Isolarion: A Different Oxford Journey

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Perhaps this is always so. In any case, it cannot hurt to attempt to lift a corner of the curtain. I wind up my radio before hanging it on the corner of a radiator and stepping into the shower. For me it is the sound that the handle of my wind-up radio makes that starts the day.

Two academics are having a discussion about transport problems as I apply the soap. For seven years I have been getting up at an unholy hour to travel by train back to London, where I have lived for most of my adult life, to work. In many ways I still feel more rooted there than in Oxford. I was used to inhabiting a city abundant in space and spectacle, large enough to lose myself in. A hyper-mobile man, I have to learn to travel more thoughtfully, to slip beneath the surface and explore more deeply.

Space is relative. One aim of my pilgrimage will be to connect me to the neighbourhood in which I live. At the same time, perhaps my journey will offer clues to a wider reality. Oxford is an untypical city, its centre preserved in aspic for the tourists, its biggest landlord an ancient institution that still owns an inordinate amount of its buildings.

Much of the change and diversity in the city has therefore been concentrated into a small area, its visible expression squeezed like toothpaste from a tube along the length of Cowley Road. Paradoxically it is this place, often overlooked or omitted from the guidebooks, that is a barometer of the health of the nation. It is both unique and nothing special. It could be any number of streets in your town. For that reason alone, it seems as good a place as any from which to start a journey.

Inside, the words are repeated in yellow on the black polo shirts of the staff. The Victorian interior has been transformed. Ceiling and window-frames are painted green, the walls a mustard yellow, and the radiators vermilion.


ISBN 13: 9781459605695

A blue leather sofa sits on a raised dais surrounded by green iron railings. Beside it cluster cubes of red and blue vinyl seating, their primary colours reminiscent of the furnishings in a kindergarten. Munch worked and reworked The Scream, as was his practice. His main sources of inspiration were his own journals, albums, and previous works.

They became a symphony. Writing was as important to him as the visual arts. Oil drums, sawn in half lengthways, containing one clear and one yellow bulb, hang from the ceiling. Only a lost tourist or a dedicated alcoholic would choose to drink here in the afternoon. Slot machines pulse with multicoloured lights. These are versions that the Norwegian artist could not have predicted. I am not sure why the image has exerted such a lasting fascination that it has been possible to sell and resell it in this manner, particularly to the young. Does the feeling of existential angst that Munch portrays strike a chord?

Or have people taken it to mean something quite different; an expression of frustration, perhaps, or the combination of fear and exhilaration that is the drug of choice of the young male? The Pub lies at another border; the ancient one between town and gown. Clearly designed to appeal to students, it attracts another clientele as well, young men preparing for a night out in the city. Until fairly recently, foreign students were advised not to cross Magdalen Bridge; the sons of ambassadors and the daughters of American presidents are more often to be seen in the West End of London than on the Cowley Road.

Of course, many of the students and those that teach them now make their homes in what residents sometimes call the Independent Republic of East Oxford. Both the ancient, original Oxford University and the newcomer Oxford Brookes University are building more and more student accommodation in an area already under pressure in terms of affordable housing. Three students lived next door to us for a year or so; quiet, unassuming boys studying something to do with science or mathematics.

They went for a drink at the pub at the beginning of Cowley Road one night it 6 embarkation was then under different management. As they left, they were assaulted—punched in the face and relieved of their watches and wallets. When they returned from the Accident and Emergency Department of the hospital with their cuts and bruises tended to, they found that their shared house had been burgled and that their laptops, inscribed with the precious research for their PhDs, had all vanished.

In the way that one does, all three had failed to back up their work. On the other side of a one-brick thick Victorian wall, we had not heard a sound. The starting points of journeys are often brash, unattractive places. Ferry terminals, stations, airports, the transit ships in Star Wars. These are not places to seek out haute cuisine; the Scream Burger is the national dish of the itinerant. Walter Benjamin was such a one, caught on the border of Vichy France and Spain, clutching the briefcase that contained a manuscript, the survival of which he repeatedly told his travelling companions was more important than his own.

Overcome by thirst on the journey through the mountains, he knelt to lap water from a puddle like a dog. What is the worst that can happen, he asked his guide, who remonstrated with him; in a couple of days I may be dead of typhus, but I will have crossed the border and my manuscript will be safe. He wanted it to reach Adorno in New York. At the border the Spanish refused to let the travellers through, and Benjamin, fully aware that he was too weak to go any further, took cyanide in his hotel room.

