Thursday, July 23, 2009

Books and Belarus(i)ans
















Книги! ("Books!") on the 
"Bloc" and People of the Book

For many years, I've been involved with an organization that does a remarkable thing: it coordinates, underwrites, and guides groups of international professionals to visit the United States to see commensurate professions in this country.  Through the generosity of your bi-weekly paychecks, the US tax code, and the friendly faces of the State Department, a multitude of multicultural coteries make their way to these fateful shores each year.

The International Visitors Center of Chicago (or "IVCC") has been the main conduit of this program and it is with whom I have received continued reports of visitors for almost five years.  The IVCC sends out visitor information every couple of weeks, which includes the delegation country of origin and the topic of the visit.  Later on, you may discover what the profession of the delegates are.  Usually, if the topic of the visit is "education," usually you have teachers or professors visiting.  Similarly, if it is "librarianship," you have librarians visiting.  (Before I go on, here is their website: 
http://www.ivcc.org/).

I first became interested in IVCC delegates when I worked for the American Theological Library Association, when I discovered (somehow...which I've now forgotten) that a librarian from Tanzania was visiting.  I arranged a meeting with him and his interpreter, and they both came to ATLA to see the magical arts of American para-corporate librarianship (I mean this in the most affectionate way, all readers of the the ATLA-cloak!)  Having studied in East Africa and visited Tanzania during college, I had hoped to summon up my anemic reserves of KiSwahili, the lingua franca of the region.  But the ingredients of Bantu verb classes seemed to be missing from my mental batter, and I could only throw out a puny cobbling of phrases, greetings, a misplaced future tense, an incorrect preposition, the use of a one word that I thought meant "computer interface," but actually meant "left cow's udder."  (I trust you can see the similarity.)  The interpreter saved us, tossing out his linguistic life preserver.  He had a funny name, like Byron or Steel Wool or Wedgewood.  Well, none of these are the name actually, but it was something that will come to me in about four days.

Nevertheless, that was my first experience.  It was productive.  We spoke about cross-cultural librarianship and such collegial ejaculations.  We smiled, thanked each other, and went our happy ways.

This blossomed when I moved to my next job at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC), where I became a librarian.  The seminary had long been in the process of starting a center on Muslim-Christian Dialogue, through the leadership and direction of Prof. (Emeritus) Harold Vogelaar.  Once the center was established--now called "Center of Christian-Muslim Engagement for Peace and Justice"--I began to connect IVCC delegates interested in inter-religious and interfaith meetings, discussions, "tête-à-tête"s, brawls, liver transplants, soul swapping, with the folks at the Center.  We started with a small group of Italian-Muslims, who had come originally from places like Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Morocco, and Egypt.  We served tea and bantered about the merits of the Italian political system under Berlusconi (of which plastic surgery was the answer, since the good prime minister's own eye-brow realignment had made plastic surgery no longer taboo among Sardinians and Neapolitans alike).  But more accurately, the group did discuss with those of us in attendance (which was only me and Prof. Vogelaar and his wife Mai) about serious issues of concern for "people of the book."  And answered questions about American society and religion.  It ended amenably with a discussion of I Mille (or Thousand Red Shirts), the 1860-1 military campaign led by Giuseppe Garibaldi that defeated the Kingdom of Two Sicilies and moved toward a unification of the Italian Kingdom; indeed, the grand historical moment of 19th century Italian nostalgia and pride, which my own great-great-great grandfather was among--sort of an Italian equivalent to having been on the Mayflower or claiming to be one of the scattered seed and spawn of Christopher Columbus.

Ever since this first encounter, there've been some two dozen subsequent visits of delegates from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Belgium, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Kyrgystan, and more.  All in search of discussions with other "people of the book."  One of the more recent groups came from Belarus.  A word that actually means "White Russian" (Bely + Russ-).  The group composition was different than many of the usual visiting groups, as most predecessor groups were Muslim or Buddhist.  This group was actually an array of Christian denominations which "exist" under the Lukashenko regime (he's the president, in that sort of all-in-the-family, legacy way, of Belarus).  I say exist, because we can bet that there are denominations and churches that "don't exist" in that Church of Jesus Christ of Totalitarian States way that oversees competitor religious organs and slaps on the branding iron to relegate unwanted competition as "cults" and "bad for society."  Similar to what is written in the Chinese Constitutions: "there shall be freedom of normal religions."  Did you catch that word?  I'm not even going to go there.  Yet, despite these controls of Alexander Grigoryevich Lukashenko, we met with this fine group.  They had a translator, and we spoke and discoursed about all things "religious."  And as my Russian (let alone Belarusian) is pretty non-existent, I was reduced to dribbling consonantal slavisms like "ja" and "byl" and "robotoyoo," only to realize I was speaking Czech, not Russian.

But here is the other interesting thing (perhaps): that the one lady I was attempting to speak to in my bastardized "Slavese" turned out to be Inna Gerasimova, Director of the Museum of Jewish History and Culture in Belarus.  And, as the booklet she gave me about her institute (above and left) says: "Art Historian."  We can't forget that.  I believe she may have had her professional training in this field.  

But what was a remarkable moment of cross-cultural exchange was the moment I asked her if she spoke Hebrew (in Hebrew), and she said yes.  So from then on, we abandoned our (or rather "my") fits of Slavectile Dysfunction, and murmured into the fine Semitic past with memories of Jerusalem.  Here she is at left...in this not so clear photo.  But you get the idea. (Below is a pamphlet the good director gave me of Jewish sites in Minsk).



By the end of the encounter with the Belarus crowd, we'd all had some fine discussions and I'd been able to practice my long stale Hebrew.  Perhaps the most curious lot of book and para-book items of this day was this item left and below: a booklet of Belarus(i)an instruments.  (By the way, it's still up for debate how to spell the adjectival form of Belarus in transliteration.  Clearly this will vex many, myself included, and is set to get us caught in some orthological Cold War).  Who knew that there was a whole genus of Belarusian instruments!  If Darwin only knew, he'd say that all instruments came from one common gourd ancestor instrument.  I think I want to go out and find me some Belarusian pipes to play La Marseillaise on at a rodeo in Fayetteville, like Borat.  I'm sure that would win friends and influence people.  And here, I do want to apologize for providing you with side-oriented photographs of these musicological wonders.  These shepherd-like music-mountain-men and their national, regional, and dulcimer-tuned peasant dress will make you forget that you're craning your neck like an ostrich, and thanking whatever inter-religious God that you can practice "normal" religion wherever you are sitting this fine morning and sipping your freedom-roasted caffeine.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Encountering Books on the Street


Freedom: A Confederacy of Books

Having an interest in the way that we treat books in society, I cannot help but notice the locations where books continue to show up.  So it is without much trouble and with little decoration that I managed to summon up my paltry photographic skills and snap a few neighborhood sightings. (Let me call them my eye candy).  These may not fulfill that skillful and curious spirit of back-of-car-window-book peeping, which some readers found audacious--and admittedly, it was among the more eccentric activities of my usual Sunday mornings.  But I trust you may all find these curiosities a welcome and more republican interest.  

