Today was a brilliant day. I managed to be out and about by 8:00am Tallinn time (10:00am here, but still) in order to go for coffee and a walk with Margaret. For the first time, we walked through the botanical gardens around Magdalen College. In particular, the contents of the greenhouses were fascinating and beautiful. I especially liked seeing all the edible species: coffee, peanuts, plantain, etc. I looked for Camellia Sinensis, but had no luck.
Afterwards, we went on a tour through several Oxford bookshops – all of which made me burn with the desire to read more. In the end, I bought three: all of them from the Blackwells series of Very Short Introductions. I got ‘Emotion,’ about which I know very little, ‘Hume,’ who I consider my favourite philosopher, and ‘Cryptography,’ about which I always want to know more. Blackwells bookshop is definitely among my favourite places in Oxford. It makes me aspire to days of retirement when I can concentrate on reading, cooking, and gardening – as I envision that I shall.
Margaret is now departing for the next while, leaving me almost completely alone in Oxford. If I remember properly, Nora was supposed to come back on the 19th, but I haven’t seen any sign of her. Perhaps she is in London. Claire and Emily are definitely out of town, though perhaps Bryony is around. Alex is still in New Zealand – as you would expect after travelling so far – and I don’t know where Roham is located. Bilyana, I expect, is with her family up north.
Today also brought a vast amount of excellent mail. First, and largest, was a package from my mother for Christmas. They will be leaving tomorrow for North Carolina, so it seems unlikely that they will get mine until their return. My mother sent me a blast of Canadiana. She sent Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad: the Myth of Penelope and Odysseus in hardcover, along with an elegant bookmark. Unfortunately, the book is not inscribed, as I would strongly encourage anyone who sends me a book to do. She also sent me a very nice looking red, white, gray, and black scarf and another with a very intricate East Indian red and black pattern on it. The first, I think, is better suited to wear – the second to decorate my room with. The pattern reminds me of the piece of cloth that Kate used to cover her computer monitor, at her house in Victoria. Also decorative is the Red Cross calendar with pictures of Canada on it. Finally, she enclosed a large Canadian flag, for which I shall have to find a good spot. I am not sure whether it is the flag that Kate gave me ages ago and which I left in North Vancouver, or an entirely new one. I will need to borrow the hammer and nails from the housekeeper again. Many thanks to my family for such a considerate collection of gifts.
Along with the package from my mother, I got a Christmas card from her sister Mirka and my uncle Robert. Along with my cousins Megan and Dylan, they live in Bennington, Vermont, where my aunt teaches at the university. I very much hope they will have the chance to come visit Oxford while I am here. The Magdalen botanical gardens have definitely been added to my tour route. I must remember to write them a letter in response, as well as send one to my aunt, uncle, and grandmother in North Carolina.
Another envelope came from Meaghan Beattie in Vancouver. Along with a very sweet card, she sent me a genuine passport for Hell, such as we found and were enormously amused by when wandering in Chinatown. It includes a plane ticket to Hell (from Ming Fu Airlines) and a Bank of Hades (oddly, with a ‘Heaven Main Office’) chequebook and Mastercard. I am just as bemused by the collection as when we first encountered it, wandering Vancouver’s rainy streets. Meaghan is definitely among the Vancouverites whose direct company I miss the most. Unfortunately, I can see from the return address on the envelope that the postcard I sent her from Tallinn was sent to the wrong place. It will reach nothing more than a dead letter office, since it had no return address. I shall have to send her another, from Oxford.
The last package contributed still further to my collection of reading materials. An unknown person, who I strongly suspect to be Hilary McNaughton, sent me the Student’s Vegetarian Cookbook. Whoever did send it (and the package does not identify) gets me hearty thanks. While I may need to wait for retirement in order to start learning how to garden, learning how to cook sooner is almost certainly wise.
I suppose it may have been appropriate to refrain from opening what was clearly Christmas mail until the day itself, but the thought didn’t really occur to me until now and I have no regrets about not doing so. It has successfully pre-empted any possibility of feeling lonesome in a somewhat deserted Oxford over the next little while. It’s a wonderful feeling to have such a collection of concrete evidence of not having been forgotten by people elsewhere. The sheer satisfaction of it has convinced me to send more mail. It should also help me feel less overwhelmed about all the things that crop up demanding to be done after a trip. I tend to pick a long but pleasant one as an opening task, using breaks from it to complete short and unpleasant ones. You also need to stay on guard for moments suited to tasks that can only be completed in a particular state of mind, such as writing good letters.
During the afternoon, I worked out the shared tally for the Baltic trip, as well as entered the whole collection of figures into my finance tracking spreadsheets. [Section removed, 23 December 2005] Even with cheap flights and cheap cities, these things add up. That’s a quarter of what the whole Prague / Italy trip with Meghan Mathieson cost, and it was four times as long and started from Vancouver. I would tell you how it compares with other trips, but mining the old blog is tedious since it is no longer online and Google searchable. I also caught up with the many Oxford blogs that I read. I feel like I know these people rather better now than back when I first met a group of them. Perhaps the next few months will bring another such encounter.
- People to whom I must write: Vermont Family, North Carolina Family, Meghan Mathieson, Meaghan Beattie.
- Some good commentary on the security value of checks and balances from Bruce Schneier: my go-to guy for information about security.
- The new version of MSN for Mac: takes more RAM, looks a bit slicker, still crashes just as often.
- My brother Mica has a new video out: “Little Green Bag.” It may be a mark of the changing focus of his life that it is shot on campus at UBC, instead of in North Vancouver. I think the young woman in it may be Mica’s bombshell love interest from the musical Damn Yankees, reviewed on the old blog.
- More than ever, I want to meet Philip Pullman, the masterful author of the His Dark Materials trilogy and an Oxford resident. Anyone who knows of an event where he will be present is politely begged to contact me about it.