There is art everywhere. Walking into a courtyard, three figures are beheaded by a magnolia tree. The woman’s dress is the brightest of green and it looks artificial against the darkness of nature. It reminds me of the National Gallery in London, all jewel-toned, baroque.
I wonder if I have ever been in someone’s living painting. How I looked. What they observed. I worry that it is not favorable or even worse, I am invisible. I feel invisible most times. I am not sure how to remedy that. I can be all things, smart, funny, talented, kind hearted. The one thing I am is not seen.
Under that magnolia tree looks inviting, like if I stepped under it and beheaded myself in leaves like the three of them, I’d be greeted with smiles and a small entry into the conversation. What I know for sure is that is not true. I know I will step below those leaves and the conversation will cease. I know I will receive a polite nod and the parties will disperse. I move on.
It is quiet here. Everything is muted in a way I cannot understand. The construction across the street, the buses clipping the curbs, the throngs of students in the streets, it’s all muted. It’s all a watercolor of sound. No definition. I can’t wrap my mind around how a city can be so silent. I strain to hear the clang of metal across the street, atop the cranes where I can see the swing of riveted steel. There is nothing except the moving of air and the sight of what should make sound.
The buses do not choke me with their exhaust. They do not take up the entirety of the street, bullying other cars to be stuck behind them for the entire route. They are so much quieter than home. I am not sure how a bus twice the size of what I am used to can move so smoothly without the clunk of machinery. I am worried I will return home and be unable to breathe.
Things here seemed to be tucked away, contained, all in its place. I see no disorder and it is disconcerting. I see fences and gates and signs and reminders. I do not see chaos. I wonder if it too is neatly tucked away.
Somehow, the new fits into the old here. It buffers itself into the architecture and becomes aged. I’m not sure if that is strictly a European thing, but at home new looks new and when it is no longer new it is replaced. Here, history is dust. At home history is made.
In Oxford, there is open privacy. Conversations are not broadcast for the sake of an audience. People don’t seem concerned whether or not they appear interesting or their conversation is of importance. Here, conversation fits into the background, rising just enough to be heard by those involved. They are not screaming into cell phones, using speakerphones for conversations no one wants to hear.
Here, everything is in its place. People, voices, time, space, everything. It all seems to fit into tidy boxes rearranged depending on the time of day. It worries me as much as it fascinates me. It makes me want to stay, to figure out a way to fit myself into a quieter way of life, of trying to figure out if this is just the desire to be out of a city that is always going.
Or wanderlust that at my age should be quelled. I haven’t convinced myself that I shouldn’t run off to Europe and figure out the rest once I’m there. This, I know, is a pipe dream.
I think that’s what Europe does, shows you how life can be. A bit richer in color, slower but progressing, more thoughtful in ways home isn’t. I haven’t been homesick and because of that I am afraid. I’m afraid I will get home and the wanderlust for living art, magnolia trees, watercolor cities, and real quiet will force me into moving yet again. I am tired of being a nomad. I want to find a home, put down roots, and belong. The thing is, I’m not sure I belong anywhere. It’s that not being seen thing again. Never seen. Never home. Never fitting in. But I like the quiet here and maybe, just maybe, in that quiet, I will find the place I fit.