For some time, I've noticed this box on a street corner in Hyde Park, conveniently located near the University of Chicago.  More accurately, it is sandwiched between the University Fitness Center (Ratner, which looks like a frigate set to slide out to sea with a duet of men named Ahab and Quiqueg aboard) and the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.  Presumably this location is a nexus of undergrads, graduates, post-graduate, meta-graduates, from the bubbly to the bewildered, in this unique cluster of educational institutions we have in Hyde Park.  Anyhow, it was only on a day that I was carrying a camera that I decided to take a closer peek and see what this "Free Books" box was all about.













I scoped it out. I circumnavigated it with precious skill and caution.  I called upon my Magellanesque skills to get the best views, even without the aid of a sextant!  You will notice the finely crafted paint jobs of book spines (oh, the majesty of decorative street-art and the symbolic spines of books: special note here--you can see a grossly porcine tome in the middle titled "Infinite Jest," yet another tribute to the late Mr. David Foster Wallace.  I'm sure you can all semiotically imagine some vegan-bitten college student with Mt. Rainier-style progressivism stenciling and painting in their blues, reds, and chartreuses onto images of Kindles in 20 years, right?  I'm sure it will say "Free Kindles.")  

Okay.  Back to reality.  And back to the seriousness and importance of this discussion.  One of the things that has struck me about these observations is the thought of what it means for a book to be lost, or left, or abandoned.  What do these things mean?  Clearly these books are meant for others, to be shared with other readers, for pleasure, for interest, for edification. 
But what about books that (or is it "who?") are orphaned, abandoned, tossed to the nimble nothingness of an alley or a basement that floods?  There is a clear distinction, I believe, between books that are meant to be shared, as in this case, or with "Book Sharing" initiatives, like Book Crossing (see their site: www.bookcrossing.com) and those which are not.  For now, let us look at how "shared" books like Book Crossing are given to the world.  They have a great little statement on their page:

Leave it on a park bench, a coffee shop, at a hotel on vacation. Share it with a friend or tuck it onto a bookshelf at the gym -- anywhere it might find a new reader! What happens next is up to fate, and we never know where our books might travel. Track the book's journey around the world as it is passed on from person to person.

But this points out something so true: the idea of the fate of books.  Traveling books, migrating books, itinerant books, nomadic books, book flaneury!  The idea of the book in motion is rather fascinating, and something I could surely dedicate several hours to...like cultivating a plot of a bloggish garden.  But I will resume to this day's travels for now.

The two books above didn't suit my interest or tastes.  Fuzzy Thinking was the title of the book in the foreground.  Even if that does describe my quotidian efforts to cogitate, I left it alone.  I suppose I'm expert enough on this branch of esoteric knowledge.

An Orphan on the Street: Go Diego! Go!

I had been ruminating about this idea of books being left, abandoned, orphaned.  As I was riding my bike this same day, something caught my eye: in fact, doesn't everything seem to catch my eye? Why doesn't it "hook" my eye, or "hijack" my eye, or "ingratiate" my eye?  "Catch" my eye.  What is it with idiomatic English?  Nonetheless, something penetrated my eye as I zipped mellifluously along on my bike.  So I slowed down and turned back toward the object.  Low and behold, it was Diego--as in "Dora and Diego" of contemporary childhood legend and lore.  Both Dora (the Explorer) and Diego (also an Explorer) are the prime cool-n-cute characters of television and children's books (even musicals!), who promote the ever intercultural modernity of racial complexity and make our kids feel good, and right, an more than whatever Garrison Keillor tells us "above average" means.

But far from the home-cooked rhubarb and strawberry pies of Lake Wobegon and the bellies of factory workers, whose mute Scandinavian-cum-Minnesotan sensitivities, they fill...the calm love bestowed upon this Diego book is nowhere to be found.  It was not left for someone else to pick up, "adopt," and read.  No, it was left, like a ketchup-spoiled napkin or a free-range grass clipping, or even a sub-tabular booger slowly hardening around its doughy adhesion.  My heart goes out to you, Diego: you are not a doughy booger (a word which has no known mono-termed synonym), but must be valued as an important object of our society!  Unfortunately, this poor copy of Prairie Dog Rescue was likely washed away by the rains, pissed on by dogs, and run over by a rusted umber Coupe DeVille.  We can continue to think about, talk about, speculate on the merits and roles of the verbs we choose to examine here: left, abandoned, orphaned.  Each of these words and their inherent actions has a place in our society, and purports something.  Very likely, most people wouldn't have thought twice about stopping to look at this Diego book; they wouldn't have said "poor book, poor Diego--he looks like he's in bad shape...probably might even need a chiropractor."  They'd walk along, ignore the ignored, the abandoned, the marginalized, like a leper (don't touch it, it's contagious), like a street hawker, like your mothers-in-law.  Okay, let's not get carried away.  We can touch the lepers and speak to the hawkers.

I've Heard of "Tech Support" but "Book Support?"

Now when we want to emote about books, especially when we see them being "abused" or "used" in a certain way, let us think about the energy it takes to emote about books.  In the user studies I've conducted over the years about books and how people describe their visceral reactions to books being damaged or used "improperly," I've found both physical and moral repugnance as two of the greatest examples of emotive energies expended through the reactive process.  "Sad" or "Sick" or "Angry."  These are words from the vocative membranes of students and faculty about books "being in the wrong place."  It's a case of Mary Douglas and Purity and Danger applied concretely and exactingly on books.  Dirt in your garden is good and normal; dirt on your eggs benedict is bad, vexing, abnormal, primitive, incongruous, and flat out gross.  And it's likely to give you the runs and/or amoebic dysentery.  But why talk about all this?  The photo above conveys another sense of symbolic power of what place means--more accurately, "place," "in place," and "out of place."  Of course, we all see the massive phone books supporting this air conditioning unit.  My feeling about this is that "I have no feelings" about phone books being used.  Why?  Aren't I a sentient sentimentalist about all book-objects?  Phone books are informational lists.  Somehow that devalues the visceral apprehension and reactivity I might hold.  Though, admittedly, when the rains came, I felt biblio-birthing pangs that were reacting to the water damage of the books, even though I wasn't tremendously hurt by seeing this.  But there are two other books on top of the phone books, hidden from view.  What are they?  What made this person put "those" books there?  Why were they orphaned?  Or, should the word be "sacrificed!?"

