My Great Grandmother Anna is a something of a legendary figure within my family. And quite rightly so: she emigrated—alone—to the United States at age 15, raised a family of seven by herself, and lived to 105, drinking whiskey until the day she died and only moving to a nursing home when her children were too aged to care for her. We’ve always maintained a certain body of family lore about her journey to the U.S. The stories describe her long walk to the train station, her arduous journey to the U.S., her wait at Ellis Island, and, of course, her struggle to adapt to life in a place that was totally foreign to her.
A few years ago, my parents decided to retrace her journey, all the way back to Ruthenia, the area of Ukraine from which she originally came. When they arrived, they made a somewhat amusing discovery: she uprooted herself from Ukraine, traveled thousands of miles, and settled in a village in Pennsylvania… that looked exactly like her village in Ukraine. Not only were the landscapes identical, but each was populated by a bunch of Eastern Europeans who didn’t speak English.
That’s a rambling introduction to something that is, obviously, not really comparable at all: my move to Oxford. I only thought of it because it’s occurred to me lately that I’ve left Princeton and moved to… Princeton (or perhaps, to be fair, I left Oxford-rip-off and moved to Oxford). I could go on ad infinitum about the similarities between the institutions, but the similarities hit me particularly hard this week as I was travelling through the English countryside. I personally think the pictures below are beautiful—but they might as well have been taken in New Hampshire. I wonder how the Puritans felt when they landed in New England only to discover that it was, in at least a few superficial ways, familiar.
My wonderful parents were visiting this week, which gave me an excellent opportunity to do lots of touristy things. We walked on the crumpled ramparts of a 2,000-year-old castle, took pictures with royal guards in funny hats, visited an obscenely opulent palace, gazed at a giant celtic horse drawn in chalk on the sidewalk, and, of course, visited Stonehenge. This place is pretty different after all.