Thursday, November 21, 2013

Summer flowers in Oxford's Covered Market


To those not familiar with England’s passion for tradition, a celebration that starts in the early hours of a usually chilly May morning must seem a queer thing.

Why do they do it?” then-Russian Prime Minister Nikita Kruschev reportedly asked, when told of the May Morning celebrations during his visit to Oxford in 1955. “Because”, replied the president of Magdalen College, “they have done so for the past five hundred years.”

As a Canadian who had lived in Oxford for many years, I found the celebration of the first day of summer, another English festivity that constitutes tradition in this ancient land, a source of constant delight.

I had talked many times of rising at 5 in the morning to join the celebrations at Magdalen tower, but each year on the first of May, I snuggled down into my warm bed and left the welcoming of summer to others. Then finally, with my return to Canada imminent, the urge to celebrate May Morning became more pressing.

At a pre-dawn 5.30, I stepped out onto the towpath behind our house where a damp mist rose ghostlike from the surface of the Thames.

A heavy beating of wings, and a flurry of movement and flying droplets filled the air as a pair of white swans emerged from beyond a gossamer curtain. As they raced across the surface of the river, their short gray legs seemed to tread the water before one mighty effort lifted their straining bodies free. Necks outstretched, feet tucked under feathers, creaking wings sent the pair soaring higher and higher above the chimney pots.

Contrary to popular belief, May Morning and other traditional events in Oxford have little to do with tourism, although tourists attend in droves. With its cosmopolitan student population thousands of Americans, Europeans and Asians who have studied at Oxford regularly return from foreign lands, often into old age, to relive those nostalgic memories of youth. Other dedicated fans are the English of all ages.

And so it was that on my way into town I passed couples, groups of students, tourists with cameras and families with children. Little girls in frilly dresses, flowers entwined in ringlets or with flower-bedecked hats trailing long ribbons, danced along in a frenzy of excitement.
More to follow...
Photo copyright Anne Gordon
Posted by Anne Gordon on Thursday, 21st November, 2013


At November 24, 2013 at 3:40 PM , Blogger Nicola Gordon said...

Lovely description of Oxford and May morning!


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