TRAVEL with pat and lew

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* 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

Posted in ... 2014, ... UK - Oxford | Leave a Comment »

* another fabulous experience at the Oxford Experience 2012

Posted by Lew Weinstein on August 1, 2012

Approximately 20 years ago, Pat read an article by travel writer and publisher Arthur Frommer, praising a week he had just spent at Oxford. Two years ago, she saw another post by Arthur saying if you wanted to sign up for Oxford Experience 2010, now was the time to do it. We did, and had a wonderful experience. See our 2010 posts at ….

* the Oxford experience … more than you could ever imagine

* Ethics and Beethoven … two courses in the OXFORD EXPERIENCE

This year, we signed up again. At the opening reception, I was speaking to a man and looked at his name card. “Are you THE Arthur Frommer,” I asked, and thus began a wonderful week long friendship with Arthur and his lovely wife Roberta. It is indeed a small world, full of coincidences.

NOTE: Apparently the feeling was mutual. Here is a quote from Arthur’s blog ( … My wife and I met people from Australia, Paris, Nashville, the Cotswolds, California, and even Key West (an especially engaging couple). Each was a vital individual in love with learning.

Read more:

Pat, Roberta, Arthur and Lew


This year, Pat took a course about “Cardinal Wolsey” offered by tutor Glenn Richardson. Wolsey is best known for failing to convince the Pope to allow Henry VIII to divorce from Catherine of Aragon. Lew’s course was titled “The Brain and the Senses,” taught by Gillie McNeil. Each course was taught from Monday to Friday, 9:15 to 12:45, with a break for tea and biscuits, and each was a delightful and challenging  but not too stressful learning experience … lots of learning; interesting classmates; no examinations; no papers!

Someone asked Pat if she had learned something new. Her response was “everything I learned was new since I knew absolutely nothing about Wolsey before.”

Whereas Lew was terrified to learn that each time he sneezes, which he does fairly often, he blows away brain cells that have lodged just above the nasal passage.

For more information about the Oxford Experience and our particular courses, see … The Oxford Experience – Department for Continuing Education 

the Wolsey group & the brain group


Cardinal Wolsey was also the original builder of Christ Church College,Oxford University, the site of the Oxford Experience. It is a magnificent campus, with the “Harry Potter” dining hall, a beautiful cathedral, and enchanting parks and ancient buildings. It is a privilege just to be there for a week, and to eat all our meals in a dining hall where Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Elizabeth II, and many British Prime Ministers also dined.

As one of our classmates said as he reclined in a nearby pub with a pint of beer, “Seven hundred years ago, another man was sitting right here, also drinking a pint.

The city of Oxford is also a wondrous place, with the other Oxford campuses, soaring churches, many delightful pubs, and the incomparable Blackwell’s bookstore.


among the many sides of the “Oxford Experience”


to learn more about Lew Weinstein and his novels,

go to …


Posted in ... 2012, ... UK - Oxford | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »

* Oxford … more than you could ever imagine

Posted by Lew Weinstein on August 4, 2010

to learn more about Lew Weinstein and his novels,

go to …


THE HALL at Christ Church College where we took our meals, and where Harry Potter once flew


Oxford University in England offers an extensive set of summer programs. We are part of Week 4 (of 5) of THE OXFORD EXPERIENCE offered at Christ Church College, one of the 39 separate colleges which make up the University.


for all the details about the 2010 Oxford Experience program


Christ Church College was founded in 1525 by Cardinal Wolsey and re-founded (after Wolsey’s fall from grace) by King Henry VIII in 1546. Henry, his daughter Queen Elizabeth I, and other great figures from English and Oxford history stare down at us as we eat. There is of course a pervading sense of tradition, and the food was great as well. By the middle of the week, sometimes we just came in and sat down, paying no mind to the surroundings. But one glance up and it came back in a flash. We felt privileged to be there, eating at the same table where Queen Elizabeth (both Queen Elizbeths) had eaten before.


We arrived on Sunday, and every part of the arrival experience was superb. The course packets were ready, a young man carried our luggage to the dorm, and our en-suite room for two was actually larger and more comfortable than we anticipated.

The primary purpose, of course, was the fantastic academic experience we had, Pat’s course on ETHICS and mine on BEETHOVEN. We’ll describe our class experiences in a separate post. For this post, however, I’ll try to present a sampling of our week’s experience outside of class.


Lewis Carroll was the pen name of Charles Dodgson, a mathematics tutor (professor) at Christ College from 1855 to 1898. Alice was the daughter of the Dean of Christ Church, and Dodgson took to making up stories to entertain Alice and her sisters, often basing his characters and settings on local people and places.

Our walking tour of Christ Church College was given by a delightful and engaging person whose name I am embarrassed to say I did not write down and don’t remember (HELP-if you know the name, please let me know). The tour included many Alice places, including the great tree and the Alice gate through which the real Alice apparently peered through into what really was a forbidden garden. And then, right on cue, the current dean’s cat appeared in exactly the place where Alice’s cat had been close to 150 years ago.

