Everything about ASE feels a little bit like a dream. When I look back at all of the pictures we took and think of all of the things we managed to pack into five weeks, it doesn’t seem like it could have happened. But here we are. In Cornwall we saw Tintagel, the legendary home of King Arthur, and hiked The Lizard; in London we walked down all the streets Oscar Wilde probably took a cab through and caught a brilliantly-cast production of one of my favorite plays, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead; and in Oxford we lunched at Tolkein and Lewis’ favorite pub and punted at Magdalen, not to mention the extra time I spent there catching up with one of my close friends who goes to Exeter. While doing all of this traveling we wrote about 15,000 words for our two classes in Oscar Wilde and Jane Austen, did oral presentations, and led class discussions. We ate so much food–most of which were cheese and onion-flavored or made with blackcurrant–and explored the city’s parks, shops, walks, and museums.
America is such a comparatively young country that I sometimes forget how historical the places I visit every day are. Fredericksburg and Charlottesville both have rich histories rooted in the American Civil War and the legacy of the Founding Fathers. In Bath, that history was both new and inescapable. The Marks and Spencer down the road from my flat was built on the remains of a Roman wall. We visited the Roman Baths, saw one of the original entrances to the Roman city that Bath was built upon, and toured the violently gothic Bath Abbey. The ultimate marker of my own personal history came to visit Bath during one of our last weeks: John Cleese! My father’s sense of humor–and consequently mine–is utterly indebted to the comedy of Monty Python, so seeing him was important to me in a lot of ways.
If anything, classes are a little bit disappointing this semester after the intensity of the academic work we did in Bath. Though I feel lucky that Mary Washington caps seminar classes in English and creative writing at about sixteen students, it was an even more intense experience to study Oscar Wilde with just seven other students and our professor. We were all unbelievably engaged. I felt like I was part of a really supportive community of people while I was there in my immediate group of UMW cohorts, the Foss-Scanlon clan, and the ASE staff.
It’s always disappointing to summarize any kind of experience in this way. This is why I don’t like diaries. I feel as if I’m writing a revisionist history, forgetting salient bits of information and excluding the less savory times that I am choosing not to remember. Consequently, I’ll close with two intersecting anecdotes rather than an overarching statement about what this has meant to me:
When we were visiting St. Ives, a sign warned us not to eat on the beach because gulls might try to steal our food. Believing we were scrappy enough to protect our own lunches, we ventured out onto the sand and sat down. Not a minute after seating ourselves, a gull swooped down and hit Tricia on the back of her head, causing her to spill the contents of her hands–a large, delicious pasty which she had waited hours for–onto the sand, where a horde of gulls tore it to pieces in seconds. All of us, especially Tricia, were wary of birds for the remainder of our trip. It was the subject of much hilarity and anxiety.
I was the last one of our group to leave Bath. My housemates all left early in the morning, and I wandered through the rooms of Linley House making sure that we hadn’t forgotten anything. Nick and I got lunch before he left to catch his train to London; I waited another hour, then walked to the train station on my own. I was walking along the track to the nearest empty bench when I noticed the blackened husk of a gull’s body in the center of the track. Just as I spotted it, a train rolled into the station, tombing the bird beneath a car. Something about that was important, but I don’t know what it was.