Pam being away for a couple of days, I took myself off shopping. Nowadays the old Radcliffe Infirmary site in North Oxford, enhanced with the much grander title of the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, is finally 'redeveloped'; so one can walk though from the Woodstock Road to Walton Street with, to ones North, the perfectly exquisite Tower of the Winds, built by Andronicus of Cyrrhus a couple of thousand years ago while he was paying one of his flying visits to Oxford ... or have I got my details a bit muddled here ...
It was a gloriously sunny spring day, and the Oxford sun, quite different from any other known sun, was shining directly onto the golden sandstone of the Tower, picking out the carvings of the Winds and of the Zodiac: can there be a lovelier architectural grouping than this? I fought Distraction down by comforting myself with promise of walking back the same way; and by recollecting how, when we were undergraduates, the Gazette carried this annual notice: The Director of the University Observatory gives notice that on fine and clear Thursday evenings in the Michaelmas and Hilary Terms between the hours of eight and ten celestial objects will be shown through the telescope to members of the University and friends accompanying them. I wonder if still does. Male undergraduates used to make the usual sort of adolescent jokes about which women undergraduates might qualify as celestial objects.
While the Tower was being built, Andronicus, so our venerable paradosis has it, took his meals up Walton Street at the nearby Greek Taverna and Deli to which I was heading: Manos's. Spetsofai, Melitzanosalata, you name it: I stocked up with a couple of days' worth of goodies. It was while I was returning that Disaster struck, as she so often does. Had you noticed?
You know how it is when you are retracing your steps in an opposite direction. Things strike you ... visually, I mean ... which you hadn't spotted on the first leg of your walk. What now caught my eye, to the South West of the Tower of the Winds, was a most singular structure; something like cheeses piled untidily on top of each other and covered with glass. Do you think that Aristophanes, in one of his more skittish moments, might have called it the Hyalotyropyrgoma? I investigated. It was called the Blavatnik School of Government. Callimachus might have been driven to add a fifth book to his Aitia in order to account for such a preposterous edifice.
Ronald Knox would probably have won a bar to his Gaisford by picturing Andronicus perched on the carving of the wind Lips and gazing across at the Blavatnik through his telescope while uttering plaintive but perfect Greek elegiacs. I wonder how that poor young Jesuit, Gerard Manley Hopkins, if he had wandered across from Alyoggers, would have described it in his poem about Oxford ("Glassy Towery city and Yank-surrounded"?).
I'm sure the Blavatnik will serve its purpose of seducing architectural aesthetes (as well as wealthy foreign students) away from the Daughter University. Why waste precious time visiting the Fens to marvel at the Cambridge History Faculty Library when you can come to Oxford and boggle at the Blavatnik?
26 November 2016
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What horrors we have allowed architects to dump on our landscape and to pollute our appreciation of beauty.
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