Theory in praxis

It is said that Cambridge is a bubble. But how could one use this metaphor for a place of such diversity of different cultures, nations, opinions, social backgrounds and ethnicity? On the other hand though, this term is trying to capture a phenomenon, which is an inevitable, ubiquitous part of the experience here.

Cambridge is a place separated from the rest of the world by a thick line. Meanwhile, it succeeds to preserve an image of the outer world’s problems and heterogeneity. Even though as a student one perceives news “from the outside” more as echoes from a place hardly believable to be real, on some deeper level one understands them through their image in the caricature surrounding one’s everyday life.

The term caricature is in my opinion a perfect expression of the relationship between the image and the rest of the world. Some of its features are exaggerated, some are oppressed. For example, it can hardly be claimed that a city, where quarter of the population is made of university students and academics is a representative sample of global population. A very unique feature of this city overweighs this fact. Cambridge is an unbelievably provincial city, which at the same time grabs a lot of attention of the rest of the world. This mixture highlights all contrasts beyond expectations. It is due to this fact that it, despite the biases of the sample, actually displays global reality compared to other places quite well.

A conscious reader rightfully attacks my logical shortcut. Why should attention lead to variety? Finally, is it not a little bit exaggerated to claim that Cambridge grabs attention throughout social classes? It is just a university! Indeed. But as an ancient centre of education it is consequently a huge enticement not only for academics and businesses looking for qualified employees, but also for tourists, desiring to taste the feeling of such unique history of knowledge. As always, with tourism come new jobs and eventually wealth. Its accumulation over the centuries has led to a state when Cambridge is in this respect undeniably far above other cities not only in the region. With that comes an increased interest of the poorest class, whose members in their unenviable situations hope that some of this wealth might be here for them. Consequently, even though the relative proportion of different classes in the population might not match the global average, provinciality of Cambridge leads to an inevitable and very personal confrontation between them on everyday basis.

People who come to the city from all around the globe live, short-term or long-term, in the same limited space. At the same place shaped by its great history. Despite that, everyone views it from a different perspective. A student rushing to a sedimentology lecture trying to get his head around Johnson’s algorithm from the previous one hardly understands academics picketing the main university site striking against changes in the university staff pension system. A tourist admiring the King’s College chapel hardly understands why students passing by submerged in an undeniably highly revelatory discussion about introduction to quantum mechanics do not even raise their heads. The talkative Big Issue vendor in front of Sainsbury’s entrance hardly understands why the bagger with whom he shared the cold night streets just a few weeks ago cannot find a job.

After a special relativity lecture, it is time to get some ingredients for today’s lunch. While attempting to skip the crowd of tourists on a morning walk I see a young woman snuggling in a sleeping bag on a pile of cardboards and groundsheets. She is reading a book and, with an expression of total disinterest on her face marked by signs of a rush, ignoring the surrounding. Her reality intercepts the reality of the people passing by only when she, more as a custom than a sense of belonging, addresses them from time to time: “Do you have spare change? No? Have a nice day.” I cannot resist asking: “Isn’t this the most convincing proof of time relativity? Einstein’s theory in praxis?




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