddars Way National Trail in Suffolk with the Ridgeway National Trail in Buckinghamshire and further with the Wessex Ridgeway.A perfect place for deep conversation, in other words, and so we dismounted and walked from Chinnor Quarry to Watlington via the Aston Rowant Nature Reserve. As always our conversation darted here and there; from Daniel Everett's extraordinary memoir "Don't sleep, there are snakes" to Leonardo da Vinci's turbulent brain dynamics. Along Icknield way we were pleasantly distracted by Red kites (Milvus milvus) who were driven to extinction in England by human persecution by the end of the 19th century. Remarkably, in 1989 kites from Spain were imported and released into the Chilterns. This is one of the greatest conservation success stories of the 20th century and there are now over a thousand breeding pairs, leading to further reintroductions in other parts of the country.Here in early March, Red kites are beginning to spend more time in potential nesting areas. Soon, by mid-April, the female will lay up to four white eggs of which one to three usually hatch after 34 days. The young birds fledge in about six to seven weeks and will remain with their parents for up to ten days.The soft afternoon sunshine signalled a return north to Oxford. We passed St Mary's Church, Pyrton set in a lush sea of daffodils. Further on, the mud started to stick to everything and we eventually had to carry our bikes. Free at last, we cycled on, in perfect time to catch the sunset from Cuddesdon. Unfortunately, however, a muddy flat tire held me up in Great Haseley with its beautiful windmill. The thick mud and a pump malfunction hindered repair and, as darkness fell upon the Shire, I was left to run and walk back the 14km to Oxford. What a glorious day!
2 giorni fa
- 07:07111 km15,6 km/h1.040 m1.040 m
Early spring brought forth both sunshine and a Gran Fondo of unadulterated cycling fun. The main aim was to visit Mr Bean's gleaming white lair in Ipsden that I had glimpsed in the distance on one of my adventures last summer. First I cycled south following the Thames, stopping briefly to see my friend the Ancient Iffley Yew. Radley Lakes and Abbingdon whizzed past before stopping in Sutton Courtenay to pay homage by the grave of Eric Arthur Blair (aka George Orwell).The old apple orchard in Little Wittenham appeared to have weathered the cold, grey winter and I ascended the Wittenham Clumps with its fine views over the Shire. Descending again, I crossed the Thames at Wallingford following National Cycle Route 5 into the Chilterns. Just before Ipsden, I turned left to get to the inconspicuous Urquhart Lane. This is where Mr Bean (aka Johnny English) has built his lair worthy of a Bond Villain. The house is designed by the American architect Richard Meier who won the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1984. Meier's oeuvre makes prominent use of white and takes inspiration from Le Corbusier and Mies Van der Rohe. The house is set off from the lane and with my telephoto lens malfunctioning, I was unable to get a closer look. But the full architectural drawings can be found here:
richardmeier.com/?projects=oxfordshire-residenceInstead I ascended further into the Chilterns, revisiting the Maharajah's Well in Stoke Row. Whenever possible I took my gravel bike on bridleways through the forest before finally rejoining the river in Henley-upon-Thames.
Starting my return, I climbed up the steep incline to Fawley, passing the Chiltern Valley Winery before descending again into Turville, where there is a beautiful view of the Cobstone Windmill. It appears in the film "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" and is one of the many windmills on my mind:
komoot.com/collection/967375After more steep inclines and descents, I arrived at the church in Britwell Salome, where I finally met the Ancient Yew Tree, who is among the eldest in the Shire. The sun was starting to set, enveloping the Shire in golden sunlight - a perfect ending to a perfect day.
1 marzo 2021
Waking up to another day of sunshine, we decided to visit Brill to the west of Oxford. It is generally thought that Tolkien was inspired by this picturesque village to create Bree, which plays a central role in both "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings"Tolkien loved languages and he used the name Bree from "hill" in Brythonic, a Celtic language, referring to the fact that the village of Bree and the surrounding Bree-lands were centred around a large hill.Bree was the chief village in Bree-land in Middle-earth, east of The Shire and south of Fornost Erain. Bree-land was the only part of Middle-earth where Men and hobbits dwelt side by side. The hill was burrowed with hobbit-holes housing a large population of hobbits. In "The Hobbit", Bree is where Gandalf and Thorin met and discussed the problem of the Dragon Smaug in the Lonely Mountain. This led to the Quest of Erebor where Bilbo Baggins recovered the One Ring. This in turn set in motion the epic adventure of "The Lord of the Rings". In The Prancing Pony, the largest inn in Bree, Frodo Baggins met Strider (Aragorn in disguise) and was forced on the run by the Ringwraiths. During the War of the Ring, Bree fell on hard times but we learn that upon their return, Frodo and his companions assure the inhibitants that King Aragorn II will venture north to restore order and prosperity.On this sunny Saturday, we happily cycled east through many of the Seven Towns of Otmoor. Noke is still shielding the RSPB Otmoor Nature Reserve where we have observed the extraordinary winter murmurations (komoot.com/tour/295135249).We stopped at Borstall Tower, a 14th century moated gatehouse built by John de Haudlo in 1312 with beautiful gardens. We climbed up to Bree and enjoyed the spectacular views across the Shire from the windmill, which is a post mill dating from the 17th century (komoot.com/collection/967375). Descending into lush green pastures, we cycled past cute newborn lambs celebrating new beginnings before the sun set on a beautiful early spring day.