More Books Abandoned to the World

Coming close to our conclusion, I want to offer you a vision of some more books that were left to the world.  At left is the sale book shelf at the JKM Library in Chicago.  Usually, it is full of books, but as it is summer, the pickings are slim; the donations are slimmer, ergo this is what we have.  There are some fine tomes here, but very few people around, and fewer people interested in specific titles means that these books are ultimately doomed to the dumpsters.  My colleague occasionally determines when it is time, usually when frustrations are high, and we (or more often "he") go off and have a book-tossing party.  I am not completely fond of this game or exercise.  When I first experienced it, as a book-tossing-virgin, I was horrified, frozen, unable to perform my duties.  "How could grown-ups do this!?"  I thought.  After a while, it became easier, especially when a good portion of the texts are trash-worthy.  But still, there are those titles worth saving...at least this month, I sighted some Moliere, Shakespeare, and a harbor-load of Teilhard de Chardin.

This last image brings us to a confluence of places.  These books were abandoned, even sacrificed to the streets.  They were tossed near a dumpster, presumably by some ill-prepared University of Chicago students; ill-prepared to carry their books to their next place of residence. (You can tell by the political philosophy tracts, that their provenance was nearby!)  In the rush to move after graduation, students just toss their books.  But here is where the story gets eye-numbingly interesting: my children's baby-sitter collected them--scores of them, from economic and calculus textbooks, to political philosophy, to Micheneriana (see in this bag is a typical anvil size volume of Michener).  Then she brought them into her basement.  Then she said "do you want them for your library."  I agreed.  And each day I would burrow into her dark, damp, and mildew-fluorescent basement, and retrieve these innumerable tomes.  Then I brought them to work to the sale shelf.  In this last batch, I began to put them on the shelves.  They were curious, interesting, and worthy titles.  But something was out of place (nothing to do with Edward Said), something wasn't quite right.  My hands began to melt like some surrealist painting, and I smelt the aromatic scents of clove and eucalyptus.  Then I realized, the bag that the babysitter had put these abandoned books in was slathered with a Rangoon-style perfumed petroleum jelly!--something I'd imagine the home library of political dissident Aung San Suu Kyi might smell like.  I dropped the books.  They barely left my hands, because the jelly was so thick.  I retreated like some Zaporizhian Cossack into the woods, tossing this bag into a stairwell.  And I found a washroom to cleanse my hands of the offending substance.

Of course, well-lubricated these books were.  But that does nothing for them now.  Nor me.  No wonder orphans get a bad rap.  But this is like foster care gone awry.  I'll still think of Diego off-gassing on the street under sun, sky, and micturations; and maybe give a passing glance at those phone books when I pass them on the way to work.  But no more than that.  I suppose the moral of today's story is: keep your eyes open for books around you, and watch out for unwanted lubrications.  I know I certainly will.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Books in Cars and Such


Oblivion and Other Fine Places

It wasn't too long ago that I was walking down the street and something caught my eye in the back window of a fine porcelain cheek-blue Toyota Camry. It was, after quickly scanning the object, a book: Oblivion: Stories, by the late great David Foster Wallace. I'd never been the biggest of Foster Wallace fans. I never was able to crack the brick of Infinite Jest, partly because it was so long (which would usually invite me to exploit the challenge), partly because I couldn't get into the drug infested narration, and partly because I had so many other things I wanted to read first. But too, I admit, it was the persona of the angst-ridden Gen-X'er, who gave off an aroma of "no one writes better than me" that made me react so violently. Now, shamefully, that he is no longer among the living, no longer able to cast his simple shadow on sunny days upon this glorious earth, I've taken more of a liking to his legacy. Mostly, because I find pity and sadness in his own story; now I feel obliged to seek some sort of redemption in my erstwhile thoughts of his presumptuousness. No more oblivion for you, Mr. Wallace! Of course, I will give credit to my good friend and librarian-in-arms, Chad, who gave a fine tribute to Mr. Wallace last year in his fine blog: http://www.chadpollock.com/2008/09/

Zang-Fu, Where Are You?

Now what I have learned from this sighting of Foster Wallace's work in the back of a car window is this: there is something that can be gleaned from what people leave in their cars, or even what they display in their car windows, whether it is Foster Wallace or the arts of Chinese medicine, such as the Zang Fu. Let us look for a moment at some recent findings...

Here at left is a wider view of the primary photo shown in the blog above.  It seems to be entitled "Zang Fu Syndrome: Diagnosis and Treatment."  Stuffed amply with random papers (perhaps a medical bill), this tome is rather curious.  After a quick consultation, I've discovered that this book is likely the high-end Chinese medicine volume by J. McDonald and J. Penner (1994), with the full title "Zang Fu Syndromes: Differential Diagnosis and Treatment." (Note the changes).  My question, though, is "why is a book like this in someone's car?"  Well, you say, the obvious reason is that this person is either a practicing acupuncturist, or at least an aspirant.  But this book weighs in at a hefty $160 new! Why leave it out for the sun and urchins to either ruin or steal?  I suppose their aren't so many folks that would know that it's worth that much.  This poor other book is face down, like some Balkan tragedy of war in the mud.  I couldn't see its unknown face.  Indeed, that's yet another object of comment...biblio-anonymity.  What can we say of the owner, if we know nothing of the book?  It's like its been Kindlized!

Road maps, atlases, big spiral-bound book-objects.  These were a frequent sight.  Though, this was the most visible.  Many road maps were tucked under seats or in side pockets of doors or just spread open over back seats.  I hope not much has changed in the way of interstate infrastructure since 2003--the date of this Road Atlas.  Someone might get lost on those old Eisenhower highways.

An Interlude of Yard Sales
                    
Of course, as I was in pursuit of the finest car window books to make this sociological adventure complete, I fell upon (in most undramatic fashion) a local yard sale.  Besides the ill-fitting clothes from about 1986 and a few other garments of choice, the yard sale did have a paltry selection of the usual mid-brow Hyde Park fare: airport books, 40 year old editions of Rousseau from some now forgotten undergraduate experience in poetics, other dust-bunny editions wrinkled under yellowing light.  But, all that said, they did have two fine titles that I've been looking at adding to my own serpentine collection of triffid-expanding tomes: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, and The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson.   Surely, after writing this blog, I will have to display them at some point in my own car window, so that someone else can take a photo of them and write a silly blog about the sociology of car window books.  Now below, a photo on "the sociology of stroller reading" (thanks cute child for holding these books and giving me props!) and another of the yard sale itself.


























































The Book of Tea and The Bone Sharps?

If I am reading this correctly, I am (we are) experiencing The Book of Tea by Okakura Kakuzo (photo and book at top right), which was published in 1906, and apparently introduces us to "Teaism" and the culture of tea that has both been created in and created Japan and Japanese society.  With chapter titles like "The Cup of Humanity," "The Schools of Tea," and "Tea-Masters," it is surely a book that many would find absolutely intriguing, if not imperative, or tea-affirming.  The other book, The Bone Sharps (a title I find linguistically jarring for some reason, like something that's not supposed to be in my mouth, but is) by Tim Bowling, is an imprint of Gaspereau Press (a mainstay of one of my favorite Maritime provinces, Nova Scotia).  Here is but a snippet from a review by Alexander Varty on The Bone Sharps (my mouth still hurts):

Two trenches, both containing bones. One cuts into the volcanic stone of the Alberta badlands, where the remains of giant aquatic lizards have lain for millenniums; the other runs through the muck of Flanders, reeking with the charred and rotting fragments of men and mules. Poised above the first, a paleontologist tortures himself with phantoms even as his blood is consumed by avid mosquitoes; crouched in the latter, his former assistant devours scholarly dinosaur books while the guns roar and the rats creep in.

The review goes on to say that it is based on the true story of a fossil collector named Charles Sternberg.  And of course, much more.  So there we have it.  Zang-Fu, Road Maps, Anonymous face-down books, Tea Books, Fossil Novels.  Oh, and of course, oblivion. 

Thursday, July 16, 2009

ALA 2009: Chicago Conference


An Afternoon Outing to the 2009 Conference of
 the American Library Association! 

So I managed to slip away one afternoon, briefly.  And I made my way up to the labyrinthine colossus known as McCormick Place--presumably one of the world's largest conference centers after its recent expansion.  I had at the last minute decided to attend the exhibits at the annual American Library Association, which was being held in Chicago this year.  I often wonder what ALA really stands for, as it conjures up a bevy of perplexing 
enigmas when (and where) thousands of librarians converge on one earthly location, en masse like lemurs in search of high altitude and sand.  I am among them.  Our quirkiness exudes beyond the contemporary limits of general understanding, as each fiber of our MLS-ness comes in contact with one another: public, private, law, theological, corporate librarians huddled into poetic Wastelands of exhibits, not knowing which product will save them/us from themselves/ourselves or which will infringe upon their/our civil rights, liberties, and pursuits of happiness; the ALA conference (and especially the exhibits) is a whacky event that everyone seems to want to be at.  And I mean whacky in a pretty decent way, like that relative we all have, but once a year and a bottle of sherry later is just about good enough.  So what does ALA really stand for?  Here's what some experts suggest:

ALA: Agave Lotion, Apply
ALA: Ample Literary Atrophy
ALA: Articulate Literati Appear
ALA: "Always Liking ACLU"
ALA: Affirming Love of Acrimony (for those who think librarians are prudish bun-wearers!)
ALA: Always Lucubrating Angrily (ok, don't go look up the word "lucubrate," it means "study")

You be the judge.

"It's not just us who're Quirky...Look at the Damn Furniture!"

Okay, let's get this straight: I'm not a self-loathing librarian.  I just need to put things into perspective.  But let's admit it (in or outside of a 12-step program): there's a lot of odd stuff out there.  Now take this item, for instance.  At left is a a bronze cast bench of a pile of books, with an open book on top, which is actually a bench!  From the makers of creepy bronze children (I'm not knocking this stuff, really!), the Randolph Rose Collection: "Sculptures for the Home & Garden" offers this wide array of high priced statuary and seat-ware for that bronzophile in you.  Now if you or your recession-strapped library is willing to shell out $8,400 for this fine bronze book sculpture seat, because your conscience says "we need this!--let's cut acquisitions of children's books and get this nifty bench!  The old folks will love it!"  ...well then, go right ahead.  It would be a fine improvement to any collection: home or garden.

The Bookmobile

Of course, I had to take a photo of this.  Yet, I have very little to say about it.  It is ample.










Now these dandies as left, these are something quite to behold.  They caught my eye at one point in the exhibits, and I thought: "My! what lovely purses you have!"  Now besides sounding like a character out of some Mother Goose tale, I did in fact like what this artisan had done with these books.  She'd first disemboweled the books, a true measure of bibliocide.  BUT, she acted as any rational biblio-taxidermist would, and recreated (or, "repurposed") the book into a handy and fine accoutrement for that special night out.

In both photos you may see some interesting titles; the ones which I took close up show the detail of these older tomes, with the nice beadwork.  In the above photo, you may see "Moby Dick" as purse and even the American Heritage Dictionary as purse (in case you forgot what "lucubration" means--and now that we've used the word twice, there's no excuse to forget it!).  And by the way, these items cost $130 each.  So I'm not necessarily promoting them; I'm simply showing them.

Digitization Equipment

Kirtas Technologies: Since 2001 the great digitizers!  I saw some fascinating equipment at ALA as well.  Kirtas Technologies produces three major products which digitize books completely: by completely, I mean that the machines at left not only take digital photos of each page with high end Canon Mark III cameras (~$7,000-10,000 each; at 2 cameras per machine), the machine actually turns the book with robotic arms.  I'd seen similar equipment at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign campus, back in October 2008 in their digitization lab, but a human being was turning the pages.  This was a bone fide robot here.  And likely, because of these robotic features, the costs are extraordinary, if not phenomenal and prohibitive.  The main cost is based on speed of digital production.  So if you want to create 1,200 digital shots per hour, it will cost one price; if you want 1,800 per hour, another price; and finally, ~2,400 shots per hour, you're looking at taking out a mortgage.  The price scale commensurate with these speeds was something like $69,000 (slower speed), $99,000 (medium), and $159,000 (fastest digitization speed).  You are also able to rent these machines, but the cost for rental is also rather high--I think they said something like $10,000 with a minimum of 3-months of use.  So, if that's what you want, the digital age is here!  Jump on for the rock bottom prices, and contact Kirtas Technologies today!

























Running of the Bulls?

