Friday, April 2, 2010


- that's as in oarsmen, not as in having a bad disagreement - the kind of joke that sounds as though it should be found several times over in Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat (1889), only I can't be bothered to check. Indeed, I know that "rowing" and "rowing" does turn up as a labored joke in some well-known novel - maybe Grossmith's The Diary of a Nobody (1888-9 - and you'd think I'd know the answer to that, one way or another, since I edited it).

Here is an eight, scudding down the Raritan, and not looking at all impressive as they did so. I tend to think of oarsmen and women as a happy sign of spring, which also means that I get mentally precipitated back to England, walks on the banks of the Isis, numerous college boats crowing the river, and coaches on bicycles pedaling at dangerous full tilt down the tow path bellowing through megaphones. The transportation of choice here on the Raritan was a ridiculous looking flatbed launch - the kind of thing one would expect to find at a seaside amusement park, one step up from a two-person pedalo. The words, of course, drifted across so that only one in three was audible, but every time the hapless crew were - we watched them at rest - told to turn to port, for example, only about five of them looked in the right direction. Very unpromising. And when their blades hit the water, they were very splashy. Rarely do I allow much ex-Oxford-snobbery to surface, but it rose up, today, unbidden.

That being said, I am most grateful not to be on the banks on the Isis, which is, of course, what the Thames is called in Oxford. More complicatedly, this is the river that flows south about eight miles to Dorchester, where it joins the River Thame, thus becoming the Thame-isis. Or Thames - or so Victorian etymologists were keen on pointing out. The true mystery for me in all of this is in the international quality of the willow tree (just seen coming into green leaf in this picture). For in England, I'm hopelessly allergic to the things, my eyes gumming up into miserable red swollen slits when they are in blossom (usually timed, in my past, for summer exams). By contrast, the American version wafts past me in delicate white fluffy hypoallergenic tufts.

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