Alice’s actual wonderland



Oxford, founded in the 16th century, is full of traditions, one of which is to honor important guests by seating them at a raised table at the front of the Hall, directly beneath the portraits of Henry and Elizabeth.

We were so honored (as were all of our classmates over the course of the week). This is a dress-up event. First we had sherry and then stood by our assigned seats at the High Table while the other diners were allowed to enter the Hall. Everyone else is then allowed to enter the Hall and stand behind their chairs. When all are assembled, Grace is said from the podium, in Latin! Then everyone sits and the meal can begin.

Our meal was the same as at the tables below, except that we had several wines offered during the meal. The conversation, as at every table, was fresh and interesting, with intelligent people from many parts of the world, including the course director and the tutors.

dressed for High Table



Oxford leavens its serious academic purpose with more than a little silliness and fun. After dinner one night, we were offered sparkling wine and the unique cavorting of the Morris Men, with their sticks and bells. Yes, that’s a Green Bay Packer’s cheesehead. The story is that the Oxford professor wearing it, although born in England, was raised in Madison, WI. After the performance, about 10 of us went down to the river to an outdoor pub … and the Morris men followed us and performed again at the pub.

Morris Men & cheese head leading them



On May 6, 1954, Roger Bannister was the first man to break the 4 minute mile, one of the truly outstanding athletic achievements of the 20th century. He’s Sir Roger now, 80 years old, still living in Oxford where he went to school and also had a distinguished medical career. We walked to the outskirts of Oxford, through a new sports complex, and got our first view of the small stands as they were 56 years ago. It’s hard to express the thrill Pat (and me too) felt walking onto that track.

Sir Roger’s track at Iffley

It had been Pat’s intent to run one lap around the track, but she is still recovering from an injury and hasn’t run in almost 5 months, so that couldn’t be. She did, however, run her first 30 yards in months and came acoss the finish line with an enormous smile.

You can see a clip of the race at I get chills each time I watch it.



There is no way to capture the grandeur of Christ Church College no matter how many photos I put here. Everywhere you walk offers a magnificent view and an abiding sense of the history of the place. Kings and Prime Ministers lived here, and our humanist tradition owes much to what has been learned and taught at this place. Here’s a collage of photos which give some idea of what it was like …



One night after dinner, we went to the Senior Common Room (Faculty Lounge) where tables were set with 8 glasses at each place.  This event is held each week in the summer and hosted by John Harris, one of the top administrator of Christ Church College (did you guess he’s the one in the kilt). We each tasted 8 different whiskeys, each without diluting with water and again with a “splash” of still water, all the while listening to a talk about the production and marketing of whiskey that was informative and also quite amusing.

whiskey for all


WINSTON SLEPT HERE … but not for long

We were so busy, what with the classes and the champagne and the whiskey, that we only went out of town once, on a bus (30 minutes) to Blenheim Palace. Blenheim is promoted as Winston Churchill’s birthplace, and it is, but he never lived here. His mother was visiting the Duke of Marlborough when she fell, prompting an earlier delivery than expected. I guess they stayed for a few days and then went home.

Winston Churchill was born in this bed



On Friday night at the end of the week, we were served champagne in the Cathedral Garden (Alice’s forbidden garden). That night at dinner, each class sat with their tutor. We received our Certificates, of which we are very proud, and then … it never wanted to end … drinks at my instructor’s room. I can’t imagine how our week could have been any better.

champagne in the Cathedral Garden


So that was our week, in addition to each of us taking a great course and meeting many terrific people. Oh, I forgot all about the Christ Church College Picture Gallery, on the campus and home to over 300 paintings including a stunning collection of Italian Renaissance masterpieces. Then there’s the Christ Church Cathedral, the only Cathedral in England which is actually part of a college, with the only stained glass window of Thomas Beckett that Henry VIII was not able to destroy, where we attended Evensong sung by the Oxford choir. And the marvelous concert performance, piano and mezzo soprano, given at another of the Oxford colleges by my Beethoven instructor and his wife. Oh, and then there’s Blackwell’s, the most spectacular bookstore either of us have ever seen, and on this topic we’re experts.

We’ll describe the courses in a separate post. Pat’s Ethics course was the talk of the week, what with their humorous discussions of euthanasia. And I had years of musical pleasure opened for me by an incredible instructor whose way with words and friendly manner was as impressive as his knowledge of the music and concert-level piano playing.

But we finally had to leave, vowing as so may others do to return again. But not before one last breakfast with new friends in the old Hall. Then it’s off to London for a weekend and back to Collioure.


