While I’ve been on hiatus for the month of July, I’ve hardly been idle. I kept busy for three weeks revisiting My Life Off the Post Road, with two weeks at the ICE summer school at the University of Cambridge, and one week back in Stratford Upon Avon.
I’d heard about ICE from several friends at the Shakespeare Institute who, clearly not having had their fill of the Bard during term time, went to study more Shakespeare for two weeks. I did the opposite, and rediscovered that other authors actually wrote other things. While I felt I was cheating on Shakespeare in some strange way, I thoroughly enjoyed my affairs with William Blake, T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, E.M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, John Donne, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Seamus Heany, and others. In four courses over two weeks, Cambridge professors provided stimulating insights into these literary icons’ work. In between the morning and afternoon sessions, we attended mandatory plenary sessions that explored topics in literature beyond those we studied in class. And since the ICE program encompassed subjects far beyond literature, we had the opportunity to hear giants in their fields discuss their current research on topics as wide ranging as physics, AI, archaeology, DaVinici, and cardiology.
I stayed in an en suite college dorm room on the top floor of an impossibly charming, ivy-covered red brick building at Selwyn College, and took my meals in the dining hall where I expected Dumbledore to opine from the balcony and Hedwig to fly overhead at any moment. My tablemates were several of the 400 or so students in the program (not all stay at Selwyn) from nearly 60 countries, ranging in age from about 22 to about 92. The program is so popular that some groups have returned and reunited for nearly 20 years. I now count classmates from Dubai, India, China, The Netherlands, Australia, and Kuwait ... and even Texas and Arizona ... as friends. The conversations over dinner were as interesting and educational as the odyssey through Ulysses.
The University treated us to a garden party one afternoon in the gardens of St. John’s College, where I got to walk across the renowned Bridge of Sighs, champagne in hand, with scones, fruitcake, and Victoria sponge awaiting us back in the gardens.
During the afternoons I took the short walk past the industrial-looking main Cambridge Library to town, crossing over the bridge near King’s College where crowds of visitors watched punts navigate the bucolic river to explore this charming university town. My dear friend Hannah made the trip down from Stratford one day, and we took a punt ride together on a very crowded river where the expert punter pointed out landmarks like Darwin College, and the Anchor Pub where Pink Floyd had their first gig. He regaled us with facts about Cambridge, home to a mind-boggling number of great minds, including the fact that they have more Nobel Prizes to their credit than Spain and Italy combined. Mentioning the name of the “O"ther big university was strictly forbidden.
On lecture-less evenings, I took advantage of the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival, which presented several of the plays on the grounds of various colleges around town. Hannah and I saw an abysmal Hamlet, complete with a black-boa clad ghost who flapped his wings as he entered to the cacophonous wailing of off-key singers straight out of the monolith scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey. We left at the interval partly due to him, but mostly due to the final straw of the director’s decision to rearrange the “To be or not to be” soliloquy and have Hamlet say it directly to Ophelia. Henry IV, Part 1, and The Winter’s Tale were both well-done and lovely ways to pass warm summer Cambridge evenings.
My Shakespeare Institute friend Liz joined me for the second week, and we dutifully sampled some of Cambridge’s only gin distillery, The Gin Lab, whose logo features a black lab in profile in Cambridge blue. We felt it our duty to sample the local product several times over the week to support the local economy and assure consistency across batches.
She kindly rode me back up to Stratford Upon Avon at the close of our term (after we’d received our very official certificates of attendance at the formal final dinner, complete with table cloths, candles, and wine).
I felt quite emotional as we approached the hamlet on the river where I spent 13 months studying and making friends last year. Not surprisingly, despite some minor changes, nothing had really changed. Shakespeare still sat atop the memorial to him near the river; he still waited for me, in bronze, arm outstretched, on the lawn of the RSC, and he still lay still under the cool stones of Holy Trinity, where I returned to sit with him for a while as I did while hoping for inspiration during essay crunch time.
I managed, in just a week, to see everyone I’d hoped to reconnect with, either through happy coincidences bumping into them on Henley Street, or over dinner or drinks in some of our favorite places like the Dirty Duck, Caffe Nero, and Boston Tea Party. I saw four productions in the RSC: Measure for Measure, As You Like It, Taming of the Shrew, and the inimitable Sir Ian McKellen’s one man 80th birthday celebration show. I got my first tattoo with some of my besties: rosemary for remembrance, designed by the talented Jenna. Hannah, Joe, Jenna, and I had an uproarious, riotous time – sharing that experience with them was as memorable as the tattoo itself, and we will be bonded forever over both.
My feet knew the streets, my nose the scents, my eyes the sights, and my heart the love for this very, very special place. It was hard to leave again, but I know I can always return.