it's a great life, if you don't weaken (matociquala) wrote,
it's a great life, if you don't weaken

Cambridge, and book #32

Book 32, Ellen Kushner, Thomas the Rhymer

I must have read this when I was in college, about the same time I read pameladean's Tam Lin, and Snow White, Rose Red, and all that Patricia McKillip and Robin McKinley and coffeeem and the other things I was reading then.

I barely remembered it, though, and I still like it. There are places where it seems to be working a little hard for an effect, and it's not what you'd call tightly plotted, but I like it. I like it thematically, I like the somewhat nasty Faerie (I think my guys would recognize the place as an analogue of the one they have to deal with) and I like the way the characters accept one another, flaws and all.

So yesterday I took the train up to Cambridge, and had An Adventure. Actually, it was a very small adventure. But a pleasant one.

I left Lymington around ten fifteen and got into Cambridge around 1:45, which I think is pretty good. (Hooray for a country in which the public trans does not suck. Two words, anybody visiting the UK who plans to do some travelling. Britrail Pass. It is the thing.)

We were staying at Magdalene College, pronounced "Maudlin" or "Maudling," depending on the accent of the person saying it. Because the Queen's English appears to be afflicted with many excess letters, which no doubt drifted across the Channel from France on prevailing wind currents. Anyway, I got there considerably before mevennen and her rather charming SO, so I dropped off my backpack in the room and went out to explore a little.

As I only had about two hours before they were supposed to return, I went for a walk around the gardens of the college and then hired a punt for a chauffered ride up the river Cam.

NB for Americans and others. There's no campus, precisely, at Cambridge. What you have are (pauses to look it up) 33 individual colleges, which are mostly quite small, and built as cloisters. They range in size from itty bitty (Corpus Christi, for example) to rather largish (King's College--which is also not quite as cloistered as some of the others, by the way) but say on average they are about the size of an city block. I don't know what the student bodies are like now, but I do know that in the 16th century, Kit Marlowe's year at Corpus was about thirty men.

As I understand it, these days, lectures are mostly arranged through the University, which is the association under which the colleges (spin your verb any way you like, here). Things like dining, tutoring, and so forth are carried on under the auspices of the college. To an American student, you maybe could think of them as halfway between the colleges of an American university and say, a residence hall, except, well, not like that at all.

Anyway, I was talking about the physical structure of the colleges. When I say cloisters, I mean exactly that. They're (generalizing) enclosed, accessible through gates that lead through the buildings into courts, and quite medieval in character. They abut nearby buildings wall-to-wall, and the streets between them can be quite narrow, and are mostly cobbled or flagged. (Say, down to about one Yugo wide. Though some are larger.)

The two I got close up looks at were Corpus Christi (which was closed to visitors when we presented ourselves, but they graciously let me go in and poke around a bit; I think they're pretty pleased by the ongoing rehabilitation of Master Marlowe's reputation) and Magdalene. We now rejoin our narrative with the Bear arriving at the latter of those places.

The buildings of this first institution are mostly red brick, blackened by the innumerable coal fires of a bygone era. (1) Entering past the porter's lodge, one finds oneself in a first court, facing the Pepys library (the estimable old date rapist having been a fellow of the college). Proceeding past the library, through another passage, one can make one's way to an absolutely stunning garden. This garden is not enclosed in a court. Rather it is open on one side to the River Cam, which is bordered by sweeping willows, abutted on the opposite by a wall of some eight or nine feet, against which shrubs have been planted and various things espaliered, and on the far end, a path leads down the river behind some other buildings (One which looks quite old, with its low roof and long outline) which I assume also belong to the College.

The gardens are full of daffodils, primrose, crocus, itty bitty hyacinths, the odd violet, and some flowering fruit trees. (Cherry? Probably.) Should one follows the path along the river and then make a left-hand turn, one will eventually be presented with a choice: to go up some stone steps to a small patio and a gate (which would lead to the Cripps Building, immediately across the street, where I stayed--which gate was locked, incidentally) and from there proceed along the top of an embankment along a grassy path strewn with primrose and violets; or to remain at the bottom of the steps, and take a graveled path through flowering trees, eventually coming into a shaded evergreen grotto...

...where is the pet cemetery. I would guess these were porter's dogs from the 1800s. Anyway, it's a lovely, shady, quiet spot. The buildings are rugged, clifflike, and the gardens lush, giving it all the aspect of some moist mountain grotto, ferny and wild. All it would need is a waterfall.

After leaving, I got in one of these punts. These punts exactly--that's Magdalene College in the background. And we proceeded upriver, poled professionally by Captain Rory of the HMS Punt. Captain Rory, I might add, was a rather stunning, mightily-thewed and very blue-eyed young man with a blondish beard and curly locks who could have passed for a young and dead sexy Richard Lionheart.

Not that I was looking.