Posted in ... 2010, ... UK - Oxford | Tagged: , , , , , | 10 Comments »

* Ethics and Beethoven … two courses in the OXFORD EXPERIENCE

Posted by Lew Weinstein on August 4, 2010

Pat and I decided we would take separate courses,

so we could double and then share our learning, and also meet more interesting people.

Our plan worked out just fine!



for all the details about the 2010 Oxford Experience program.


Pat’s course



We had nine women and one man in our class, with an age range from 20 years old to 79.  There were 5 Americans among the group.  There was a mother & daughter, and a brother and sister.  Also two friends who met at Oxford Experience several years ago and return each year. Now that we’ve taken a course at Oxford, it is easy to understand why so many people come back on a regular basis.

tutor Alexandra Couto

Our tutor was Alexandra Couto, the youngest of the tutors and also the only woman. She is currently working on her PhD in philosophy at Oxford, having taught Oxford undergraduates for the last six years. She was delightful as well as intelligent and had a wonderful ability to allow free expression while still keeping the group on track.

Here is our group, except for Gemma, who was otherwise engaged …


Our group was diverse, very friendly and quite outgoing. Each person participated and all views were given respect. Alexandra always kept us on track, but discussion was always lively, intelligent and informative. We discussed the different models of Ethics, comparison of ethical theories, morality, medical ethics, ethics of war, the environment. All difficult issues.

Alexandra would give a short lecture and we would discuss the issues.  Then we would be given a specific set of facts and divided into groups of 2 to discuss. Each group reported to the class their resolve of the issue.  Sometimes Alexandra had each of us take a different viewpoint and we had to defend it. Sometimes we had to take the opposite view point of what we believed.

Our class room was set up with chairs in a circle and each day we changed seats so that our discussion groups were with different people.   By the end of the week each person had the opportunity to be partnered with everyone in the class.

The best part of the entire experience was that you got to stretch your mind, discuss, listen, learn. All points of view were put out for discussion. The amazing part was the fun we had. With such heavy topics to discuss we surprisingly spent the major part of each class laughing.  Sometimes when you discuss such serious topics you tend to take them to the absurd levels, hence the outrageous comes into play.

Random photos of our group and other friends I made …

one of the photos is blurred, but our thinking was always crystal clear ... just don't ask about the cat!


Lew’s course


in the music room at Christ Church College, Oxford

Reflections on my first day of class in 45 years …

There are 14 people in the class. I think all the others are far advanced over me, but that just gives me more opportunity to learn. The tutor (professor), Jonathan Darnborough, is equally facile with the piano and a computer. He is an accomplished concert pianist and is able to illustrate any point with just the right selection. Likewise, he uses the Sibelius program to project a large image of the score being discussed, and takes us through the notes with a guiding hand also projected on the screen.

We will meet two times each morning for at total of 3 hours, broken by a coffee break in the Junior Common Room. The first day’s sessions are titled “Characteristics of Beethoven’s music” and “Beethoven’s piano music.”

I found both sessions fascinating. Jonathan talked about (and played examples of) big dramatic gestures, the assembly of small musical ideas into large themes, the apparent simplicity of some of these themes, the relation of every moment in a piece of music to every other moment,  the architecture of a movement, the journey away from the home key and the eventual return, the establishment of the home key before the journey, and Beethoven’s later purposeful and challenging blurring of the boundaries when changing keys. All with examples from the piano and/or Sibelius. Brilliant!

I kept thinking about the parallels between composing a piece of music and my challenges writing a novel. For example, at a given point, is the theme in the novel sufficiently developed before moving on to different action, or can more be done to make sure it is “nailed” for the reader?

tutor Jonathan Darnborough

Our tutor, who lectures for Oxford University, has written orchestral, choral, chamber and solo instrumental works, and is currently working on an opera based on Euripides’ Hecuba. Jonathan’s works have been performed in Britain, Europe and the U.S.; he is also a prize-winning pianist who has performed widely.

All of this experience came into our course. For example … many times over the course of the week, Jonathan would show us a piece of music and play on the piano how, in his words, “the composer might have written it. But he didn’t!” And then he would explain and have us listen to the unexpected effect the composer achieved.

Further information about Jonathan and his wife Claire can be found at …

Over the rest of the week, Jonathan taught us about Beethoven’s piano music, symphonies, concertos and opera, and the impact of his brilliance on those who followed him, particularly Mendelssohn, Schumann and Brahms. Jonathan’s perceptive analysis of the struggles of those who followed Beethoven, and the decisions they each made whether to try to build on the master’s innovations or react against them, brought a very human dimension to the problems faced by serious artists in many different disciplines. It was fascinating to see how these decisions played out in specific musical passages and works.



A big part of THE OXFORD EXPERIENCE is the opportunity to become friends with people who are knowledgeable and passionate about their interests. That was certainly true in the Beethoven group, and in Pat’s group, they seem to have set a whole new standard.


Posted in ... 2010, ... UK - Oxford | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »