Wednesday, June 13, 2007


The "dreaming spires" of Oxford from Christ Church Meadow.

This morning, Clara and I boarded the train in Leamington Spa and traveled to Oxford. Clara spent the morning researching in the Sackler Library while I wandered around the Ashmolean Museum. I spent quite a while looking at the Roman sculptures from the Arundel Collection, which was given to the university in the seventeenth century. One of my favorite pieces in the collection was this first century AD Roman statue of a hermaphrodite. The Ashmolean, which opened its doors in 1683, is the world's oldest university museum. It holds an impressive collection— everything from Guy Fawkes' lantern to a Stradivarius guitar to French Impressionist paintings. One of my favorites among the latter was Camille Pissarro's portrait of his eight-year old daughter Jeanne-Rachel.

"Tom Tower" and the quadrangle at Christ Church.

After lunch, Clara and I were joined by her sister Mary and mother for a special tour of Christ Church, courtesy of Mary's friend Sarah, who is the dean's assistant. From Sarah's office, we could look out into the garden where eight-year old Alice Liddell used to sit while Charles Dodgson, one of the college dons, watched her from the windows of the old library. Alice, the daughter of the late nineteenth-century Christ Church dean Henry Liddell (known to classicists for the Liddell and Scott Greek lexicon) inspired Dodgson, under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll, to write Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Below is one of Dodgson's photographs of Alice, possibly sitting in the dean's garden.

Christ Church is also home of Oxford's cathedral, the former priory church of St. Frideswide, which has some fine stained glass—both medieval and modern—including a Burne-Jones window depicting scenes from the life of St. Frideswide. One of the more charming details in the window is the late Victorian toilet in the corner of this detail from the death of St. Frideswide (partially hidden by the red curtain on the right). Finally, the spectacular Great Hall of Christ Church can be seen, transformed through the magic of cinema, as the Hogwarts Great Hall in the Harry Potter movies.

From Christ Church, Mary, Clara's Mom and I (Clara had returned to the Sackler) walked around Christ Church Meadow, past punters on the River Cherwell, to the Botanic Garden (founded in the seventeenth century), where I admired the roses, poppies, and waterlilies. The Botanic Garden is across the street from Magdalen College, where we attended a beautiful choral evensong service in the chapel. But before the service, we joined Clara's Carleton colleague, Jack, for a pint at the Turf, Bill Clinton's favorite pub during his Rhodes Scholar days in Oxford.

Magdalen Tower from the Botanic Garden.

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