I went to see Lance fence against Cambridge with the Oxford team last Saturday (that's the team getting off the bus, Lance in his blazer). The two clubs have been holding an annual grudge match (not to put too fine a point on it) since 1898 (with a few years' gaps). The score now stands, I believe, at 52-50 in Cambridge's favor. So, it's a statistical deadlock, and in some ways that approximates my sense (as a mostly bewildered beginning observer) of how subtle are the factors that decide a point between two evenly matched fencers. I'd never attended a fencing match, and still couldn't tell you much about what went on, except that it was exhilerating. On each point, the two opponents would dance, toward and back, weapons hovering, sometimes touching, until one or both flashed toward the other into an apparently chaotic engagement of blades and bodies.
In the pictures that follow, that's Lance on the right, typically about to take the head off whichever hapless Cambridge man he was facing. You'll also see how even the camera had trouble keeping up with the action. As for me, after watching for upwards of two hours, I still couldn't decipher most of what was going on. That was the job of the Director, the woman in the undertaker's outfit. She was there to interpret the dully buzzing sirens that registered hits between opponents - a fraught occupation, especially when, as often happened, both lights sounded off simultaneously. When that happened, she would offer a kind of semaphoric pantomime of what had just passed, breaking it down into a formula of gestures she used to signal each fencer's changing momentum and direction along with the split-second attacks, parries and ripostes each had made during the clash. All of this she did to justify awarding the point to one or the other, or neither. Fencers on each side grumbled at her now and then, but they all seemed to respect her keen sight and judgment. I was agog. She could have been making the whole thing up for all I could see, but she had the aplomb of a Solomon.
But now, having paraded my ignorance of the sport, I should still urge on you that Lance was truly impressive out there. To begin with, the score would rise reliably in Oxford's favor every time he stepped onto the piste. But I also liked how he roused his teammates by keeping his cool, which rattled Cambridge no end (they threw at least one substitute fencer and plenty of razz at him, all to no avail). I find myself tempted to offer puns and innuendo here on the name "Lancelot," but it's pretty easy to resist as his talents deserve more than cheap effects. So, instead, here are a few more shots of him in action. (Maybe we can get him to offer a few comments on the photos and day on the blog here, and if not, you might look for his own write up of the event in the upcoming Symposium.)
Shimer College in Oxford 2008-2009
The Shimer College in Oxford Program invites you to check in here periodically for news and notes on our doings in this "sweet city with her dreaming spires."