Today I needed comfort food. I was tired, a bit worried about my upcoming exams, and strongly considering whether or not to take a hotel room here in Oxford for two or three nights so I could get some rest before finals.
Since my arrival, I have both appreciated the lovely view of High Street, and cursed the never-ending foot-traffic noises of said thoroughfare…sometimes on the same day. Sometimes simultaneously. After three weeks, the continued lack of a complete night’s sleep was wearing me down.
Hence the comfort food run. For me, this meant my favorite restaurant, only a hundred yards from the entrance to Brasenose College. It is a small establishment in the back of St. Mary’s Church called “The Vaults and Garden.”
The place really does deserve it’s very own post. Everything organic, vegetarian and vegan friendly, free trade engaged – something for everyone. The food is magnificent, the staff are collectively warm and friendly, the setting is divine…and if you sit there for very long, you’ll be entertained by all sorts of “storylines” taking place at each table. For example, yesterday I went there for afternoon coffee and saw two young sisters dressed in darling outfits hopping around on the ancient gravestones and vaults, shouting out little British girly notices to each other:
“Let’s go to the shop and buy some sweets!” “Yes! Let’s buy some sweets!” “Let’s pretend we’re bees and buzz around.” “O-KAY! Buzzzzzzzzzz!”
Hip, hop, look for a spot, jump! – – they cautiously jumped from vault to vault in their brightly colored clothes. I chuckled thinking of the saintly skeleton only a few feet beneath them and thought the old body probably never had it so good as to entertain these toddlers during their play.
There is certainly a nurturing feeling about the entire venue. I’ve already adopted it, and I will miss the feeling I get while there after I go home.
Today my comfort food consisted of a roasted vegetable medley with lentils (onions, sweet potatoes, chunks of goat cheese, red peppers, tomatoes…yum); steamed English peas with baby onions, fresh crusty bread with butter, and lemon pound cake with just enough lemon filling to make you want more and more. By the time I had added a bottle of my favorite sparkling water to the tray, I was already feeling better – – and I hadn’t even begun to eat!
I headed outside and looked around for a table. “Yes!” I thought as I spied one vacant, usually a rare occurrence. I sped up my steps to try and get there before someone else snagged it. The weather was too beautiful and the sun too bright to waste the day eating inside.
Approximately half-way into my meal I began to realize another “storyline” at the table next to me was revealing itself.
Sometimes certain words or phrases familiar to a listener can sort of punch through even the most dense gray fog of introspective thoughts. That’s what happened to me when I heard…
“…you cannot do that. No good will come of it. If you push and push, the only thing he is left to do with all that inertia is either run away or push back, don’t you see?”
The voice was just about as close to Kevin Klein’s “French Kiss” character as can be found. My ears began to radar in on the subject matter.
“I know this, but I cannot just Turn Off all that I am between the hours of eight and five, then go right back into a conversation with all that emotion. I cannot just leave all of my life at the door! I must do something…something with all (she gestures by balling up her tiny fist and placing it on her heart) of me!”
The best way I can describe her voice was Penelope Cruz, only with slightly less heavy of an accent. As she continued, I made the connection that she was probably Spanish. She sounded like most of the Spanish folks I’d met during my trip.
He listened to her with intense focus, as did she to him when he responded. He thought out loud, she considered his remarks. She thought out loud, and he disclosed some of his struggles. Volley, think…volley, respond. Their conversation went on for 20 minutes.
He suggested to her that “you can’t understand why something is until you understand how something is….you need to break it down.” She responded, “I think about these things. When I first left home, I used to wish people would rescue me…I would call my mother. I wanted her to solve my problems. But over time I am working on myself.” He reflected, “I know what you mean. I have done that too. I discover sometimes that when I think myself out loud with someone like you, I see myself anew.”
What was I doing while this beautiful conversation was taking place? Honestly?…I was cursing the fact that I didn’t have my camera. I wanted to capture their relational dialogue in some way. I made a snap decision, left my table, ran back to my dorm room and grabbed my camera. Halfway across the public square on my trip back to the restaurant I spied them. They were still talking.
I waited a moment upon arriving, then approached them. I asked them if perhaps I could take their picture, and that their conversation had moved me. They looked at each other, smiled and then began talking to me. “Who are you? What was it we were saying that touched you? Have you had some of these thoughts? How do you solve these problems?”
I introduced myself and rather briefly I told them that I thought they were doing just fine. I told them that as long as they had friends like each other to share intimate struggles with, then they would overcome whatever they set out to find. The young man seemed intrigued that “somehow something they say has touched something in me,” and she told me, “I have thought about becoming a marriage and family therapist myself.”
He was doing his doctorate in nuclear fission. She was a philosophy student. The Frenchman and the Spaniard were extremely warm, generous and open. They asked if I wished to join them, but I declined – asking rather, for a photograph.
They agreed to let me take a picture and told me they would have not even asked for permission. However, he said, “Could you let us resume our discussion for a few minutes THEN you take the picture? It would be difficult for me not to pose if I knew of your intentions.” I agreed, and went to get coffee. Later, I peeked around the stone corner of the castle and took their picture. In less than a minute they got up and walked away….
Side by side, she would talk then he would respond. Then he would state an issue, and she would respond. Volley, think…volley, respond.
The rhythm of human kind, solving their problems without therapists, eventually walked out of site…around a corner and down an alley. I was comforted by the interaction, by the storyline at the table. Perhaps by these thoughts even more than by the food.
Nah…the food was amazing.