Backtracking to Bath

Bath has overall a strangeness that it cannot shake — it has, in it’s life time, been a celtic village, a pilgrimage spot and major of holy worship, a deluxe playground for the rich, a University town, and one of England’s largest Tourist attractions. Nowadays, Bath is all of these things at once: it is the meeting place of Roman ruins, shopping malls, monuments to Victoria, and American tourists.

The Roman Baths are an expensive ticket, but it is, I must say, worth it. Even amongst the throngs of visitors, beside the Great Bath there is a certain original stillness, as if the ghosts of sandal-glad Romans could easily materialize from behind the pillars. But in this stillness, there was still present the strangeness of Bath- of the collision of modern and ancient. Strangest of all throughout the lengthy celebration of Roman civilization throughout the museum was the nagging feeling that the Romans themselves were conquerors, and that the English were at one point in their history, a conquered race. I began to wonder, if ever, a thousand years from now, maybe just, just maybe there will be such a museum of ruins of the British Empire in India. Just the thought of it gives me chills.

The Jane Austen center in Bath, however, it not worth its 6- pound entry fee. I felt like I should go, if only I had done so much the day before to pay my respects to Hardy. It turns out what you get is a live, 15-minute lecture about Jane Austen’s life (which, as it turns out, wasn’t too terribly exciting) and you get to walk through a very small, Georgian-era house and look at replicas of stuff related at to Jane Austen (like teacups and and old dress). Also there is a video of a middle aged-woman in Regency era dress who teaches all willing pupils the tacit art of flirting with a fan. I kid you not. Don’t get me wrong, Jane Austen is great. I am even reading Emma at the moment. But… seriously?

My evening in Bath, I went to a Lecture at the Bath Royal Academy of Science and Literature given by Dr. Peter Marshall about my second-cousin, twice-removed, Sir Issac Newton. Dr. Marshall, the author of The Philosopher’s Stone (which I have been meaning to read– it is about Alchemy) had a lot of good things to say, but was disappointingly not so much of an engaging speaker. This was probably not helped by the fact that for some reason it is very hard for me to understand some people who speak with British accents, Dr. Marshall included. What I understood as the main point of the lecture, however, was the Newton should be considered not as the first modern scientist, but rather as the last of the old magicians. Why not both?

Speaking of magicians, I am pretty sure a slept next to one in the Bath Backpackers’ hostel. How do I know he was a magician, you ask? Well… there was a suit vest and coat strewn across his bed, not to mention a barrel and a cauldron bungee-corded to a small cart parked to the bed. On the floor: a book on magic and a top hat. Certainly he must have been a street magician, but I unfortunately never saw him nor got the chance to ask. But you can bet that every time I passed a street magician in the streets of Bath as I wandered about, I looked twice. The Magician was, at least, a better roommate than the loud English girls or that guy who snored. Best of all, however, was the Swiss girl with the strikingly Chinese accent. Or at least I thought so.

The next morning I hiked out of the city and up a very big hill (we’re talking Centennial big) to Prior Park, which is a landscape garden designed by a very rich English dude that overlooks the city of Bath and includes a Palladian Bridge (one of only 4 in the world, according to the woman at reception). When I discovered that the garden was partially designed by Alexander Pope (whom I have a love-hate relationship with) I started looking for echoes of rhymed couplets in the landscape. Soon I gave up and just enjoyed the view.

Soon, my time in Bath was (somwhat mercifully) up and I caught the train back to Oxford. The train seemed to chase the feeble afternoon sun, and I began to feel that I really, already missed Sweden. One can see only so many Cathedrals and brown stone buildings until they begin to blend into one another … and as memories they live more as a time-warped dream than anything else.

But mountains and valleys, trees and lakes, the skärgård, the sun at 11 PM – these things have a sort of renewable joy that, rather than transport the beholder back in time, insist upon the beauty of the present.

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