Despite another mishap with my alarm clock, I managed to do quite well today. With two short breaks outside excluded, I was in the Social Sciences Library for the entire six hour span from opening to closing. To start with, I read the relevant half of Shlaim Avi’s War and Peace in the Middle East. While very readable, it underscored just how little I know about the region at the time. It would be quite impossible to develop a comprehensive knowledge of it by Tuesday. Actually, I have serious doubts about the wisdom of this academic approach. On the basis of no actual instruction, we are being called upon to synthesize weekly arguments on the basis of highly detailed, numerous, and academic accounts. While it’s a game that I have some ability to play, I don’t really think it is making me more knowledgeable or capable.
Despite my doubts, and bolstered by two sandwiches prepared from materials purchased at Sainsbury’s, rather than purchased directly from there, I carried on reading. I finished half of Elizabeth Monroe’s Britain’s Moment in the Middle East: 1914-71. It too was fairly good to read, though it made many references to personages and no-longer-extant political entities that I know nothing about. As with Avi, I at least maintain the gist of the argument. Once I finish reading the relevant sections from David Fromkin’s The Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East I should have enough raw material to build a decent fifteen minute presentation about.
During one of today’s short intra-library breaks, I created a Google Group for the graduate freshers in the IR program. It will be publicly accessible, in case anyone is interested. I am hoping to use it to coordinate weekly meetings with the six other members of my heptet for the core seminar. Since none of us will be able to do all the readings, it would be enriching for all of us to have a short discussion before the actual seminar takes place. Doing so should also reduce some of the stress and wastefulness associated with having everyone prepare presentations independently.
An hour after the library closed, I met Margaret outside Nuffield. Through the light rain, we wandered to a coffee shop on St. Aldate’s, which is open until midnight every day of the week. While I can’t remember the extended form of its name, it abbreviates to G and D’s. It is located quite near the music shop where Nora bought a guitar string and not far from Christ Church College, the Head of the River, and the Folly Bridge (each progressively farther south).
As before, talking with Margaret was relaxed and pleasant. I learned that we share the intention of eventually climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. As I recall, someone from my father’s firm climbed it at some point during the past few years. It’s something I would rather like to do during one of the stretches between terms, if only so that I could mildly amaze people who asked me what I did over the course of the vacation. After coffee, we wandered to Wadham and then back to Nuffield, where I left her in the company of her friend Anna.
Tomorrow morning, I am to visit the Wadham doctors on Beaumont Street for a meningitis and mumps vaccination. After that, I shall return to the scrutinizing of The Peace to End All Peace before meeting Emily at one. In case I haven’t mentioned her already, Emily is part of the IR M.Phil group, Canadian, located at St. Antony’s, and an alumna of Brown. I wonder if she knew Eva. She has kindly invited me, at some indefinite future point, to come to dinner at her college.
Other tasks for tomorrow include learning what NatWest would charge me if I simply wrote a cheque from the Bank of Montreal for the amount I want to transfer, rather than going through the bother of acquiring, signing, and mailing an Agreement for Verbal and Facsimile Transmissions to my home branch, then authorizing a wire transfer that will cost $50. In a related task, I need to go formally request an extension for paying my battles from the Domestic Bursar. They will have started charging me interest on the 14th. I also need to contact the department about why they haven’t sent me a bill for my first term tuition and the BC student loans office about why they haven’t sent me anything in months. It should be more-or-less obvious by now that the above list is mostly for my benefit, because it is very useful to have such things in places where you can find them quickly and they cannot be lost.
Looking through the glossy brochure for the Oxford Union, there is much that makes it tempting. They seem to have a fairly large lending library, which is always a valuable resource (especially when it is focused on history and politics). They regularly have excellent speakers: presidents of countries, Salman Rushdie, Terry Pratchett, and Jeffery Sacks this term alone. They have a couple of nice looking member’s lounges, complete with the availability of £1 pints. Up until Thursday of next week, I could get a lifetime membership for £156 (C$340). After that, it becomes even more expensive. At a third of the cost, I would join readily. As it stands, I think that I shall not. $340 would go a fair way towards my eventual Kilimanjaro climb.
Kilimanjaro is 5,895m tall: 4.7 times as high as Grouse Mountain, which is what Alison, Jonathan, and I meant to climb a few days before I left. While the comparison is obviously quite deceptive, in terms of the respective difficulty of the climbs, it does offer the hope that it would not be an entirely impossible thing to actually pull off. Climbing Uhuru Peak on Kilimanjaro requires neither rock nor ice climbing skills, the major difficulty being the need to acclimatize to prevent altitude sickness. The climb can apparently be done in as little as four or five days. Wikipedia tells me that 15,000 people a year try to climb Kilimanjaro, though only 40% persist to the summit. Seeing how eminently feasible it would be to make an attempt in the next few years, my determination to do so increases considerably. It might be a good way to celebrate the completion of my M.Phil. Obviously, it would require quite a lot of fitness training beforehand.
I should, in any event, stop wandering through Kilimanjaro sites and return to the enormously less interesting task of reading for my core seminar.