Our first week here was very busy. I struggled to overcome jetlag, settle into our new temporary home, orient myself to being a student here and still spend some time as a tourist discovering this wonderful old city.
At college, the week was filled with several wonderful lectures on the EU by Dr. Stewart Kewly (my professor in my international business seminar) and WWII by Professor Jeremy Black, as well as two other fascinating lectures titled "Government by Consent: Ideology and Mythology" by Dr. Christopher Nock and "The Middle East at a Crossroads" by Dr. Farhang Jahanpour. Dr. Nock posited that the great myth of Western liberal democracy is that government exists at the consent of the people. Rather, it's not consent, but rather the lack of illiberal dissent that keeps liberal democracthe Arab-Isries working. In an equally fascinating lecture, Dr. Jahanpour analyzed the different forces that will shape the future of the Middle East, including Islamic fundamentalism, non-democratic governments, Arab-Israeli conflict, Western policies and the importance of oil in East-West rivalry. I also began my first week of seminar courses. In my politics/economic class, we studied the evolution of the EU and the single European market, and in my sociology class we examined family and education in the UK.
As tourists, we spent out first week in high gear. We introduced ourselves to the rich and interesting history of Oxford University with a bus tour. Did you know that Oxford University was founded in about 1100 and is now comprised of 39 colleges with a student population of nearly 18,000 from 130 nationalities - clearly making this a very rich and multi-cutlural envioronment. We climbed the Tower at St. Mary's and got another great view of the city (check out Dave's photos). We also visited Blenheim Palace - birthplace of Winston Churchill. The gardens are fabulous and feature the second largest hedge maze in Europe and a butterfly house. We ended the day with a lovely dnner in the town of Woodstock in a 14th century hotel that beautifully blended the past and present. (They played Jack Johnson, featured modern art and had a disco in the back - not to mention marvelous food.) We also toured Oxford Castle, which was an active prison from 1070 until 1996.
On the 4th of July we celebrated Evan's 5th birthday with a small quiet dinner at our house. I bought a very cute cake, but once we cut into it, realized I had bought a fruit cake with marzipan frosting. Ugh. Oh well. Evan was still delighted because got the gift he had been asking for all week - a toy double decker bus and British cab and a small British Airways jet. We had prepared Evan for the fact that there is not a great deal of celebration on the 4th of July here. (Have you ever tried to teach early American history to a 5 year old?) However, we were al delighted to discover that there are many American students living in our neighborhood, and so not only were we treated to a small fireworks display, but one young student even played the National Anthem on her trumpet and they were nice enough to give Evan a sparkler.
Over the the weekend, we raced off for an impressively whirlwind trip of London, packing several days of sight-seeing into one. We managed to see the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace (even got to see the guards march around a bit), "Big Ben" (which is actually not the name of the clock tower, but just one of the bells) and Westminster Abbey, took a little cruise on the Thames and a spectacular ride in the London Eye (again, you've got to check out the photos to get the idea). So cool! We ended our day with a traditional English dinner of meat pies, potatoes and ale in an old pub before hobbling back to the train station to return to Oxford.
Needless to say, Sunday was a quiet one, with me focusing on some school work and Dave and Evan playing quietly as we prepared for week 2.