TRAVEL with pat and lew

* our Oxford Experience … 2014

Posted by Lew Weinstein on August 8, 2014

Oxford seal
This is our third time at Oxford, the other two being in 2010 and 2012. The Oxford Experience summer program runs for six weeks, from Sunday to Saturday. About 12-14 courses are offered each week, in a variety of areas: British history & literature, music, philosophy, science, and of course Alice in Wonderland, since Alice lived in Oxford.
Paris to Oxford … taxi to Gare Nord, Eurostar to London, taxi to Paddington Station, train to Oxford, taxi to hotel. We arrived on Saturday and stayed in a small hotel in Oxford. First stop: The Bear, the oldest pub in Oxford, for a cold one and a bag of crisps.
at the bear composite
We went to Blackwells in Oxford, maybe the best book store in the world. While I was in the history section looking for more books relevant to my research, Pat took a break and read a book of poems by Billy Collins, her favorite poet. Here she is with Billy at the KW Literary Seminar in January.
Pat and Billy Collins 2
Just when we decided to go to dinner on  – the only night not included in our Oxford Experience package – the heavens opened and it began to pour. Streets were flooded and it came down in buckets. Not to worry. Our hotel is located just above a restaurant, and not any restaurant, but Jamie Oliver’s (aka The Naked Chef) Italian. We each had an excellent meal and by the time we were done, it looked like it had never rained.
 Jamies Italian 2
Check-in begins at noon on Sunday, and we saw some familiar faces from our prior visits. Students are assigned to help with the luggage and we were soon ensconced in our lovely en-suite dormitory room. Pat ran off two entries down to iron the clothes that had been living in our suitcases for five weeks. One does dress differently at Oxford. The jeans have been retired for the time being.
arriving at Oxford
One of the great thrills of being at Christ Church in Oxford is that we eat all of our meals in the dining hall built by King Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey. Queen Elizabeth ate here – both Queen Elizabeths. And so did Harry Potter.
great hall
Our course this year – we both took the same course for the first time – was titled Toulouse Lautrec and the Artists at the turn of the Century in Paris. There were 12 in our class, and everyone contributed. Out tutor was Gillie McNeill. Gillie taught the course on the brain I took in 2012; she is a neuroscientist. Her avocation and lifelong passion is art, and she has lobbied for years to get Oxford to schedule her course. We were the beneficiaries of her persistence. Class goes from 9:15 to 12:30, with a tea break in the middle.
in class composite
We studied many outstanding paintings, by Lautrec and others (Manet), spending intense minutes with many of them, seeing in a new way. Gillie is so much fun to be with, and she led what all of us thought was a great learning experience. Here is Paris in 1900, the Opera and the Moulin Rouge.
Paris 1900
This one by Manet evoked long discussion, in class and on the web – I posted it and invited comments.
manet - behind the bar
Here are some of the almost 50 comments from my great Facebook friends …
  • There’s a sadness in the girls eyes. She’s probably the minimum wage fast food worker of the 1890s… serving drinks to the 1% in a dress that cost her a month’s wages out of her own pocket just to get the job. I say this because she looks detached and distant from the revelry around her.
  • With her detached expressionless face, she daydreams of a life of wealth and aristocracy instead of being a servant to them . Sort of like our own middle class today .
  • she is damn tired of serving those ignorant aristocrats
  • a woman standing alone on her own two feet was not feeling independent but rather sad and vulnerable!!!?
  • If catering to this decadence means I have to wear this corset ONE MORE MINUTE… Lord, another hour before my shift ends.
  • there seems to be a man in the mirror that is speaking to her, but she clearly is not looking at him
  • She wants the party to end, as none of the champagne, roses, fruit, and chandeliers are for her.
  • what sort of interaction there is going on between “the man in the mirror” and the woman?
  • She is young, beautiful and vulnerable- BUT her back is turned to the crowd, to le monde. Her gaze is introspective. She’s not looking at the man in the mirror who is looking at her. Yet I think she IS seeking that special person, who will see her individuality rather than her functionality as a mere dispenser of food and drink. Does the separate rose in the glass before her have symbolic significance? I’ve never seen this fascinating painting but would bet my life that nothing in it is accidental!
  • She’s thinking I’ve had enough. I’d like to go home. He’s thinking I sure would like to go home with her.
  • She was alone in a room full of people, invisible in a way..she wants you, the viewer to take her away, to some new and more interesting place,life.
  • she will always be the secret, never in the crowd with him, always in the shadows without him. Always behind the bar, never in the crowd, properly acceptable, enjoying life like those surrounding her.