28 febbraio 2021
I walked from the centre of Oxford to Lye Valley in the gorgeous sunshine, greeting Silver Surfer and the penguins being chased by a polar bear on a quiet Oxford side street. I followed the Lye Brook to the 'Bullingdon Bog' which is the old name for the rare environment of the calcareous fen in the Lye Valley Nature Reserve. Only a few weeks ago the greyness of winter had obscured the many unusual plants nourished by the lime-rich springs along the valley walls. Today I heard the deep croaking before I saw the many common frogs (Rana temporaria) frolicking in the ponds. Despite their name, they are not so common any more due to the impact agricultural pesticides and the draining of wetland habitats and filling-in of small ponds.But today I happily watched them enact the age old ritual of spring. The croaking is used by males to attract females. Frogs can breed from between two and three years old and often return to the pond where they were spawned. I observed the breeding process involving the male frog attaching himself to the back of the female by grasping her under the forelegs, where he stays until she lays her eggs. When the female frogs lay spawn, the males fertilise it by spraying sperm over them. As such, more than one male frog can fertilise a female’s spawn.As I walked further to visit my old friend the Shotover Oak and the beautiful C.S. Lewis Community Nature Reserve, I couldn't help but smile at the rites of spring. Somehow I was transported back to the classic Baz Luhrmann movie "Strictly Ballroom" and the unforgettable final scene. After a long, restorative walk, I sat high in South Park overlooking Oxford; green grass and yellow daffodils competing with the deep colours of the sunset. And the song from the film came to me loud and clear: "Love is in the air"
27 febbraio 2021
"Many rivers to cross / But I can't seem to find my way over / Wandering I am lost / As I travel along the white cliffs of Dover"
- Jimmy Cliff: "Many Rivers To Cross" Spring is in the air and the sun has started to bring much needed light and warmth. Yet, my heart is heavy; hoping against hope but expecting the worst. To wait is a surprisingly active verb... On this sunny Monday I had to get out and follow the sun; try my best to distract my wandering mind. We walked along the river, using the reflected sunlight to speak of loss and love; of science and turbulence; of Italian poetry and translation; and how best to translate Cesare Pavese's haunting opening line "Verrà la morte e avrà i tuoi occhi". In the gloaming, as darkness started to fall in the witching hour; I kept hearing Jimmy Cliff's powerful voice soaring above the strumming of a guitar.
Many rivers to cross
And it's only my will that keeps me alive
I've been licked, washed up for years
And I merely survive because of my prideAnd this loneliness won't leave me alone
It's such a drag to be on your own
My woman left me and she didn't say why
Well I guess, I have to tryMany rivers to cross
But just where to begin, I'm playing for timeJimmy Cliff: "Many Rivers To Cross"
22 febbraio 2021
"Pardon,' he said, 'I'm a bit rattled tonight. You see, I happen at this moment to be dead."
― John Buchan, The Thirty-Nine Steps Except for the fierce wind, spring was in the air as we walked north on a day of meaningful coincidences - or what Carl Jung called "synchronicities". As always our conversation was flowing like a river: from the poetry of Cesare Pavese and the guitar composition of Agustín Barrios to the turbulent brain basis of improvisation and eudaimonia.The backdrop to this endlessly fascinating stream included the rooftop sculpture "Untitled 1986" by John Buckley. Commonly known as the Headington Shark, this sculpture was erected on the 41st anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bombing on Nagasaki and currently serves as an AirBnB:
airbnb.co.uk/rooms/31345904We crossed over the A40 and walked up hill in the company of a magnificent red kite, criss-crossing the turbulent skies in search of prey. We came out of the wind and entered the delightful Sydlings Copse Nature Reserve; home to rare Oxfordshire heathland, ancient broadleaved woodland, limestone grasslands, reedbed, fen and a stream. The reserve supports over 400 plant species and is home to butterflies including the purple hairstreak, brown hairstreak, marbled white and common blue.
Approaching Elsfield Village from the east, we spotted a beautiful, yet mysterious cubic building north of the local Church of Saint Thomas of Canterbury. Upon return, careful research revealed it to be a dovecote, a grade-II listed building. Two peacocks crossed the road and we followed them to Elsfield Manor with its extraordinary views of Oxford. It was home of Francis Wise, the Radcliffe librarian in Oxford whom Dr Johnson visited in 1754. He built not only ponds and cascades, but also scale-models of a triumphal arch, a pyramid, a Druid temple, and the tower of Babel.Just after the Great War, John Buchan, author and sometime Governor General of Canada took up residence in Elsfield Manor with his family. He wrote over 100 books of which "The Thirty-Nine Steps" is probably the most well-known and formed the inspiration for Hitchcock's 1935 film.As we descended into Oxford, following the Cherwell via Old Marston, our conversation continued to sprawl like the iridescent blue and green plumage of a peacock. Yet, we were still astounded by the sudden, unexpected appearance in Mesopotamia of a long lost friend who only minutes earlier had made an important appearance in our discussion. As Sherlock Holmes tells Dr Watson in Conan Doyle's "The adventure of the second stain": "A coincidence! ... The odds are enormous against its being coincidence. No figures could express them."
