Oxford will be, always and forever, one of my favorite places. The city and University hosted my year abroad. Some of my most beloved friends continue to live their beautifully melancholy academic lives on the city’s uneven stony paths. It’s amazing, really, that cobblestones are still the major choice of walkway material throughout the city, given the amount of students with their heads in the clouds, in books, or in intense post-lash doldrums that populate the city. I know because I regularly end up flat on my face–it happened at least twice a term–that this city can only be navigated safely with the use of incredibly mindful walking. Those stones just jump up and grab your toes!
Returning to something you love is always dangerous. After my first return visit I knew what it would be like to have an addiction relapse. It was only a three day visit and I became so upset when I left that I absentmindedly tried to leave both my passport and my laptop at airport security! It was a clear subliminal call for help.
SO now it’s my second return. I didn’t bother talking myself down from the ledge of expectations before arriving. From the moment I stepped off the bus Loll, Olivia, Anna and I set off to do all of the “usual” things. I took pictures.
The thing to remember about Ben’s cookies is to always order something “still hot.” I have engaged in extended, and nearly friendship ending, arguments with James Moore about this. He is a die-hard, cold or hot, fan of Chocolate Orange. First of all, that is just a silly flavor to order when options include peanut butter, milk chocolate, or triple chocolate. Secondly, everyone knows that cookies without melty centers are a waste of time.
Georgina’s is our breakfast club. It’s crowded with tourists on the weekend but just about every other hour it is vacant and awaiting our tea and toast secrets. It is a tiny upstairs clubhouse-like restaurant where there are really only three things you should consider ordering: the hot bacon baguette, the smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel, or the scrambled eggs on toast. It’s always a nerve wracking experience when there are more people who weasel their way into our breakfast club. I often feel as though the walls are thinking, “OH that is what so and so that they always tell stories about actually looks like.” I have irrational thoughts that the blackboard menus will suddenly re-write themselves and spell out the exact words of my secrets.
There are a few fancy places to eat in Oxford. Without a doubt our favorites are Brasserie Blanc and Jamie’s Italian. I guess we are a little in awe of celebrity chefs and fickle for fame. Neither restaurant is perfect but we keep going back because good memories are exponential.
Oxford is that kind of memory. It has changed just a little bit every time I go back, sort of like slight changes on the menu or changes to the people sitting around the table at a special dinner. The thing is, it’s logical to expect changes in a restaurant or a different experience day to day and guest to guest.
Cities are not the same as restaurants. It’s strange, sometimes sad, to visit old haunts. It’s uncanny. I want to belong and yet don’t quite belong in Oxford anymore. When I drive in England I do everything safely and oppositely for a long time but every once in a while I have a sudden unexpected moment of panic. My brain suddenly screams, “everything is wrong!” Being in a car is so familiar but cars coming at me from my right side… that’s odd. When I’m wandering in Oxford I forget, for a while, that I don’t actually study there anymore. When I walk past the staircase to my old room I try to turn up it, just for a second. I’ve actually tried to visit my friends in their old rooms rather than the ones they sleep in this year. I have moments of panic when I realize that, familiar as this place is, a massive amount of time has elapsed without me. Things are different but not in a way I can place as easily as, “I’m on the wrong side of the car.” I’ll have to think about what is making me feel like a walking ghost from a world that existed a year ago. One thing is sure: I love it here no less in its alteration. I can’t wait to spend time knowing the new Oxford. What an oxymoron!