He was also quite funny.

Sample dialogue:

Captain Rory (glancing warily over his shoulder as we come out from under a bridge): "You have to be careful, because sometimes the undergrads will lean out over the railing and snatch your pole as you go under, leaving you adrift down the river."


Captain Rory spent a good deal of time describing the arcane practice of bridge hopping, in which a group of students commence, with a punt, from the top of the river, to descend. At each bridge, the punt goes under, and the students go over, hopefully rejoining the punt on the other side. Now, some of these bridges are rather tall, and the river is only four feet deep. I'm sure you can imagine what hilarity must ensue. Sort of like cow tipping, but with boats.


My Beer-perfumed Seatmate: "And is this done sober?"

Cap'n Rory: "Oh, I shouldn't think so. Very much the contrary, in fact."

Yes, he was adorable.

I now know, by the way, why "Punter" is an insult. Because man, with the exception of Cap'n Rory and his cohorts, that river was like bumper cars with the additional filip of the threat of a sudden dunking, and possible dismemberment as one was ground between colliding punts. (We did see one rather abrupt disembarkation. It was not from our punt, however.)

Anyway, the punting was accomplished with good speed and enjoyment (It seemed like the most 16th-century of possible pursuits; I rather imagine there wasn't much for your average horny and somewhat intoxicated seventeen-year-old male, recently freed from the good restraint of home and hearth, to do in Cambridge. Er, then or now.

Other than punting.

And brawling with the town boys.

And things we'll elide gracefully, as we move on.)

That night, after finally catching up with mevennen and her SO, we had dinner in the Hall of Magdalene College. Which is notable for being the last candlelit hall in Cambridge, so I got the full medieval experience. There was, shall we say, a lot of booze. Champagne, white wine, red wine, port, and scotch for afters. Liz brought me home in a barrow, and we all went to bed.

The next morning, we got up, had an enormous breakfast, and set off thus fortified for Corpus Christi, where we presented ourselves at the porter's lodge (which is inside the gatehouse, incidentally) much as Master Marlowe must have some four hundred and twenty-six years before, except rather less smelly, hungry, and footsore, since we had not just hiked from Canterbury with all our worldly possessions on our back. (Corpus, at that time, was just inside the former city limits. (the map is resizable. And very cool. Here's another one.)  (and a third) (You will notice that Corpus is too small to merit so much as a nod on any of these, but it's between Pembroke Hall and King's College, on the same side of the street as Pembroke, and the only part yet extant is Butolph Hall and the cloister at the Old Court, of which more later--there's a bit of a field between it and Pembroke, on these, with some hedgerows) (2)

We were granted permission to enter, and did.

Entering the college, one finds one's self faced with a rather grand facade. It's this view. Sadly, none of this was here when Kit was, or Jack Fletcher either: it's 19th century. As is this beautiful thing, the Chapel. Which perpective is obtained through a door that leads under this grape arbor and past a trellised quince. Here's a view of the inside.

No, this is the Corpus Christi Marlowe and Fletcher knew. This area, called the Old Court, is the original 14th-century College. When Kit and Jack were there, it was less than two hundred years old, and not blackened by a hundred years of coal smoke and a following hundred of car exhaust.

One more view.


Kit's room, if I am remembering the maps in whichever one of the biographies I've read properly (they're an ocean away now or I'd check) was back through one of those arches. Kit would have shared a room much like this one (except, you know, the furnishings--and, I suspect, the whitewash, though you never know) with three or four other students, aged about 16-21.

I'm sure they spent all their time studying.

Based on their enthusiastic reaction to my request to look around, Master Marlowe's apparently getting a little more love from the College these days than he was when Charles Nicholl, upon asking to see the famous portrait that is starting to look more like it might be Kit after all, reported being told that "you don't want to see him." Let's hear it for rehabilitation. As for me, I say, better Marlowe than Pepys, any day.

I'm not sure when they hung the plaque.

On the way out, we stopped at King's College Chapel. The fan vaults have to be seen to be believed. That's not a matte painting. Nor is it Rivendell.

It is apparently the largest fan vault in the world.

Of course, it's after one, and I'm not sleepy now at all. Well, tomorrow my only plan is to walk down to the Lymington High Street, unless it's raining too much, and have a look around. So I can sleep until the cats wake me. (Having greeted me, they are spurning me now to let me know I Erred in Leaving Them for 36 hours.)

(1) The building pictured is not adjacent to the buildings I am describing, but it does give you an idea of the color scheme.

(2) According to Wikipedia, one of Corpus' buildings, Butolph Court, is supposedly built atop a "17th century" plague pit and is sinking into it. Since the building appears on 16th century maps of the town, this seems unlikely.

It could be a 14th century plague pit, though.

Tags: 52 book challenge, rengeekery, uk 2006, will & kit's bogus journey

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