Open Door Policy

There’s good dreams; and there’s bad dreams. And then there’s the dreams which are too big to classify.

Like The Dreamtime.

The men who have lived in Australia these 40,00 years assembled a belief system whose bedrock is a time before time, the antithesis of before and after.

Like a dream, it is difficult to explain: it retains that wild indefinable quality which goes with that life we live sleeping. The Dreaming is where creation happens, where the rules for living are; it is the collective unconscious of the Aboriginal race, creating with all the strange splendour of which the human being is capable.

But it is not ordered. It is anything but tame.

The Romans had a Dreaming, though they didn’t call it such. They gave it an identity, and called it Janus.

Janus was not a deity back then. The Romans did not appreciate, as the Aboriginals did, that chaos can be our most creative time. Janus gained his godliness by subduing the chaos and bringing forth order.

And as he had created order he was given power over those things which help us create order throughout our small globe: the doorway.

He, it was, who could open and shut anything in the universe. He controlled the doors to heaven, and dictated whether an area was ruled by peace or war.

Janus is a two-faced god. One one side he looks to order, on the other, chaos. One one side, the past, one the other, the future. And he is inextricably linked with the symbol of the doorway. When a Roman stepped out of the door of his home, Janus was invoked, because this was a powerful action in the day. One stepped from the past to the future, from a safe retreat into the hubbub of the world, from stasis into action.

The doorway, the doorway. I didn’t realise until very recently just how important the doorway really is.

I have written before about the concentrated history of Oxford. London’s concentrated but Oxford- a small area laid and overlaid with patina upon patina of happenings, rigorously ordered by fustian academic minds – is like a small study crammed with the experience and event of a thousand years.

Plans are small puny things in the face of one of Janus’s doorways.

We would set out to walk in the direction of the grotesques and -pfft- our plans would go up in smoke as we passed a great old gate with a doorway set into it, much like the ingress to Oz.

This, like Frank L Baum’s gate, had its guardian, but this would not be some crazed munchkin, but a grave suited figure assuring us that yes, the college was open, and we were free to wander, but please would we keep off the grass.

You walk through an Oxford doorway and you are in another, carefully ordered world of stunning little quads with numbered doorways, each with a dark wood staircase leading to rooms.

Each college has its own character, some Tudor, some plummy Georgian; there’s usually a chapel and, this being Maundy Thursday, the voices of choirboys stole out to tap our shoulders on our meanderings.

Oxford is full of imposing entrances, great golden staircases which lead to doorways of such allure that one’s feet, like Janus’s visage, turn unbidden and walk up the steps and through the entrance.

Because you can, you see. Academia is still preoccupied in great measure by The Dreamtime, and its other-worldly values mean that most of it is both open, and free to see. Yes, old chap, it says affably, do come in and look around.

Thus we stumbled unawares on the Museum of the History of Science because it had a big beautiful door. It is the old site of the Ashmolean, a great dark Tudor building stuffed with orreries and globes and telescopes.

And we wandered further after the museum closed, and walked through a huge grand entrance just because it was huge and grand. It turned out to be the Bodleian Library. Joy: such doors! A great courtyard surrounded by blue doors, each a portal to the texts associated with a certain discipline.

Everywhere we went: glimpses and vistas, artfully created to show beauty of myriad kinds. Our feet ached but we were elated to be in a place where the doorways beckoned – and still, despite their fame and status, welcomed us in.

We stepped from one world to another in this tiny golden-stone universe. Janus must have been smiling as he watched us walk from small, local pasts to the most intricate little futures designed by men of the mind over 1,000 years.

Today, you and I will walk through doorways great and small, to varying degrees of future. I wonder: if I mark each passing door, really notice it properly, will it help me to slow down time?

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37 thoughts on “Open Door Policy

  1. An absorbing and thought provoking read that has started my morning very well. I shall be sure to take notice of doorways today, and hopefully henceforth. The lintels of the doorways in our old stone house are so low that one often receives a sharp physical reminder of each passing.

  2. One of my favourite portals takes you into Pitt Rivers – it opens up like a mini Crystal Palace full of evolutionary species: Dodo, Dinosaurs, etc. From the light the next portal takes you to the dark, the Pitt Rivers Museum, with his own eclectic accumulation of unusual and rare artefacts, housed in cabinets of delight. Children are given torches to explore the collections. Maddie and Felix would love it.

    1. We passed signs for the Pitt Rivers but never made it inside, Rosemary. From your description it sounds a must-see. We will make it our first port of call when we visit Oxford next!