HTL photo 1

 One of the traditions of the Oxford Experience is a night at High Table at the front of the dining hall where students share the meal with faculty. Each student is invited to one High Table during their stay. We met early for sherry and were treated to unlimited wine during the meal. I’m wearing a bow tie in Princeton colors which Pat bought for me just for this night. After dinner, we went to the Master’s Garden for croquet and champagne. Of course.
OX - High Table & croquet
Jane Avril was one of Lautrec’s friends and also a frequent model. She was a dancer at the Moulin Rouge known for her strange ability to twirl her leg.
Avril composite
Lautrec never ridiculed or look down on his subjects, who were often prostitutes. He always treated them with respect. Notice he put himself in the Moulin Rouge scene.
Moulin Rouge composite
Our Key West friends Norma and Dick have a long-time friend Joan who lives in Oxford. We had a delightful lunch today with Joan and her daughter Helen.
lunch with Joan
On the last day of class, each of us was asked to choose a painting and talk about it for 2 minutes. Pat and I chose Lautrec’s portrait of his friend Van Gogh, and rather than critique the painting, we wrote and performed a skit about the night Lautrec showed the portrait to Van Gogh.
Van Gogh by HTL

an original skit by Pat and Lew

An apartment in Montmartre. It is 3:00 am. There are bottles and plates and glasses strewn about. Henri and Jane are talking after the others have left the party.

Henri: Jane, are you sober enough for serious conversation.

Jane: How dare you, Henri. You had 3 drinks for every one of mine. What conversation do you want to have?

H: I’d like your opinion as to how this evening went? Do you think Vincent like my portrait of him?

J: Why do you care what Vincent thinks? He’s half crazy and he’s never sold a painting, and probably never will.

H: Oh Jane, that’s not nice. He’s my friend. And besides, I think someday his work may be noticed.

Jane looks at the painting, which is on an easel off to the side of the room.

J: Well, I liked it. I especially liked the way you put in the bright colors. You haven’t done much of that lately.

H: Who do you think encouraged me to do that? And also those bold brush strokes.

J: Why did Vincent tell you to use color? He paints all those dark scenes from Holland. Who wants to look at his dark paintings? He has one of people eating potatoes. Who cares?

H: He may agree with you. In his latest work, he’s starting to use more color. We’re learning from each other and helping each other experiment.

J: Theo (Van Gogh’s brother) seemed to like your painting.

H: Yes, he even mentioned he might want to buy it.

J: If he does, will he put it up for sale? Or maybe give it to Vincent as a gift?

H: So let’s get back to my question. Did Vincent like his portrait?

J: He probably did. If not, he might have doused it with wine and set it on fire. You just never know what he’s going to do.

H: Please, Jane. He would never do anything like that … What did the others think?

J: Your cousin Gabi certainly liked it. And I think Emile did also.

H: As much as I love Gabi, his opinion is biased. Emile may be more objective.

J: Emile said he thought you made Vincent look older than he is. He was surprised by the colors. First he thought they were a little childish, but the more he looked at it, the more he liked it.

H: You mean the more he drank the more he liked it.

J: Well, that too. By the way, Vincent was quite surprised when you unveiled it. How did you paint it without him knowing about it?

H: We met for drinks one day last week. I stayed in the shadows when Vincent arrived and made a quick sketch. Then I did the rest in the studio that night.

J: Quite devious of you, Henri. Do you have sketches of me that will someday appear on your canvas?

H: Ah, Jane. I love you but you have to allow me my secrets. You’ll just have to wait and see. Maybe some day I will make Jane Avril as famous as this portrait will make Vincent Van Gogh.

J: And also as famous as Henri Toulouse Lautrec.

Henri & Jane

 On the last night, the dinner in the great hall is a little more formal. The men wear coats and ties, the ladies dressed in their finest and looked fantastic. One of our new friends gave a sparkling party before the final reception …
party before the party
Here is most of our class at the champagne reception before the final dinner …
reception in Alice's garden
Our final dinner in the great hall, and a last look at the Christ Church quad …
dinner & quad

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