Changed priorities ahead.

As my coach left Gatwick airport and entered the M25 yesterday morning, we passed a road sign reading "Changed Priorities Ahead." Even in my sleepiness, I recognized this as a sign of great import.

All of Tuesday's and Wednesday's travelling went as smoothly as anyone could have desired: I managed to get an unnecessary connecting flight removed from my itinerary; my bags turned out not to be overweight; I saw them both come off the plane in Charlotte and thus knew that they had accompanied me at least partway on my journey. I had many hours to spend in the Charlotte airport and devoted that time to such matters as purchasing a pair of headphones equipped with a microphone and then downloading and learning to use Skype. The airplane food was fine; the airtime was adequate for a moderate amount of sleeping; the passport control man looked at my passport, said, "Oh, you're an academic visitor, are you?", noted where I was going, and passed me through (proving that the visa was good for something after all); I caught my bus right on time; I slept for three hours; I took a taxi; and then I was here.

All settled in, well-rested and well-fed, I ventured out to the library early this afternoon. On my way there, I reflected--as one inevitably does, on just arriving in or returning to England--on the terrific nature of this country's signage. Witness:

When I discovered this sign on the wall of my college this afternoon, I looked around for its raison d'etre and couldn't find it. To all initial appearances, this sign is a random memento mori, there on a brick wall along a sidewalk. (To his credit, my new neighbor-friend, upon our return from grocery shopping, thought to look around the corner and discovered another sign, this one more clearly positioned at the gate to an electrical or mechanical space behind the wall. But I love the fact that this one remains apparently referentless. Also that Death is, in this image, an enormous Arrow to the Heart.)

I was so taken with the Danger of Death sign that I did not capture the Calmed Traffic sign across my road. You will likely see it in the future.

Another English classic:

I actually cut short my photographing of this sign when a passing driver whistled or yelled or did something or another rude, all because I was taking a picture. It is still very much tourist season in Cambridge, and my anxiety about seeming like a tourist (why? why would it matter? because tourists are so often loud and obnoxious and inconsiderate of the actual residents of a place, and because I don't want to be any of those things.) has made me a little bit shy about dragging the big camera out of the bag and peering at this new world through it. And in any case, I spent a gorgeous chunk of the afternoon inside this building (or rather inside the building of whose tower this is the top--the University Library), where my camera was locked in a locker while I prowled and crept around a new warren of shelves and stacks and tiny submarine-style stairways.

And so I wasn't taking pictures then.

Early this evening, though, I headed out to the grocery store. Now, this is a thing I can barely believe. I don't mean to sound gushy, but I'm going to: here's what I see when my footpath to the city centre reaches the footbridge that takes me over the Cam and toward what's called Senate House Passage:

You don't have to try very hard to imagine why I'm so excited to be here, and why I think I'm about to get some of the best work of my life done. That's Clare College (parent of my college) in the foreground, with the spires of King's College Chapel behind it.

When I return from the grocery (which has its own wonders, with some of which I have long been familiar and with some of which I am newly acquainted [cf. the wine aisle, stocked to the gills with inexpensive tempranillos]), here's what greets me just before I head back into the alleys and passageways that carry me to the footbridge. First, King's College:

Then, within the passage, a tower topped with sundials (there are six), part of Gonville and Caius (say: keys) College:

Why that random sliver of roof in the left side of the image? All I can say is that my framing and composition have taken a hit in the past couple of days. As I told my new neighbor-friend, I feel as though my eyes have to re-learn how to see things here. It's no exaggeration, and I've spent the day wondering whether or not I should walk around without my camera for a few days, just looking. But then there are already images that I haven't caught that I regret--the evening sun against the buildings that square off the Market, for one, or the weird plays of light in the alleys and crooked streets that make up this city. It's the right place for me right now: things are quieter and calmer here (at least for now, since the university isn't in term for another few weeks), and I, in turn, am calmer (though perhaps not quieter) too.

Last night's twelve hours of sleep might have something to do with that feeling of calm, too.