Partaking in a centuries old custom, I think that whatever happens in Pamplona, Spain each year is no more nutty, confusing, and downright tribalistic as the "running of the books," or maybe it's "running of the lib-ulls?"  At the very end of each ALA conference, some exhibitors, who are book vendors, offer their books for free.  People line up in itchy lines: itchy, because there is a palpable itch among the bipedal line-waiters, who deplore, detest, and outwardly grieve the dilatory nature of having to "wait."  Wait for a free book on a shelf.  A book they probably never heard of, never cared to read, nor probably will ever read.  But the mere fact of its freedom, its freeness, its emancipation from publishers, on temporary shelves, somehow magnetizes the book to the ALA-attendee.  We all turn into nickel-bound ends of a metal forcefield, start vibrating, and rotating in counter-revolutionary spins, like dreidels, wanting our unnecessary free-books.  I noticed, at the booth I was at, HarperCollins, there was a line of about 40 people.  The oddest thing was that I was the only man in line.  I thought: "Hmmm, am I in the wrong line?"  (This was confirmed by another librarian who attended ALA this year, and we later joked about it).  Everyone was pushing forward, as if there were a hand to shake, or the president was nearby and had said "hope" and winked at adoring onlookers.  People were trying to cut in line.  Trying to move into the penned area of bookshelves.  One woman attempted to carry out some fourteen books!--until the overseer of the HarperCollins booth said: "Mam, no--I can't allow you to do that.  It's not fair to everyone else."  She had a look of shame in her eyes, and a hint of annoyance, as if she were telepathically texting the overseer with a visual text that read "WTF lady!"  She put the books down, took one, and retreated from our scowling gazes.  Then, a voice from heaven--the loudspeakers announced: "Ladies and Gentlement, the Exhibit Hall is now closed."  And like the separation of primeval waters and the dome of Genesis, light became dark.  They turned the hall lights out!  And in an instant, those remaining in line swarmed into "piranhic" fits of bibliothirsty cro-magnun library professionals.  I grabbed a book by Werner Herzog not 0.05 seconds before a white haired old woman.  She sighed, with immense sadness, as if I'd trampled her azaleas or tulip patch, even drowned her goldfish.  "I wanted that one," she faded away.  I said: "Just a moment."  And I reached up for the book I really wanted on Kenya.  Then I returned and gave her the Werner Herzog.  "Oh, thank you, thank you!"  

Again, like the popular neologism, bridezilla, I wonder if we must go beyond that descriptive nomenclature, asking ourselves: was this a bookzilla moment?  How dreadful humanity can be. Nothing like a Brando-Kurtz moment to reflect on such buoyant matters and the sociology of this annual ritual.

The Spoils of War

The titles I managed to get in the mad dance included:

Michela Wrong. It's Our Turn to East: The Story of A Kenyan Whistle-Blower.
Ben George, ed. The Book of Dads: Essays on the Joys, Perils, and Humiliations of Fatherhod.
Immanuel Kant. Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals.
Soren Kierkegaard.  Works of Love.
Willa Cather. The Bohemian Girl: Stories.
Leo Tolstoy. Family Happiness: Stories.
Inger Christensen. Azorno (A Novel, translated from the Danish).
Simon Schama. The American Future: A History.

And this most curious novel:

Wu Ming.  Manituana

Why is this novel so interesting...and odd?  Simply: the author is not Chinese.  It is a collective of five Italian authors based in Bologna, who are writing about the American colonial period!  There is much more to say about this, but I will keep it short.  Wu Ming is derived from a former group called Luther Blissett, which was a multi-national, multi-ethnic group of writers and artists, who (among other things) authored a book entitled "Q"--which is about a radical Anabaptist in the 16th and the dreadful experiences of war and death that he goes through.  Fastforward: after existing from ~1993 onwards, the group Luther Blissett fractured and in 1999, some of its early and core members committed some sort of "ritual disembowelment" (there's that word again!), like samurai.  Frankly, I don't even know what they mean by that!  They formed Wu Ming, and began again at their novelistic tasks.  And here is their most recent.  The buzz on the internet is that these writers (and especially the task of "Q") are "anti-novelists" and "Q" is the "anti-novel," presumably because of their take and approach to writing.  But I need to know more.  Otherwise, we may soon be moving into the anti-blog and anti-blogger movement.  

Best we stick with calm topics, like books and librarians.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Book, the Baptist, and the Bishop

Metz und Dulles: A Catholic Past for a Non-Denominational Present

"Metz is not a Baseball Team!"

Now to admit that I wanted to be the pope as a child is not a stroke of hubris, but a sincere and plain fact. As much as we can accept there to be such things as "facts" in this world, despite the heresies of philologists like Benedetto Croce, we'll try our best to recognize some "factuality" now and then. Nonetheless, the Catholic ethos of my small brain ruptured one recent afternoon, as I was cleaning my basement and moving my thousands of books around; first, as I shifted the 16-inch statue of the great St. Joseph, holding baby-JC (with wounded knee--I think a family member dropped it on the floor, and since, the good baby-lord has been de-kneed of its plaster self) it was a statuette I'd won two years ago at the annual Tavola di San Giuseppe "St. Joseph's Table" here in Chicago. (This tradition, by the way, is one that I've resurrected for myself, after partaking in some rather ostentatious festivals in northern New Jersey during my childhood--all put on by transplanted Sicilians (my family), their suits, their hairspray, their deliciously monstrous tire-size knit-woven breads with boiled eggs stuck in them for some pastoral, peasant-nourishing evocation of local saints). I always get that tepidly sentimental feeling when I think of such statuary and the cult of the saints (of course, I use this word cult in the most affectionate way, not like most of the media in their misappropriating Jonestownish affectations). Scholars argue that "nostalgia" is some proto-Freudian, conservative fetishism, that East Coast progressives and coffee-drinkers must mark as anathema, as if "nostalgia" were a term commensurate with a Protestant term from the 1540s that needed sharp and ample refutation at the Council of Trent. No children, this is not the case. But the point is, it was always good fun. And you can see that the simple broken plaster knee of a weathered statue gave me as many memories as Proust's darling madeline.

But the second item, which I came upon, opened another floodgate. And that item, which is more apropos to our general discussions of books, was in fact "a book." It was a work of theology by the German Catholic theologian, Johann-Baptist Metz (b. 1928). It is by general happenstance that I've come upon a number of interesting, curious, and otherwise notable characters in my circuitous life. Even though Metz is a highly published writer, it is not so much the content I wish to focus on, but the single book-object which had his name printed on its spine, and what that led me to think about so itinerantly.

