I wish I could write, properly, but I have ANOTHER cold. I think this makes one a month since at least October. The Man suggested that maybe it’s because I’m living in a new country. I said, “Pooh. I’ve been living here for a year.” He said, “That’s not so long.” I guess it’s not. After all, he’s been living here his whole life.
Other excuses we’ve come up with: it’s winter. I work at a school. An international school, where we don’t just get the ordinary floating-around-Oxford bugs, but exciting colds from anywhere from California to Kazakhstan (really).
In my long, slow reading of Javier Marias’ All Souls (neither long nor slow by neccesity but by choice, a savouring rather than a devouring), I came across this passage:
“For the inhabitants of Oxford are not in the world and when they do sally forth into the world (to London, for example) that in itself is enough to have them gasping for air; their ears buzz, they lose their sense of balance, they stumble and have to come scurrying back to the town that makes their existence possible, that contains them, where they do not even exist in time.”
I find Marias’ book to be one of the most astute that I have found about Oxford. On reflection of course I’m forced to wonder if this is not because it is, by nature, so astute about the city–cities themselves are as subjective and mutable as the books written about them, after all–but because it is so astute about my city. That is, Marias and I are both outsiders here (he Spanish, I American) residing in a place that did not birth us, a place where, significantly, “there’s no one here who knew me as a…child.” So what he sees in Oxford, and writes up in his work of fiction, and which I years later find to be nougats of genius observation, might well be passed over by someone else–I don’t know.
This passage on London, though; on not existing in time: well, how often have I written about the London feeling, the dis-ease, the midnight anxiety and the trembling relief at coming home? I think of the walk from St. Clements to home, always taken in deepest night, in emptiness, as being cold, uncomfortable, but free: when we venture to London we are at the mercy of something else (real time, Marias might say, the world) and when we come back home to Oxford we feel liberated from these bounds.
I’m not saying we take the same view of the city, exactly–his is far more bitter, underscored by repeated assertions of the transience of his time in Oxford, how temporary his existance there. I’m only saying that there’s a necessary overlap.
I’m flicking through my music. I can’t find anything to fit my mood. I’m not sure there is anything, in all this world, to fit my mood. But the song that’s on now, it goes, “Oh September, where did you go?” and I find it possible to feel that now, in midwinter, when September, not so far gone, really, seems a million miles away. There was still foliage on the trees then, and a mild eruption of autumnal colouring in the parks.
It’s still beautiful here (I think–I’ve not been outdoors since Sunday). The reflections in the river are of such disconcerting clarity that the world looks upside-down sometimes. But I’m in such a state of self-pity at the moment that I refuse to notice this.