  3. Splendid piece 🙂 Before treading its hallowed streets some years ago, we fell in love with Oxford thanks to the curmudgeonly Inspector Morse and his tales of dark deeds!

    1. Oh shoot, also meant to say what fascinates me about the Aboriginal dream time is the paintings that spring forth from their contemplations – quite fascinating 🙂

  4. Doorways are amazing things, I always love it on the Continent when some dark, heavy and forbidding door is left ajar giving precious sneaks onto tiled hallways and beautiful courtyards. 🙂

  5. I’ve never been to England, so every “visit” you provide here is a visual treat (whether you’ve included photos or not), and this is no exception.

    Again, you have inadvertently taken me back to Charleston, a place of myriad doorways and gates and their connections to the past. Doors that I always found particularly fascinating were those that appeared, from the street, to be an entry to the house, but were, in reality, an entry to the porch. A blogger, who is unknown to me, shared her love of Charleston doors, gates and windows here: (Note that what she references as “black” shutters and doors are more likely the ubiquitous “Charleston green,” but beautiful nonetheless.)

    1. This was a beautiful post, Karen, thank you so much. it shows a town with a rich heritage. One day I’d love to wander it myself with two kids and a camera 🙂

      1. I hope that you’ll get that opportunity, Kate; you’d all love it!

        And, while I’m hoping….I also hope I won’t have to wait much longer for an opportunity to return there for a visit of my own; hard to believe it’s been three years since I left.

  6. “The doorway, the doorway”–indeed! In high school, I cut out and carried with me for years this passage from Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward Angel:

    “Remembering speechlessly we seek the great forgotten language, the lost lane-end into heaven, a stone, a leaf, an unfound door.”

    Doorways are a magical, archetypal image–no wonder they draw us. Humans have the unique position of standing between two worlds and knowing it–tangible and intangible, past and future, conscious mind and instinct, art and the reality it describes, love and fear–there are many levels, but always we stand in the doorway, making a choice.

    The most powerful experiences, I think, are a result of realizing exactly where we stand, and why.

    I love this post–and thank you also for making me realize that “Academia is still preoccupied in great measure by The Dreamtime, and its other-worldly values mean that most of it is both open, and free to see.” That’s true, even though there are also a lot of other, less savory, things going on in American academia, at least (the corporate, for-profit takeover, for instance, and the right wing attack on all things scientific). You remind me why I have always felt at home in school, in some way. (And it’s always some old professor who knows about the door, isn’t it? And a child who discovers it? I’m thinking of the wardrobe door to Narnia.)

    1. You’re right, Barbara 🙂 There are always unsavoury things going on where learning takes place. But at the core of these places there are people making advances, in science , in maths, in writing, in engineering and so on, which will rock the world. And those people are lost in their discoveries: because after all, true creation is intoxicating enough for us to want to disappear into it completely, and everything: money, politics, tourists – goes away in the face of this grand obsession.

      Lovely to hear from you.

      1. I have had several good reasons to go inot town recently…. but can go months without 🙂

        Where did you stay in Oxfordshire for your birthday? (Belatedly ‘Happy Birthday, BTW!)

  7. ” I wonder: if I mark each passing door, really notice it properly, will it help me to slow down time?”

    That’s a marvelous idea, Kate, and a large one.

  8. I mean this with complete sincerity, I will be remembering your words as I walk through many doors this week! You’ve so well captured something I’ve been aware of lately…being mindful to detail does in a small way slow down time! I don’t think it’s mysterious, it’s just that “noticing” seems to slow the breath and in turn summons calm! I would love to equate any of my doors with the wonders of Oxford, but I do my lovely English travel vicariously through you, and enjoy immensely! Debra

    1. There are doors everywhere we look, Debra: and I love your analysis which hits the nail on the head. By noticing each doorway we go through we have become mindful of time, and mark each precious moment. I feel like wheeling on my favourite quote, said by Elizabeth I on her deathbed: “All my possessions for a moment of time…”

  9. The comparison you made between the Romans and Aboriginals is interesting. The Romans ruled the known world and the Aboriginals were conquered, in effect; but how many Romans are left today? My money’s on chaos.

  10. I am sorry to play catch up, Kate. Poor connection over ther weekend.

    And, I wish I could find the magical doorway that could take me to Oxford. Much like my weekend, people must’ve whispered to you at random moments. When you closed your eyes. Or passed through a gate. Or peered through a window.

    1. Never worry about catching up, Andra: nice to see you when I do, but no pressure! Your wonderful walk edited in space to listen. Us: we were like small children in a sweetie shop, surrounded by so much visual information I don’t think we would have heard Erasmus bawling at the top of his voice!

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