Tuesday, September 20, 2011

back from the lands

We're back from our trip to the Lands (Eng-, Fin-, Ire-) and like all great holidays away, we're so happy to be back home. Enjoyed a tour of Cambridge, had tea and scones at Grantchester (communing with the spirit of Virginia Woolf) and saw the cathedral and stained glass museum in Ely (pronounced EEL-ee). I have long loved academia. The whole dedication to learning and subsequent freedom from poverty (in my family's history) has been a strong influence in my life.

Beautiful Cambridge University...but you are not allowed to walk on the grass, grasshopper, unless you wear the robe of a professor.
But lately I've begun to rethink the manner in which we revere academics. The system of measurement is effective in many ways but in many ways it devalues much of what makes wisdom so profound. I was surprised to find the atmosphere and history of Cambridge off-putting.

Stained glass panel in the Ely Cathedral
All that glorified hierarchy is reminiscent of every type of class stratification. Only the Fellows (professors) can walk on the lawn, plum dorm assignments are based on academic performance and many wear their robes to class. Perhaps I am just freeing myself from...or widening my view of the value I placed on being a scholar nerd. I still love learning and history and words. I'm just less impressed by the way we measure such things.

All told, the close of such an adventure is bittersweet. Every place had its own smell and taste and beauty and contradiction. The 360 degree sounds of foreign languages is disorienting and delightful. The sound of English spoken with so many accents was wonderful too. The ability to do all this in my current unemployed state and bring Barbara's mother along as well makes me grateful for the material comforts I have in my life. Traveling with your mother-in-law can be trying (for her more than me, I suspect) but her joy and satisfaction with seeing these faraway lands will put a smile on my face for many years.

...Not to mention the way traveling makes you feel about home. I have many issues with our nation and its politics but love for country (and Houston, Texas in general) is strengthened, not weakened, by seeing other places. Mostly, I am grateful to Barbara. This was our 25th anniversary celebration (our anniversary is technically next month but I don't fancy Northern European temperatures in late October/early November!) and our 5th trip to Europe in 15 years...and we had such a great time. Being able to talk through the stress and share the joy of whatever we're doing is such a boon. I never tire of adventuring with her!

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