Teatime

Tea.

It is a culture here in England, a lost thing to American sensibilities. After all, tea was a historical dispute between the states and the monarchy. The former dumped it in the ocean while the latter snobbed it up with “pinky out.” Ignoring the harsh history involving the beverage, tea does seem to play a much larger social role on the other side of the Atlantic. Here in Oxford (i.e. all of England) one can find several cafes and pubs offering tea. This is commonplace. Even in America, there are many cafes and restaurants that offer tea and coffee. And yet, Americans do tea wrong. Maybe we find the process of teatime tea-dious. I’m American, and I love tea. It is a comfort drink, and many times reminds me of my time at home in Hershey. I assure you, reader, many Americans love tea. I have only met a few people who say they do not enjoy tea. They are to be shunned. As Americans, our love for tea is limited though. There is a mountain too high and a river too deep separating us from the full joy that is tea.

That joy is called cream tea.

During my first Sunday in Oxford, a group of four or five ended up at a café called the Vaults and Garden. It is a small café located in Oxford’s Old Congregation House of 1320. For many of us, we had no idea what cream tea meant. One of my friends thought it might be something similar to a frappe. I insisted it was plain tea with milk. It is neither of those silly ideas. Cream tea consists of a tea of your choice (an entire pot of tea in some cases), and a scone or two. To accompany the scones, cafes give a side of jam and a side of clotted cream as spreads. The combination of the two is heavenly. The cream tea is not the only reason why the British do tea correctly. It is the idea of Afternoon Tea that rights all wrongs between America and Britain. At least, it does for me. Afternoon tea starts around midday. It is a time to enjoy conversation and a cuppa. More so, it is a break from the bustle of life. Coming from one of the busiest cities in the world, I found the slower speed of Oxford, and the calming atmosphere of teatime a pleasant and welcomed change. It is this tradition I feel I might miss most about England.

I must not be too hasty with my generalizations. This facetious claim of mine stands on wobbly pillars. Teatime can be found anywhere in the world. It is no longer a British tradition. However, England does have consistency when it comes to setting aside a period of time for the sole enjoyment of tea and conversation. The location of the tea doesn’t matter. Tea, in its nature, is a drink that calms and comforts wherever it is consumed. No, location comes second. Tea is wonderful whether it is a cup in the hands of an American boy watching Newsies, or it is in a porcelain teacup held by a hand with pinky extended.

It seems I steeped this discussion too long. I close with this: drink tea unabashedly.

Keep on keeping on,

J.S.U.

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“Oxford” by C.S. Lewis

It is well that there are palaces of peace
And discipline and dreaming and desire,
Lest we forget our heritage and cease
The Spirit’s work—to hunger and aspire:

Lest we forget that we were born divine,
Now tangled in red battle’s animal net,
Murder the work and lust the anodyne,
Pains of the beast ‘gainst bestial solace set.

But this shall never be: to us remains
One city that has nothing of the beast,
That was not built for gross, material gains,
Sharp, wolfish power or empire’s glutted feast.

We are not wholly brute. To us remains
A clean, sweet city lulled by ancient streams,
A place of visions and of loosening chains,
A refuge of the elect, a tower of dreams.

She was not builded out of common stone
But out of all men’s yearning and all prayer
That she might live, eternally our own,
The Spirit’s stronghold—barred against despair.

A Summary.

“Oxford is the most dangerous place to which a young man can be sent.” – Anthony Trollope

And so it begins.

The man’s chair reclined all the way back. My TV screen gone aided me little in my attempt to escape the cramped atmosphere of the Boeing 747. One would think there would be more space on British Airway’s third largest plane. Unfortunately, I did not have the luxury of Business or First Class.

It was a long flight. At one point, I spilled my tea on my lap. Halfway across the Atlantic, they turned off the lights. I sat in the dark trying to read by the light of my tiny TV screen. Sleep avoided my every attempt.

Though it might sound like a rough flight, overall it went smoothly. Reaching Heathrow Airport definitely brightened my day. Then I reached customs. The confusion of non-Euro passports versus Euro passports lines and the shear number of people in a not-big-enough-room made me reevaluate my desire to travel. I waited, with some company including a South African man on a business/vacation trip, for about an hour.