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What of the manuscript? It disappeared without a trace, sucked into the vortex of The Scream, the drag of its undertow etched in the swirling lines of sea and sky. Their sons, dressed in sportswear and keen Tottenham Hotspur supporters, grumble good-naturedly at the extreme coiffure they will have to undergo.

Black-and-white photographs by Herb Ritts and Ruth Orkin and reproductions of Klimt paintings decorate the walls. The rhythm of the techno that bubbles from the speakers is overlaid with swathes of sound that seem to be synchronised with the movement of the electric clippers across the head of a customer having a number-two cut.

To entrust your head to the scissors of an unknown barber is a frightening thing, but I enter the brightly lit interior in the humble spirit of one embarking on a pilgrimage. I am not seeking a ritual haircut; I am looking for the same one I have always looked for, a haircut that improves your appearance 8 purification without making you look as though you just had a haircut. When I worked as a musician in London, I had an acquaintance, a second-generation Clerkenwell Italian also in the business.

He travelled into the West End every day from a southern suburb of the city; returning home in the evening, he would call his house from the phone-box outside the station, letting it ring two or three times and then replacing the receiver. This was the signal for his wife to put the water on to boil for his pasta, he told me, so that it would be ready when he walked through the door. The man cutting my hair today seems to have a lot on his mind; we do not speak.

I am assessing him in the mirror, deciding whether we are to embark on the relationship of trust that should exist between a man and his barber. Many were the confessions that Gino received, in the quiet afternoons. There was something about him that inspired men to unburden themselves; and, I was to discover, if you played him right, he could be persuaded to pass on what he had heard, like a corrupt priest who had lost respect for his vows.

To be more precise, Gino suggested he was printing money the speciality de la maison being obscure currencies in the little print-works in which he had an interest and had bought his house where I had eaten Sunday lunch beneath a portrait of the pope, along with his silent, ancient mother with 9 first partition wads of the stuff.

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The best thing about it was that his wife suspected nothing! If you had no secrets from your wife, what kind of life was it? Sometimes barbers give you too much information.

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  • This was the result of personal immaturity and a rural childhood, and later led to a lot of pointless trouble. I leave more of my hair and more of my money than I had bargained for behind me—a common state for a pilgrim—and head off up the Cowley Road.

    East Oxford flâneur

    Against urban scleroses. Against conservatives and speculative boredom. Here they offer a selection of the popular prints created to illustrate the poems of the street poets of the Brazilian North-East. For many years these troubadours have declaimed their poetry on the streets, hanging their pamphlets, or folhetos, for display on a cordel string. For many of the rural poor, the folhetos were the only kind of literature they came into contact with, brought back from the local market town to the village, passed around and read out loud by the literate to gatherings of appreciative listeners.

    In the heyday of folheto production, local presses turned out thousands every week.

    The pamphlets are illustrated by dramatic woodcuts, in some cases executed by the poets themselves as in the case of one of the best known living cordelistas, Jota Borges , in others by artists commissioned by the presses that produce the pamphlets. As the 11 first partition journeying of the cordelistas has been restricted by the changes overtaking modern Brazil and the folhetos have had to compete with other forms of entertainment, their illustrators have started to produce their work in larger formats, to take advantage of interest from galleries and collectors who have become aware of the vibrancy of the popular culture of the North-East.

    The woodcuts, known as xilogravuras, have some of the immediacy and angularity of German expressionist prints, but their subject matter is purely Brazilian—an apocalyptic cocktail of myth, politics, and religion.

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    Saints battle the devil; a young couple rides through the air on a peacock; people are turned into animals as payment for their sins; the rural poor rise up, demanding their rights. I visit on a Saturday afternoon; the shop is constantly busy with customers, particularly young women attracted by the jewellery in the window.

    Brazilian friends of the gallery owner, Celine, drop by to show her their photographs and share news from home. Her voice on my tape is backed by the Brazilian music that is a continuous accompaniment to the activity in the gallery.

    Isolarion: A Different Oxford Journey Isolarion: A Different Oxford Journey
    Isolarion: A Different Oxford Journey Isolarion: A Different Oxford Journey
    Isolarion: A Different Oxford Journey Isolarion: A Different Oxford Journey
    Isolarion: A Different Oxford Journey Isolarion: A Different Oxford Journey
    Isolarion: A Different Oxford Journey Isolarion: A Different Oxford Journey

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