J-B Metz (whom I've pictured above in the rugged form of a rustic cross) is one of the most highly regarded post-Vatican II theologians in the Catholic Church. I met the good Herr Professor Doktor by mere chance some years ago. I was but a child, a youth just out of college, who'd ventured into the bomb-ridden streets of Jerusalem back in 1997. I don't remember the exact year, but I think it was in my first of several years living there, that I struck out into the gout-colored deserts surrounding the Holy City. I'd heard of a lecture series-conference that was to take place at the Tantur Institute (which I believe is run by the University of Notre Dame, back in South Bend, Indiana) on the outskirts of the city. In fact, it is much closer to the "little town" of Bethlehem of New Testament charm, but of much different modern reality. The conference had to do with interfaith and ecumenical studies in history. There were talks on Medieval Islam and Christianity and Judaism, Contemporary Jewish-Christian relations, and topics from the New Testament and Late Antiquity. But I had gone, if my memory serves me right, to meet the late Prof. Michael Signer, from Notre Dame, who was a potential doctoral adviser for me. I met Dr. Signer, but I also met Prof. Dr. Metz. It was by total accident. I sat down at a table for lunch. I usually remember what I eat at each meal, even years later, but this day I don't. It was plentiful, that's all I remember. But I do remember that a cheerfully buoyant older man, with a slight combover, sat directly across from me, and spoke with a magnificent Teutonic timbre. We spoke about theology, graduate schools, and my thoughts about attending various academic programs. When we spoke about Chicago, specifically the University of Chicago, he piped up, with his Bavarian smile and attempting to finish his half-chewed comestibles, saying: "I almost went there! They offered me a job, but I said no." Indeed, it was, if I remember the rest of this conversation, the chair that Paul Tillich had held some decades before. The rest of the meal went by without much event, save for the banter of Metz and me, as humble and uneventful as I recall it.

It's Not the "Dulles Thang I Ever Herd!"

Yet, the thoughts that came to me of Jerusalem, Tantur, and Metz from simply picking up one of his books, led me to think about the power of connective thinking and the association one has between "books" as objects and the experiences surrounding them. How and why do we associate ideas, experiences, and encounters as such, especially with books? Indeed, a fascinating topic. This brought me to additional and successive encounters with the great theological luminaries of the Catholic Church. Though it was through Metz's book, I quickly bridged my Proustian gap and fell into my soup of memories relating to the late Avery Cardinal Dulles, (not "Cardinal Avery Dulles," though it is tempting).

Avery Dulles (1918-2008), who had been the Laurence J. McGinley Professor of Religion and Society at Fordham University, wrote widely on Catholic history, theology, and ethics. In my studies and travels, I had the opportunity to meet the good Cardinal twice. The first time, at his consistory in Rome in 2001; the second time, at an ethics conference at the University of Chicago a year later.

From Priest to Cardinal

The one and only consistory that I have attended took place on February 21, 2001. It is the time when the pope, who has selected specific clergy for ascending the pontifical and sartorial ladders (but really much more too), elevates men of the cloth to the position of cardinal in the Church. And with each elevation comes the finest raiments and accoutrements, including two hats and a ring. The hats include a zucchetto (the Catholic yarmulke), which literally means "tiny gourd" or "baby zucchini," and a biretta (the four-cornered silk hat). As for the good Avery Dulles, he ascended late in his career to the silk throne. He was the son of the cold war hawk John Foster Dulles (1888-1959), who had been Secretary of State under President Eisenhower. And they came from granite stock Presbyterians. The younger Dulles was an amicable thinker, who spoke finely and believed passionately. And on that cool, wet day in Rome, back on February 21, 2001, he received his hats and ring and the papal wink from John Paul II, and took on the titular responsibilities SS. Nomi di Gesù e Maria in via Lata. It was rather miserable that day in Rome. A storm had passed and the cobbled ground of St. Peter's square had puddled unevenly. I came up with a Polish friend of mine, and moved toward the seating at the front. Nearby, I had noticed a man, who I think was the Chief Rabbi of Rome, whom I'd seen before. We sat not too far from him. The consistory was fairly brief. The newly minted cardinals came out. The wind blew up their vestments and made them look like a quadrille of butterflies.

After the event, the people of Rome, the general populace who had come and withstood the elements, were all invited into the papal palace. We could roam about in the grand hallways and up the deep-red carpeted stairways, and gaze at tapestries that were older than history herself.
Each Cardinal was seated at a station, as if some booth at a carnival. And lines were drawn up of newly eager well-wishers. I think the longest line was before the New York Cardinal. It was as if everyone was trying to get a prize, trying to toss a ball into a moving target, so that they could win the biggest stuffed animal! And it was by this practical observation, that I saw the shortest line: only a couple people, standing quietly before an elder statesman. I lined up and inched forward. I think I knelt down when I came up to him, because he seemed to be hard of hearing. And we exchanged a few words. I congratulated him. He said thank you. Then he asked me where I was from, what I was doing in Rome, and what I studied. What were my interests, he asked. New York; studying Latin; Theology. Something like that. I told him I was going to graduate school soon, back in the states. And we spoke mildly about the future of theology.
And there, I left him, back off to some other random nook in the Vatican. Off to a puddled piazza.

Just less than one year later, I had moved on to graduate school. The fondest memories of the vita bella and Roma behind me. I was now a graduate student at the University of Chicago, and was attending an ethics conference entitled "A Call for Reckoning: Religion and the Death Penalty" which was sponsored by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life at the University of Chicago Divinity School. It was January 25, 2002. There again, I met by chance, the good Cardinal Dulles. But this time, under more curious circumstances, and perhaps more intimate terms. Of course, it was a cool winter day. Amid the conference, at one point, the Cardinal felt ill and light-headed. He was escorted to the back of the conference, and I led him to an adjacent seating area and helped him sit down on a plush leather chair. "I just don't feel too good," he mumbled to me. We had a bucket nearby and I offered it to him. "My lunch mustn't have agreed with me," he joked. "Tuna, you know!" I patted his back and comforted him as he sat partially hunched with his left hand supporting his head.

"Tough job?" I asked him.
"Oh, it's quite all right."
"You've had quite a career."
"It's been long...," he paused.
"You were among some pretty interesting folks back in the day...Kennedys, Eisenhower...,"
"Yeah, we knew lots of folks..."
"And especially becoming Catholic at that time...," I said.
"Yes...," he nodded.
"What did your dad think of that?" I dared...
"Not much!" he growled.

But even after our little repartee, and his blistering at me about how his father felt about his conversion to Catholicism, I still felt a kind presence sitting with me. He was getting better. Maybe I shouldn't have asked such an intrusive question. Perhaps the little boy Avery was still suffering quietly over the giant shadow cast a half century ago, by the intensity of that world and world view--one that had caustic reactions to a neo-Catholic reality. And perhaps he'd grown into his old age, finely attuned to the beauty of his Catholic identity and station.