After getting through customs unscathed but exhausted, a fellow student and I made our way to the Oxford bus queue outside of the airport. We met another student from our program at the bus stop. As expected, I stood off to the side, and immediately pulled out a book to “read.” A reflex that has proved handy before, but I didn’t want it to rear itself in a place where I wanted to talk to everyone. Becoming more conversational is one of my goals while at Oxford (besides being recognized as brilliant, and asked to stay at the university forever).

The bus provided me an opportunity to view the passing English countryside. Rolling hills and large, dark forests surrounded the flip-flopped road. Not a single billboard or advertisement lined the highway. Road signs were infrequent. At some point I fell asleep to the rumbling of the bus and the music playing from my headphones. My nap didn’t last long. I jerked awake, not wanting to sleep until later that night in order to avoid a nasty spell of jet lag.

At the end of the hour or so bus ride from London to Oxford, I stepped off the bus and proceeded to head to my new flat in Summertown. (The current condition of the flat might deserve its own story). I quickly deposited my luggage, and headed out to explore my new home.

The city itself is made up of residential brick and stone buildings mixed with storefronts. Many buildings have stores on the street level with flats and offices on the second level. No building besides the older stone buildings of the university reach above two floors. There is a mixture of old and new: restaurants located in buildings from the 14th century, paved streets blending into cobblestone roads, and castle-like turrets filling the skyline of the city.

Every where you go in Oxford there is history made present. A short exploration of the city reveals that Oxford – from our flat (named “Banbury Lodge” as agreed on by all flatmates) to our first pub “The Rose and Crown” all the way to Christ’s Church and the Commons where we fell asleep underneath a willow tree – contains a rich history of stories and memories.

Oxford is where fairytales no longer fall short of reality, and where modernity falls in love with the past. It claims the hearts and imaginations of all who visit. It is a good place, and I expect to fall in love with it more every day.

I hope to write more of my experience in Oxford, and I hope you enjoyed this brief catch-up of my first couple days.

Keep on keeping on,

J.S.U.

“I wonder anybody does anything at Oxford but dream and remember, the place is so beautiful. One almost expects the people to sing instead of speaking. It is all like an opera.” – William Butler Yeats

Dead and Happy

Yesterday, on the 16th of May, the team and I traveled to the lowest and deadest place on earth. Around 9am, we boarded a tour bus, sixteen loud and excited college students, and drove towards the Dead Sea. I think for most people, the Dead Sea is one of those natural oddities. Without experiencing it, you fail to really get it.

The Dead Sea is very much dead (except for a small amoeba-like bacteria recently discovered). About 29% of the body of water is salt, an unlivable environment for any aquatic or bacterial organism. During the heat of the day, the surrounding desert stands testament to the barrenness of the sea. Furthermore, it lies 1300ft below sea level, the lowest and driest place to be visited and inhabited by man. It is hot, stony, and dead.

Driving beside the sea on roads built into cliffs and overlooking sinkholes and the reflected yellows of the sun on the water, there is a sense of massiveness. On the other side of the sea is Jordan. On the other side of the road
is desert. That desert contains the once mighty fortress of Masada, the waterfalls of Ein Gedi, and groves of palms. The Dead Sea is dead, but there is a rich history and life surrounding it.

These reasons, however, fall short of the actual experience of floating in the Dead Sea. It is effortless and fluid. Though dead, it made me happy.

Keep on keeping on,
J.S.U.

P.S. Don’t get the water in your eyes. P.P.S. Cover your body with the mud.

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Flying.

I’ve only ever flown twice in my life prior to this trip. Once was with a friend and his father, and the other time was flying to Florida with my mom and dad.
It’s an odd sensation. The first flight from JFK to Brussels was long and effortless. From Brussels to Tel Aviv, the plane shrank, but what does that matter when you are flying to the Holy Land?
At the moment of this publication, I have officially landed in Israel. Again, an odd sensation takes hold of me. It is a different country, a different language, but doesn’t seem all that foreign. Now, my perspective is limited by the airport portrait, granted.
That is it for now. I hope to keep everyone updated, but adventures await.

Toda,
J.S.U.

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