June 29

Brick wall in Cambridge
Si B/Flickr

The ice cream line curves out of the shop and into the sunshine this afternoon. It’s the first hot summer day in Cambridge. Eighty-nine degrees feels hotter here, at least in this English major’s estimation, because of the northern latitude—like the power of the sun at elevation. But maybe it’s just because there’s also no air conditioning. Days like these are supposed to be rarities, and so far, June has been a continuation of spring’s cool evenings and rainy, cold spells. In fact, I’m not sure how to handle summer; can I still sleep with a light comforter? In the mornings, the air has been crisp and sharp, and it still smells like April.

The European heat spell, though, has left little room for midsummer sweaters and corduroys. I should be used to the heat—growing up in Washington, D.C., I lived through months of upper-90-degree days, and humidity that made your underwear steam. But today, the whole city is sweating in proper English form: sunburnt arms and roses withering into homemade tea cosies on stems. I find myself in a world where it is again possible for a bead of sweat to travel from neck to ankle in a single roll.

The linden trees blooming along the river drop sap on my hot face as I walk into town. I consider buying a straw hat in the market, but thankfully a wall of sticky tourists cuts me off. My goal this afternoon is to be able to read my book without panting, so I’m heading to church. The beefy Norman doorway ahead of me promises damp stones and cool gloom. Built in the 12th century, the grotto-like Round Church is the second oldest building in Cambridge. The tiny stained-glass windows and thick Romanesque piers have turned the circular space into an ecclesiastical icebox. I lean against one of the pillars, letting the stones chill my arm, as I listen to the local historian repeat his spiel for each visitor.

Beyond the circular nave—only about 10 feet across—there is a traditional, rectangular church annex. And beside this, partially covered by a screen and a No Public Access sign, is the Scriptorium. Arched windows above, long flagstones below—a monk’s work never looked so good. Why hadn’t I decided to go into the manuscript field? If I hadn’t skimmed the framed informational leaflet, perhaps I would have been able to sit at one of the wooden carrels, or even lounge on the leather sofas. Having taken a picture of it for future reference, it wouldn’t be until the next morning that I read: the “Scriptorium is the writing room for Christian Heritage staff, their guests, and graduate students of Cambridge.”

Unknowingly cordoned off by my own negligence, I walk back into the swelter. Perhaps it’s time I bought that hat.

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Charlotte Salley is a former assistant editor of the Scholar.


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