I was sad to hear of his death last December 12th, a day which is situated just between my birthday and my good friend Soren's birthday. This is a eulogy to Dulles. One that I never got to write. But I'm glad that books are around to afford people like me the opportunity to re-open memory, to re-visit the past. All I did was start to clean my basement this past weekend. And one book, one glance, one thought, one semiotic consciousness later, I've been able to finally get around and pay tribute and homage to those I've felt the need to do just that.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Bus Rides and Archives

Bus Books or Books on Buses

It's not that often that I get to ride the bus these days, since I live and work in Hyde Park. And since I own a car, if I need to go some utlra-pedestrian lengths, I'll either use my bike or the auto. But I did use the bus lately, within the last couple weeks. And it brought back fine memories of working downtown. But only briefly, because there was also the memory of getting on the bus and realizing there are no empty seats. Which means, "I've got to stand for the next 20 minutes on a CTA bus going 50 miles an hour!" I'm not complaining. I won't be some pusillanimous critic or whiner. No one needs to hear that. But the truth is, such standing position gave me a fine view for assessing what others on the bus were reading. And of course, that is just what I wanted!

What I saw on the bus: it was not the most interesting batch of readers on the bus, nor the most fertile batch of books to observe. I saw two--yes, only two!-- electronic devices. No Kindles. The electronic devices seemed to have headphones attached. One man, in a suit, was reading the Financial Times (of course he was!). A woman next to him was reading what appeared to be a monthly or quarterly "bulletin," which looked like it was published by a church organization. There were three young women, probably teen-age, who were Spanish (at least that is what I could tell from their moderately Castilian accents) and reading/holding books entitled "Advanced English," thus presumably they were part of the minions of English language learners, who come to the most bread-white centers of linguistic Americana to soften their "a"s and "o"s into an Abe Lincoln-Carl Sandburg-Studs Turkel eloquence. Now usually, there are at least three or four Bible readers on a bus. But this day, there were none. I suppose it depends on the route you take. I've been told the atheists live in Bucktown and Wicker Park, but I'm not convinced of that.

By the way, I wasn't able to find a proper image on the internet for this entry, so I took a piece of paper and my kids' crayons and drew this extemporaneous sketch for your visual delight. What can I say, I need practice.

Chicago Public Library Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Archives

When I wrote this line above, the expression "Adventures in Good Archives" came to mind. But I was thinking it in the most baritonic great-avuncular voice of the indomitable Karl Haas (1913-2005). Who out there remembers good old uncle Karl? Well, he and I go back just about twenty years. You see, in my senior year of High School (or as Karl might say: "Hochschule"), I decided to go to the local community college and challenge myself, rather than staying around for the middle-high-pubescent era of 12th grade antics and time wasting. Whether this was accomplished is another tale to be told, but the point where Karl Haas and his classical reverberations come into the story are here: during lunch. I always brought some deli meat and sliced cheese sandwich for lunch. And between some English class and Economics lecture, I slipped into my 1989 classic Ford LTD, and turned on the dial to 89FM and let Karl Haas electrify my Crown Victoria with his prosaic interludes about obscure composers. "Hellooooo Everyone..." he began everyday, just after the slow movement of Beethoven's Sonata No. 8 in C-minor (the "Pathetique") ended--himself playing. It certainly was an adventure, each noon hour!

At left is "Karl Haas Yellow," a Monday morning creation for you readers. Well, whether an adventure in good music or some other cultural milieu, the point is that we partake in some occasional adventures, quotidian or otherwise. I always enjoy visiting libraries, for instance, and especially the fine libraries of the Chicago Public Library (CPL) System. And these are adventures in their own right. So on this same day, I ventured to the Harold Washington CPL Branch--actually, it's more like the trunk of the system, since it's the main library of CPL. Specifically, I enjoy the Special Collections of CPL. On what appeared to be the penultimate floor of the CPL main library, I revisited this division, which includes rare books, manuscripts, and archives. A friendly staff assisted me with my queries and I discovered a number of fine items in the collection, though I didn't stay for long.

One of the things I noticed was the general imprint and legacy of William Frederick Poole (1821-1894)--his image seems to be everywhere in the Special Collections imagination! A contemporary of Melville Dewey, and perhaps unfortunately less known than Dewey, Poole had an illustrious career as a librarian, and in some ways had more insightful ideas about library classification than Dewey (specifically when it came to understanding collections individually and on their own merits--but this is a discussion for another time). At left, I've presented you with an altered image of Poole, noting the tendrils of facial hair hanging down like mid-summer wisteria. Oh, for the days when beards could attract more than dust mites.

But to the collections themselves: CPL's special collections contain some fine items. The areas of specialty include Civil War history, Chicago history, and World's Fair history, among others. The history of the collections themselves are interesting and date back to the great fire. I had actually first come to this study room in CPL's special collections to do a paper for library school on the history of foreign language collection development in CPL. And I discovered that a gift was made by the British goverment in the mid-1870s of about 10,000 books to re-start the collection of the CPL.

But my interest in books and book-objects and just all-things-books was piqued by the collection of periodicals and journals that the library subscribes to and which the reading room had on display. Now for those who may be interested, here is a list of the most amorous reads:

1-Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives
2-Rare Book Review
3-RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, & Cultural Heritage
4-Manuscripts: (UniversityArchives.com) in Westport, CT
5-The Manuscript Society News (Pheonix, AZ)
6-Midwest Archives Conference (MAC) Newsletter
7-AASLH: History News (American Association for State & Local History)
8-Libraries & the Cultural Record: Exploring the History of Collections of Recorded
Knowledge (University of Texas Press)
9-Collections: A Journal for Museum & Archives Professionals (Alta Mira Press)
10-The Book Collector (www.thebookcollector.co.uk) Journal
11-The Papers of the Bibliographic Society of America (www.bibsocamer.org)
12-APHA Newsletter (American Printing History Association) (www.printinghistory.org)
13-Archival Outlook: Newsletter of Society of American Archivists (www.archivists.org)
14-Sotheby's: Books etc. for sale
15-Swann: Books etc. for sale

Sheet Music and Manuscripts Store


Upon leaving the CPL Special Collections, one of the stops I made on the way home was a hole-in-the-wall music shop. It specialized in both sheet music and manuscript paper for compositions and arrangements. As an obscure and unworthy composer myself, I needed to purchase a wad of fresh paper for some of the tunes swirling about my cranial attic. I needed to do a little mental housecleaning and get it down on paper. So I indulged. I bought some orchestral manuscript score paper. I had an interesting conversation with one of the proprietors, who was a man in advanced years with a cloud-white coif. He told me about working as a music librarian at the University of Chicago back in the 1950s and 1960s. And recounted some long-forgotten encounter with now-Bard President Leon Botstein and the late composer Ralph Shapey (1921-2002), whom I'd met a couple times when I first came to the University of Chicago a decade ago. Indeed, quite a duo--in fact, my friends who knew Shapey more intimately speak of him fondly, but we all remember his deportment and way of speaking: with a twisted smile and the sound of grinding a pepper corn, he'd comment on a piece of music as if it were overrated sex or a bad chili-dog. And boy, did he like to cus! But what lovable characters we have in our world!