21 febbraio 2021
Grey skies in the deepest of winter in Oxford - a harsh wind chill factor made it feel like 7 degrees below zero. But as always, we soon forgot about the weather and passed the hours in deep, pleasant conversation. With the flooding in retreat we were able to follow the twists and turns of the river. We spoke of many things and how the philosopher and theologist Søren Kierkegaard spent his hours cruising the streets of Copenhagen. It is safe to assume, however, that Kierkegaard would not have used Komoot. In "Fear and trembling", he rather pointedly wrote "People commonly travel around the world to see rivers and mountains, new stars, birds of rare plumage, queerly deformed fishes, ridiculous breeds of men – they abandon themselves to the bestial stupor which gapes at existence, and they think they have seen something". And added "...this does not concern me". We, on the other hand, found joy in wonders like Ancient Yew trees, Morris Minor, wild geese, pleasure boats, clown graffiti, and much more. As we were coming up to Iffley Lock, people were out on the ice, reminding us of the wonderful painting from 1565 by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. And then Billy Joel's song from his final 1993 studio album suddenly came to me:...
In the middle of the night
I go walking in my sleep
From the mountains of faith
To the river so deep
I must be looking for something
Something sacred I lost
But the river is wide
And it's too hard to crossEven though I know the river is wide
I walk down every evening and I stand on the shore
I try to cross to the opposite side
So I can finally find out what I've been looking for
...In the middle of the night
I go walking in my sleep
Through the desert of truth
To the river so deep
We all end in the ocean
We all start in the streams
We're all carried along
By the river of dreams
14 febbraio 2021
Unexpectedly, like a subtle knife, mid-week the winter sun started to shred the iced flood plains of Oxford. She is vulnerable to flooding given her fragile geographical position at the confluence of seven rivers (River Thames and tributaries of the River Thames; River Cherwell, River Swere, River Dorn, River Glyme, River Windrush, River Evenlode, River Ray, River Thame). On this bright day, our walk felt like visiting a parallel world akin to that described so vividly by Philip Pullman in "His Dark Materials". Flooding hindered us in following the river but eventually we found ourselves at the large Port Meadow lake. The wild horses had congregated on the southern bank, near the gyptian boats moored along the river. In Lyra Silvertongue's Oxford, the nomadic Gyptians are abundant around the Fens of Brytain and travel with their boats on canals and rivers; making their primary source of income from trading goods. Perhaps with the pandemic they too are stuck in one place, unable to take up their usual coming and going with the spring and autumn fairs? Perhaps the Horse Fair in Oxford in July will be cancelled too?We watched the wild horses on the banks of the large Port Meadow lake; unperturbed by a locked down world. Walking through Binsey we were able to follow the river back to East Oxford, deep in meaningful conversation. Along the way we passed more gyptian boats and barges before traversing the river and taking moment to enjoy the sun in the hidden Nature Reserve Aston's Eyot.As I sat on the sunkissed banks of the mighty river, Jon Batiste's striking new version of an old song resonated deeply:
12 febbraio 2021
In the middle of a global pandemic, it is difficult, yet essential to think beyond the here-and-now. Yet, if we are to have a future on this planet, we must stay focused on the long now. In the words of the philosopher Roman Krznaric, we must become good ancestors; engage in long-term thinking and be ready to act now for the benefit of future generations. His new book offers important ideas and thoughts.
At dusk, we strolled the streets of East Oxford, deep in conversation; discussing the future and the imminent dangers of climate change. We passed the street side "freelittlelibrary"; where people swap books during the epidemic. As always we were on the lookout for science fiction but came away empty handed. We soon found ourselves on Bartlemas Lane, a small hamlet where time seems to have stopped several centuries ago. Once the site of a leprosarium founded by Henry I in 1126 and rebuilt in 1329, this is where lepers were segregated from the medieval community of Oxford. In those days, the "Brethen of Bartlemas" were thought to be unclean, untrustworthy, and morally corrupt. In fact, people with leprosy were often forced to wear special clothing or even carry a bell announcing their presence.On this evening, St Bartholomew's Chapel, the old farm house and the almshouse looked serene in the fading light with little evidence of past suffering. Returning to the present day, we scaled the urban streets, catching a glimpse of Silver Surfer travelling faster-than-light through space on his surfboard-like craft. Hitching a ride, we made the spectacular winter sunset in South Park, wondering how to become good ancestors before the end of days.
11 febbraio 2021