Because the Oxford term ends so absurdly early (December 4th, this year), Christmas celebrations tend to get bumped up a few weeks, resulting in a phenomenon known as “Oxmas”. By mid-November, a Christmas tree is awaiting lights in the Bodleian quad, carols are being sung by various college choirs, and every social event is accompanied by obligatory mulled wine and minced pies, infusing some festive cheer into the cold, dark weeks before the break. Perhaps the hope is that the extra sugar will allow us to survive the last two weeks of term . . .
It’s interesting that the etymology of the word essay goes back to the Latin word exigere, which means “to weigh, or put to the test”. While in Oxford the word does typically just refer to “a short piece of writing on a particular subject”, that older definition is actually feeling pretty accurate at the moment.
If you are looking for a classically “Oxford” experience, but are reluctant to endure the physical exertion and frigid early morning practices required by rowing, I heartily recommend joining a college chapel choir. You might not escape the cold (stone chapels not being known for their warmth), but physical exertion is generally limited to saving enough breath to get through the Amen without passing out.
. . . which simultaneously describes the current state of both the weather and of my brain–the latter state being principally due to the simply atrocious cold that has set up camp inside my head. As if all this studying weren’t hard enough already!
The meteorological fog I find much more attractive. I’ve just walked back from an evening seminar in Medieval History with the street lights glowing rather cheerfully in the darkness through thin veils of mists and church spires soaring majestically up into the fog.
The seminar itself was very interesting. As always, a professor was presenting a paper on medieval history. As always, far more people than can possibly be permitted by current fire regulations crammed themselves into a room in All Souls College–on chairs, window ledges, or the floor if need be–to hear it. This week, Professor Sarah Foot, the current Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History, was discussing her thoughts and various issues she has encountered in formulating a plan for a biography she will be writing on the Venerable Bede. It was actually rather reassuring – to know that even Oxford academics have to take their time to hammer out and wrestle with and sort out their topics and methodologies.
Oxford days have uncanny ability to slip away. One moment, the day stretches before you, flushed with productive promise. The next, it’s mysteriously disappeared, leaving behind a stack of books lamentably unread and assignments still unfinished.
My schedule from Wednesday, a day in which I have just one hour of class to attend, may illustrate: