“Drink! Drink!” she said. Spoon in hand, I stared down at the glass and marveled at the liquid’s emerald green perfection. You know, they say that ”Vincent van Gogh had drunk one too many glasses of the hallucinogenic absinthe when he cut off his ear and gave it to a prostitute.“ (Mondello).
“Looks like anti-freeze,” I said.
She smiled and repeated, “Drink! Drink!”
The night had been a haze. We had been to what seemed like every hot bar and club in Paris. Charlie, my roommate back at the University of Texas, had wandered off with a Spanish girl a few hours earlier. I wasn’t worried. I knew he’d stumble his way back to the hostel sooner or later. It was after he left that I met her at Le Boom, the dance club down the street from the bar we were now sitting in. She was a French girl, real tall, with dark hair, a slender build, and gorgeous, full European lips. You don’t find women like that back home in the states. She barely knew a word of English, and I barely knew a lick of French, but somehow we just clicked. I took my spoon and hovered it over the glass. She placed the sugar cube onto the spoon and dropped six parts of chilled water over it and into the glass. That was the customary way to drink absinthe in France.
She took the spoon from me and smiled as I raised the glass. I gently kissed the rim, tilted my head back and allowed the magical green liqueur to enter my body. “Tastes like licorice,” I said. I could tell she had no idea what I had just said, but she threw her arms around me and kissed me with those full European lips. Charlie had warned me about this stuff. He had told me that a few of his fraternity brothers had gone to Nice last year, and after buying a few bottles of absinthe, they spent the night running around town in the buff only to wake up in the drunk tank at a French prison the next morning. I had even heard stories of people going blind from the drink, but at this moment in time, I didn’t care.
I picked up the spoon with my left hand, and with my right, I waved at the bartender. I raised my eyebrows, threw up two fingers, and pointed down at my empty glass. By the fourth glass, or maybe it was the fifth, I don’t really remember, I was lost in a sea of laughter and color. And then it suddenly stopped, and everything began to fade to black. My body went numb, and judging from the sounds around me, I could sense that I was on the floor. As I lay there, my last thought was, “Had I really gone blind?”
I felt a gust of wind and then a lot of little, cold stinging sensations across my face. I took a deep breath of the crisp air. My whole body was wet, and as another gust of wind blew by, I realized that I was cold. It was the middle of June, and yet I was cold! Where was I? I opened my eyes and found myself laying on a stone slab in front of a large wooden door. In front of me was a blanket of white. I stood up as another cold gust of air blew by me, and I realized that the cold stinging sensations I had felt earlier were snowflakes! I turned around to examine the building I was in front of and was surprised to see a castle behind me! I glanced upwards and read the words, “Domi Mina Nus Tio Illu Mea.” “What the hell!” I said to myself. I reached into my jeans to fish out my English-French dictionary, but couldn’t find it. I must have lost it at one of the bars. I glanced back up and noticed a crest featuring a happy-looking bull. “Huh, sorta looks like Bevo,” I thought to myself and was reminded of UT. Campus back home in Austin looked nothing like this. Sure it has little details here and there, but the castle in front of me was in a league of its own. Judging by the changefulness of it all, the jaggedness of the steeples, the lack of symmetry, and the ornate details, I assumed that the building was built in a Gothic fashion. As I stood there in front of the castle, I heard the sounds of footsteps trudging through the snow. Finally! I would be able to find some answers. I turned around and spotted a fellow wearing the strangest thing. He appeared to be wearing a dress-like outfit over tight pants. “Stupid French, they’re so feminine,” I said under my breath. Regardless, I was happy to see somebody. I could finally get some answers about the bizarre change in weather.
“Bon jour!” I shouted. “Bon jour!”
The fellow responded, “I’m sorry, I do not speak French. I did however see a couple of French students down that way.” He pointed off in the distance with his left hand. I was ecstatic! Not only had I found somebody, I had found somebody who spoke English!
“You speak English! You speak English! Man, am I glad to see you! Where the hell am I?” I asked.
“Are you feeling right? You do not know where you are?” I shook my head. “Look around you! You are in Oxford!”
I laughed and asked him a couple more times where I really was, and when he had finally convinced me, I let out a barrage of four-letter words. I was so distraught that when I had found out that the date was February 10, 1355, I could not help but laugh. I needed a drink.
I looked at the young Brit and asked him where I could find one. Coincidentally, he was heading to a local drinking hole called Swyndlestock Tavern to celebrate a local holiday, St. Scholastica Day. It was a bit of a walk to get to the tavern that was located next to Carfax Tower, but I didn’t mind it. I was used to walking long distances back home in Austin. I explained to him how it would take me 30 minutes to walk from one class to another at UT, and how as a freshman I felt so lost and insignificant due to the sheer size of my campus. Judging from his reaction, I could tell he must have thought I was a crazy storyteller of some kind, so I decided to shut my mouth and ask him questions. I learned that he was a student at Oxford and that he was attending the newest college there, Queen’s college, which was founded in 1341 by the queen’s chaplain, Robert Eglesfield. (Lambert). He also warned me to try to lay low when we arrived at the bar because the students, or the “gown,” as he referred to them, had been in conflict with the town for over a century, and that riots were quite frequent in the area. I thought to myself, “The only time we would have a riot at UT is probably if the football team won the national championship. Fat chance!” However, I did recall a professor in the English department once telling me that the fountain and the trees in the west mall of campus were actually placed there to break up the size of some of the mobs that would form there. It was a mechanism to fight the potential for riots. I guess the people who were responsible for UT’s architecture knew what they were doing.
We arrived at the tavern and heard shouting coming from inside. We asked a couple of students standing outside what was going on, and they informed us that a couple of the gowns were going at it with the town again. Apparently one of the students inside had accused the innkeeper inside of serving them “indifferent wine.” I found it amusing that those words would amount to “fightin’ words” over here, but my amusement was short-lived.
As the bells of Carfax Tower, or St. Martin’s Church as they called it rang, I saw the looks on the students faces turn to fear. I asked the Brit what was going on, and he responded, “They’re calling for help. Quickly, back to the college!”
Apparently, the bells were used by the townspeople to call for backup. From out of nowhere, people began appearing with various weapons. I watched as an arrow flew and landed 5 feet from where I was standing. We were definitely not welcome here. As I ran, I could hear the angry mob chasing behind me yelling, “Havoc! Havoc! Smyt fast, give gode knocks!” Then, I heard the ringing of bells from the other direction.
“It’s the bells of St. Mary’s! The Chancellor is calling upon the students to defend!” the Brit shouted back at me. I was horrified. Defend what? All I wanted to do was find somewhere to hide out. We made it back to the university and were greeted by hundreds of scholars equipped with bows and arrows. I had lost my British companion, but I didn’t care. I wasn’t going to take part in this. I ran through the campus until I found a small ditch I could hide in. I figured dying of hypothermia would be better than dying of a fatal flesh wound. Like a little girl, I crawled into the ditch and watched as the townspeople engulfed the university. I watched as they beat, injured, and even killed some of the students in their mission to tear apart the school.
Horrified, I closed my eyes and began to think of home. The roars of the mob took me back to the roars of the crowds at the football games. I remembered how quiet the rest of campus got during those Saturdays. I remembered the soft green lawns on campus on which I slept on before class. And though I didn’t like how large the campus was at first, I now had an appreciation for it because it felt like home. I remembered the unique architecture of campus, and how it looked like an eclectic mix of all architectural styles, as if it didn’t fit in a single category. And again, it felt like home to me. And as I opened my eyes to this new foreign place, these unfamiliar Gothic buildings, and these unfamiliar people, I suddenly began to feel sick. I sunk back into the hole. Closed my eyes, and I woke up. I reached into my pocket, felt around, and there it was: my English-French dictionary.
Word Count: 1858
A Brief History of Oxford University. 17 February 2004
Lambert, Tim. A Short History of Oxford University. 16 February 2004
Mondello, Larry. “Catching the Green Fairy.” Maxim. August, 2003.
Oxford General. 18 February 2004
Oxford University. 17 February 2004
Oxford Wikipedia. 16 February 2004 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxford>.
Ross, David. Medieval Oxford History. 16 February 2004