Reading Cambridge


Several years ago, Andrew and I went to England and traveled out to Cambridge to meet a few friends we’d made on the Internet in person for the first time. It was a lovely visit, and they were even more wonderful in person than online.

We have an ongoing joke about the two Cambridges, the one in MA where we lived for so long, and the one in England, because that’s where our kindred spirits were centered (although many have since dispersed).

Essays by three of the Cambridge, UK crew were all published in one week, and I love how they are completely different writers but so observant and empathetic:

The winter tales: why this Australian loves the British chill by Christina McLeish

The still air curls cold in my nostrils. There is something in the softer winter duochrome, the slow green–brown ombre fade that puts an edge on your seeing, a sharpness into your taxonomising glance: animal and mineral, the quick and the dead. The paw peeps claw-wise out of the litter. Not a paw to me yet – I am too far away to see, but I have that feeling, the feeling that seems so old, of having seen something.

In Search of Post-Brexit England, and Swans by Helen MacDonald

Swan upping is a progress in the old-fashioned sense, a journey upriver that claims the right not only to own swans but to own their meanings, the meanings of the river, the meanings of Englishness. You move through a landscape thick with narratives handed to you by others, and what you read from the banks as you pass is part of what you choose to believe about your nation and who you are. You might see only Dunkirk boats and lines in the air carved by ghostly Spitfires. You might see leisurely 18th-century landscapes in the loose herd of cattle standing in the river. But you might see there, too, the ghosts of forgotten farmworkers, or feel fellowship with a woman eating sandwiches from a plastic packet on a bench or with a gaggle of youngsters smoking pot around a barbecue. Lying in the boat as we hastened toward a new group of swans, I thought of how we choose to see only the things that speak to us of the way we are told the world should be, and then felt a small burst of shame and the breaking of my fever-dream.

John Berger remembered (scroll for Olivia Laing’s piece)

Host: there’s another curious word, lurking at the root of both hospitality and hospital. It means both the person who offers hospitality, and the group, the flock, the horde. It has two origins: the Latin for stranger or enemy, and also for guest. It was Berger’s gift, I think, to see that this kind of perception or judgment is always a choice, and to make a case for kindness: for being humane, whatever the cost.

© 2016 Anindita Basu Sempere. 
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