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  • Writer's picturematilde tomat

IB 05 | [inner] travelling : Oxford 01/b

22/06/23 : afternoon / evening

4:34pm : I am sitting in the Bodleian Library - Reading Room, seat L13 and now the only thing I can think of is having enough inspiration to write, but I am so excited I can barely breathe…


THIS IS AMAZING…


I have to say, it feels awesome, it feels fantastic… I don’t actually know… I feel I can’t think straight, I feel I have caught a virus, I suffer from that disease, whatsitcalled... sort of Stendhal syndrome. I am fascinated, I am captivated, I am transfixed, drugged. God almighty! I am here typing at the Bodleian! Oh, I am in the Classics room… First-floor classics.


And now what?


Anyway! 4:44 and I think I would like to go back to the Polyhymniades - can you imagine, being able to say that I have written the Polyhymniades inside the Bodleian… ok, here it goes…

“In certain ways she seemed to have been affected by the great leap she had taken out of her time and place: in order to be her own woman she had found it necessary to vehemently reject many of the things which traditionally give women pleasure.” [from South and West - by Joan Didion]

it’s 4:55pm, on the 22nd 06 2023, and I am sitting at the desk numbered L13 on the first floor of the Bodleian Library. I have wanted to be here since 1989, when I did German Philology with Prof Maria Amalia D’Aronco in Udine. I was looking for images of this place where I could find them, I was craving sitting here when I moved to the UK and then discovered Inspector Morse and after Lewis. I was craving knowledge and here I am.


I do not want to leave.

This starts to feel like a child on a tantrum, including not being able to think straight. I have never experienced anything similar. My hands shake, my whole body resonates. This is a proper phenomenological complete response... not even the day I got married, not even that day which I meticulously planned has given me the kind of excitement I am feeling now. In a very openly weird way, I am happy that there was cheating which lead to a divorce which lead to me moving to the UK, which lead to me studying psychotherapy, which lead me to work for the rehab centre which lead me to meet the artist Antony Schrag and then SirW which lead me to lose my job and everything around it which lead me to work for the mentoring company which lead me to stop that day at Blackburn College for a wee which lead me to enrol in the FAD UAL course which lead me to go to YSJ which lead me to write my dissertation on Hilma af Klint which lead me to do an MRes which lead me here now sitting on this chair, my seat L13.


So, now that I am here : now what?


I would like to be able to look at every single book; the most awkward, uncanny, inconspicuous, remote, unusual the better. That book tucked away somewhere, on the highest shelf; that book which has amazing images but especially scribbling on the margins, in fainted pencil and old ochre ink. Scribblings left by a woman, who like me is single, travelling with her belongings in a large and dark carpet bag, and she wears a tatty worn out long coat, in that kind of shiny silky heavy cotton, a hat, comfortable shoes she stole from her brother and she writes. She always has a journal on her. She annotates, she collects scraps, she takes down notes, her feelings and her sensation. She reverently touches pages of old books and paper. Paper has the ability to retain a story; within its fibres, like veins, like the rhizomes so dear to Giles [Deleuze] and Agnes [Arber], like those threads Ingold describes so well. If we are silent enough we can listen to this story via a line, a ramification, three-dimensional, expanding in space and time...

god, the faces

of some of the students

here in the Classics

are so pale

sad

exhausted…

... but I saw this woman, I have been following her since this morning, briskly walking along these walls, at one with her own shadow. Maybe she sat here, exactly here where I am sitting now, L13 which wasn’t called L13 at the time, of course, but she might have been here together with those other women, the pioneers at Oxford, in the late 1800 or early 1900. Women were only admitted as degree students on 7 OCT 1920 at St Anne’s College even if they studied here before. Of course, the first 130 women were admitted at Divinity School: divinity! Let this sink in: divinity. The first Degree Ceremony was held on 14 October 1920 at the Sheldonian, which I can see now from this window: how amazing is this?! I followed this woman who might have heard of Nellie Bly and her expedition, or of a pioneer such as Lucy Atkinson. Or as Isabella Bird and her striking life overcoming a male-dominated society, and travelling and becoming the first female Fellow at the Geographical Society in 1892.


And I can't help "remembering" that she stole her shoes from her brother. She was wearing man's shoes, worn out, comfortable, for travelling. A woman in a man's shoes.


I am thinking, as an artist and a researcher and someone who is interested in the spiritual and the spiritual in art, how much this society shaped me and my beliefs, and how much I had to fight against priests and teachers and family as the only girl in that school in Tolmezzo, against what Professor Ciurlia who taught welding told my mother ["She is a girl, she is never going to weld…"]. I wasn’t treated the same, I did not belong to the “circle”. Actually, there was no “circle” for me. Always on the periphery. And now, I can only think about James Elkins and his “spiritual art is just bad art” statement but also the envy and fear from other women, women who already fought and fought hard to reach their place, when they see someone new coming in. These women who turn into very hard women, almost masculine, filled with a sense of entitlement and a flair for pomposity and total lack of panache. You can see them: flat shoes, black suits... I remember an episode of Lewis, something about gambling, with Haydn Gwynne, an amazing British actress, who taught maths and statistics and wore those fabulous men's trousers and that necklace I want to make a copy of: women turned into men. Gosh, I am hungry now… I feel I do not want to leave but I also need to leave. I remind myself I can come back here wherever I want and I have my library card now. I am entitled. I am given a key. Ok, I am off now! It's 5:55pm: I have been here for over an hour and as a first day, I am ok. I am starving, exhausted, and I need to move.

8:57pm now. Back in the tent, prepped some stuff and put some stuff away. Had dinner in OX in the end, I had a Japanese Itsu teriyaki chicken which was actually very very good and I am enjoying a beer now. I went to that immense Waterstones and got myself a book [yes, I know, you can stop eye-rolling now] about turning travels into stories and I think it might give me some good hints. I’m interested in finding a voice, a journalistic voice, something that you can recognise as mine.

It’s going to be reflections, observations… but what I feel I am missing is the voice. My voice. Anyway: people… the guy at the admission office who needed to go to the loo and I don't think he was "with me" all the time, like if he was lost in a spatiotemporal void only he knew about. Then, he had me repeat Thomas Bodley’s oath, aloud… I cannot believe that was real! Oh, I felt so proud! I could have done it in Latin!

This was a day to remember. Not just interesting. I am glad I was able to allow this intense bodily response to the place, the people, the space and the time. I am glad I "recognised" her, this woman in a pair of men's shoes, her brother's. I am just interested now in focusing on this thread and seeing where it is going to take me next. Somehow, following this thread is my obsession, not losing sight. Holding onto it. So, ...


onwards + upwards,

mx


Following stats referring to the whole day:

Dates : 22 JUN 2023

Journey : car : 32 miles + bus : 3 miles

Steps : 8,943

Entrance : Ashmolean Museum : free + Labyrinth: Knossos, Myth + Reality Exhibition : £7.65 with student discount


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