PItt Rivers

The cloud of lava ash belching out of Iceland has grounded all the jets in England and most of Europe.  This may extend my stay here perforce if it keeps up – no planes will leave because the ash chews up the engines.  Is Gaia angry?  Or just dyspeptic?

But today it is just casting a soft gauzy glow over Oxfordshire.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many daffodils in a day, in Christchurch Meadow and under the Folly Bridge along the River Thames.  Yes, really people punting, and it must be the beginning of crew season, because lots of badly coordinated teams were out on the river.  It’s Sunday, and most of Oxford is closed, so no shopping for books, but it is a day for a visit to the Pitt Rivers.

Along by New College (new because it was started in 1500-something), tucked behind the Natural History Museum – I usually can’t make it out of this huge hall, with its huge dinosaur and whale skeletons, comparative anatomy exhibits, and odes to Darwin.  Pitt Rivers is the pinnacle of the English passion for collecting.  It was closed the last time I was here, so I tuck in for a quick squizz (I get ‘museum feet’ after about an hour, so I take museums in small doses – besides it was sunny, even if there is occasionally a Mephistophelean whiff of sulfur to the air, so I want to walk.)

But step through the archway into the large hall – reminiscent of a train station – and see the endless glass cases crowding up from the floor, with drawers underneath you can open to see more stuff, exhibits going up the walls…

All presided over by a huge and genuine totem pole.  (I have good friend going into wood carving, in this northwestern tradition – very powerful, very stark images: a bear eating a frog, while holding a human between its knees, standing on the head of a raven – very ancient and rad at the same time.  I have looked at his raw wood; and now I see these images.  It’s a long way from raw to here, with deep cuts in this huge and single cedar – you can imagine snow falling on it.)

Anyway, down to the cases: General Pitt Rivers started the collection, but then so much has been added – what isn’t in here?  There’s: hand painted playing cards, a bronze cat from Egypt, opium pipes, snuff boxes, fiddles, horns, ropes, shrunken heads, ivory objets, stocks (the last ones built in England for some miscreant), pots, baskets, clothes, everything anyone needs to fight, circumcise, make music (lamellaphones? Thumb harps, as it turns out), decorative arts, ship models, a mummy with both coffins and an X-ray, fiber arts, lamps, Asian statuary, baby carriers, skates, tools of all kinds, funerary art, skulls galore, bone apple corers, watches, a Maori sailing chart made of sticks and shells, brass neck rings and anklets and shoes for women with bound feet, masks, silver urns, all in a hotch-potch, some with labels, but many without, just the great Victorian idea of more, more, more!  And I’ve forgotten half of what I saw, pushed out by the succession of the next and the next, on and on it goes.

The museum closes, thankfully, and I stumble out into the hazy late afternoon light for another walk among the daffs on Port Meadow, amid the cows and then along the canal with those snouty barges tied up beside the plane trees.  Along the Rover Cherwell and home to our bit of Canada – log cabins seem so out of place here, but their nice inside, where I pause and give a little prayer that the social whirl of 21st century industry I love to hate gets going again.  I love it here, but I don’t want to be here for three months.

3 Responses to “PItt Rivers”

  1. Sharon Says:

    Where’s the phoenix when you need her? Hope you float home on wings of song soon.

  2. Tomyers Says:

    the funny part of it is that the weather here is uncharacteristically beautiful and sunny – there’s a big high out in the Atlantic that produces a northwesterly flow that brings the ash down from Iceland to Scotland, England, and Europe. If we were having the usual English 60 degree latitude lows, the wind would be southerly and there would be an item on page 2 about an eruption in Iceland and that would be it. Good weather = £500,000,000 loss for the airlines, $50,000 worth of flowers burned in Kenya (couldn’t be exported), a kid is dying waiting for bone marrow that cannot be flown in – we’re fragile beings clinging to thin scum on the earth’s surface and our industrial systems we are so dependent on are more fragile than that

  3. Sharon Says:

    ..and not just Kenyan flowers, but produce/food…

    My spiritual friend, a Hawaiian Kahuna, says that hurricanes and tornadoes are not Mother Nature but, rather, “Mother Nature throwing up,” that is, releasing what cannot be further contained in terms of negative energy and data, pure and simple. So it’s time to go to Pele, Gaia, and me to ask what I need to give Her in order to balance the situation. I can’t believe I have waited this long, actually.

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