It’s damp here. The rain outside pelts the cement floor with force and the small heater in my living room fights, but not quite winning the war to warm up the space between these white walls.
Living mostly in climates where snow and sun are frequent but rain is not, I have never had much need for umbrellas, raincoats or waterproof footwear. And being the sort of person whose philosophy on packing goes something like, “if you don’t have it now or forget to pack it, use your visa when you get there,” none of these items were on my list.
Until today. When I woke up to the same sound I fell asleep to. Which was the same rat-at-tat that welcomed me to Oxford one day earlier. And that same drum roll, according to my driver, has been making noise every day here for months.
The sound of water falling from the sky in force, whipped by the wind against trees, rooftops and windows. A beautiful, cold cacophony.
This is Oxford.
Known for its awe inducing spires. Loved for its romantic history; given to any child (and child at heart) who in reading of Lucy’s fated step into an old dusty wardrobe, or in remembering Bilbo’s dangerous step beyond his front door, dares to believe magic worlds really do exist.
This is Oxford. Inspiring. Cold. Romantic. Damp. Old.
We romanticize what we don’t understand, I think. I have romanticized Oxford for most of my life. I’ve romanticized every single thing I’ve dreamed of knowing for most of my life: America, Home, Getting Published, Independence, Family, Love, Fame, Wealth, Career, Belonging…
And the best things, the things worth romanticizing, I am still romanced by, even in knowing them. Because, in knowing any single thing, we come to meet its shortcomings, its disappointments, its failures and its lies: the things we wanted to be true but aren’t.
And just maybe, Oxford will find its way onto this list of best things. It’s too early to tell.
I know the things worth romanticizing by my experience of leaving them. I remember the beautiful and not the mundane, or the mundane becomes beautiful.
Like small town life. And Land, lots of it: wide open low density spaces. Like home and all its ordinary-ness. And love. With all its contradictions and constant disappointments.
Maybe its our memories, not these things, that are romantic. We hold what was in such grand light and long for it to return because it feels good. Because when it’s damp, and cold, and old, it helps to remember magic worlds were written about in the same damp, cold, old place. And that even though we can walk downtown in our small hometown and in knowing everyone feel like the world is too small, still feel the comfort of being known.
Or maybe it really is the thing, the qualities of the object we have developed this affection for, that romances us. Like the incessant rain in Oxford. Soaking me to the bone as I look for everyday things like spinach and coffee on an unfamiliar street because I didn’t pack an umbrella.
Who can tell. For now, I’ll buy a raincoat and better shoes.