My feet ache, but I don't care. My body is exhausted, but I hardly notice -- okay, I notice a little bit. Because this week, I am in the town of Lewis and Tolkien (aka my main men). I am roaming their old haunts. I am in one of the centers of learning of the English world -- heck, the world as a whole. This week, I am in Oxford.
Travel to this grand city was an intense four-stage process. I had a short flight to another Texan town, where I had a layover. Then I took the long flight to London. As I fell asleep on the London flight, I was suddenly seized by an overwhelming fear: What if I couldn't find the train? What if my bag was lost? What if someone tried to cause trouble at the airport? And my greatest fear: What if someone tried to hurt me? The Lord was with me in those moments, y'all -- He always is, of course, but I was suddenly seized by the knowledge of His with-ness. It was as if the Holy Spirit had grabbed me firmly, but gently, by the shoulders, and said tenderly to me, Sara. I am here. And I had peace.
I don't sleep well on planes, but I think I managed to get a couple of hours. I got to the airport and went through immigration -- it's a long process but fairly painless -- and my bag was easy to find. Then it came time to find the train. I had been looking forward to this and simultaneously dreading it for some time. I was afraid I would get on the wrong train, or not be able to find it at all. Thankfully, I did find it, and it took me directly to Paddington Station, as promised. There I met up with my first new friends, fellow CASI-ites! And if you think I didn't also buy Paddington Bear, you could not be more wrong.
The ride to Oxford was spent chatting with my friend Adriana (sidebar: I LOVE her name!). We, along with three other new friends -- Carlos, Karissa, and Clinton -- were the first to arrive in Oxford, at about 11:30 in the morning. Our first stop? The Eagle and Child, the pub where the Inklings, including Lewis and Tolkien, often dined and discussed literature.
Oh. My. GOSH.
To say that I freaked out and was basically overjoyed was an understatement. I ate where my two favorite authors in the world ate. It was like a pilgrimage. If I did nothing else my entire time here, I think it would be a success.
Afterward we walked around the city. We encountered Tesco, the grocery store. It reminds me a lot of the Grazers' Spar (I miss AIMS). Walking around a city is really tiring, but I had forgotten how much I loved it. It makes you feel like you're truly part of the city. You get to know it and experience it. It becomes part of your life, and you get into its lifeblood. Driving is super convenient, but the difference between walking and driving is like the difference between writing by hand and typing: one helps you to remember.
Last night Dr. Sadlier, the head of our program, gave a world premiere recital of a new work, so we all went. We were there physically, but definitely not mentally. We were all so jet-lagged that we kept falling asleep. I think I remember less than ten minutes of the recital. Occasionally I would wake up from my doze to find my head jerk. I slept so well last night.
This morning I went on my first run in Oxford! I found a lovely trail not far from where we're staying. It runs between two arms of the canal. It's a narrow little footpath, but gorgeous and sunshine and peaceful in the mornings. I need to take photos for you.
Today was a rehearsal day. We are having a masterclass tomorrow, so we rehearsed our pieces for that. And we've each been assigned two concert pieces, so we worked on those with our pianists. Besides the rehearsal, it was a free day. I walked around the main street with friends. We had a group dinner at The Royal Oak, a pub-style restaurant not far from St. Anne's, where we rehearse and practice. It was a day full of walking, but this town is so beautiful and old. I love it here. It's a center of learning, and I want to go into every bookshop I see (today we encountered one that had four floors. Paradise).
In the midst of this ancient grandeur and beauty and exhaustion, I am still trying to see the beauty in the small things. I am trying to get out and be adventurous. Today, instead of taking a nap (which I sorely needed), I went exploring with my friends. I don't want to be lame and sit alone in my room, I told them (even if it was to sleep). But the truth is, I don't want to miss out. I want to drink this in. This is a three week experience, and we only get a week here in this beautiful storybook town of ancient lore. I want to soak up every last drop of it. I want to really experience it and know it.
It's part of being adventurous, isn't it? Of course it is. Of course it would be. Ignoring the exhaustion and being willing to do something new? Isn't that just an adventure that rebels against tiredness? Still to come: masterclasses, lessons, day trips, and lots more walking. Bonus photo: There was Carmen on the plane. So, like a good mezzo, I listened to some Bizet.
Also, my newest habit: the place where we stay sells tea in a pot for £1.50. Life is good.