I got my manuscript papers. I finished my conversations for the day. One more book, one more object of adoration. Now back to some work.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

A Lachrymosity of Books


Books as Tools, 
Books as Stools,
Wet the Rain Comes,
Who are the Fools?

Do books really cry?  I suppose it depends upon whom you ask.  Now of course, I had to take a photo of this: no, not some apparition or claim that a book is literally crying or seeping some "lachrymotic" fluids, as profusely or mellifluously as Padre Pio and his fuchsia scented and infused palms of glory.  No, I had seen upon entering my parking area at home my neighbor's car.  A few days before it had a sagging muffler.  In fact, it was nigh completely fallen off!  Well, yesterday it had been re-attached with some sort of baling wire, and jacked up a few inches for the repair.  But what actually caught my eye was that among the supportive utensils was a book!  Yes, first the fine hard lumps of concrete (two, in fact), then a brick, dull red and baked presumably a century ago in some east-coast brick making oven, and then, topping off the make-shift lift, the finest of the classic world encyclopedias: a 1994 volume of Britannica!  It was a volume on the "Future of Science," at least what I could make out from it.  (Believe me, it was hard to see the title on this one!)

But when I woke up this morning, around 4:50AM, it was the most crushing sound of a downpour.  The clouds above wove into one another like tumultuous personalities of politicians, bobcats, or seminary presidents, and produced a fine dumping of well-deserved rain; not to mention a bounty of thunder and lightening.  Not too much later, after not attempting more restful sleep, and laboring under poor light to read a little more of the life and times of Leo Tolstoy, I had a thought: "those poor books outside...getting all wet!"  It was, in fact, too late.  And I must admit, I did  not have the same feeling for these plain sorted Britannicas as I might for say some fine copy of the Da Vinci Code, ...no wait, skip that.  You get the idea.  I'll let the rain fall on that one.  

But the point is that I had recommitted myself to addressing the place of the Britannica; to go out in the rain, which had abated slightly, and see what fate these tomes had come to.  Now I say "tomes," in the plural, because it was not just one Britannica, but two!  (The shame!)  One was held in reserve on the top of a wall near the de-mufflered car.

...And I present to you the findings of this once fine, but now water warped specimen, just to our left.  The poor 1994 volume on the Future of Science.  It is a blurry photo.  But I took the photo in the rain and rather quickly.  Partly, too, because how odd is it for you too look out your window and see your neighbor taking photos of warped books in the rain on a Saturday morning at 6AM?  Let's call it eccentric and move on.

Our use of books in society continues to strike me as utilitarian, but in the present case, we may appropriate (perhaps philologically incorrect!) the "utile-" portion, in the form of "utensil."  And certainly these books have take on another, perhaps greater purpose.  Their primary use, at least for the owner of these books, has been superseded by a secondary use, which at this point in the owner's life deals with fixing his muffler, and these books serve that purpose of succor, bibliosuccor ("has a book helped you lately?" should be a motto for some company or drug, like an additive in one of those prescriptives for disfunctions in older men).  But now they are warped...not the men, the books, though that may debatable to my readers.  I'll let you duke it out.  Cry as we may, our books or us, these objects, items, utensils, things, are programmed into our minds with purpose and purposefulness (oh, to have a title that would sell like "A Purpose Driven Book?").  And even as I had one of my first real experiences looking at a colleague's Kindle yesterday (which I'll tell more about later), I can only think of "the book" now.  So, let me ask you: could a Kindle lift your car off the ground?  I think not.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Books, Botany, and Latinity!

The Chicago Botanic Gardens
Lenhardt Library


Over the 4th of July weekend, my family and I had the opportunity of visiting the Chicago Botanic Garden. I must admit, I was lexicographically and philologically perplexed by use of the terms "botanic" and "garden" in their specific arrangement. Like a good children's book narrator, hidden in the recesses of a the narrative itself, I asked the question: "why not botanical?"
And "why not gardens?" And as far as I could see, there was no definite article on the name: not "The Chicago Botanic Garden," just "Chicago Botanic Garden." It does appear that the definite article is often left out in other places, like ("the") Missouri Botanical Garden. (And note, they are "Botanical" not "Botanic." Yet New York has "The New York Botanical Garden," utilizing both the definite article and the -ical ending. Okay, I'm not completely pedantic, but I was curious. Heck, I would have just said "let's go for some creativity and call it "The Righteously Most Special Chicago and Environs Botanicalisticatious Gardens, Prairies, and Dirt Patches, along With Some Pretty Waterfalls that Were Artificially Created for Us City Folks to Gape at." Don't you all agree? Maybe a little too much, I know.

To the point, and I won't take too much of your time today, because I know I made some folks wither at my Iditarod-length blog entry on St. Louis and the ATLA conference, despite the sweetness you all gathered from my nectar'd prosody.














Nectar, pollen, botanicalistic gardens? Oh, yes. One of the highlights was the Bonsai trees at the left above, which were really quite delightful and extraordinary to look at. I wonder if there are any Lilliputians, who have attempted to harvest bonsai wood to create pulp for paper making? One step to go in the ancient art of book making. If I ever come across one of these Swiftian characters, I think I'll have to recommend they read the fine tome of Leonard N. Rosenband called "Papermaking in Eighteenth-Century France: Management, Labor, and Revolution at the Montgolfier Mill, 1761-1805," (2000). The Montgolfier brothers (Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Etienne) were the inventors of an early style hot air balloon. But this is so tangential, I had to put it in my blogoistic journal writing here. My ever elusive points were about bonsais, botanics, books, and papermaking among little people. Of course, these little people in the photo are my darling children. But they are not Lilliputians, at least they haven't told me otherwise.

The Lenhardt Library, which was closed the day we visited, appears to be a very well-lit, attractive, and moderately sized collection of botanic (or botanical) biblio-delights. The first photo on today's entry shows the entrance of the library with its name and hours of operation.
And I will direct you kind readers to the home page of the library, which is quite splendid and has some detailed information on hours, research, and periodic lectures given by library staff, docents, and others.

See the following link for the Gardens page:
http://www.chicagobotanic.org/library/index.php

One last comment before leaving you: the library homepage offers up a fine quote from the fine ol' attorney from Roman antiquity, the golden Cicero: "if you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need." Clearly a metaphysician too, or else he knew nothing of food and oxygen for mammalian sustainability! But in all seriousness, Cicero was a great Latin stylist. And his comment brings back many fine memories of my time living in Rome now near a decade ago. As my erstwhile master teacher of Latin and papal translator of all things Latinistique would say: "Cicero, the father of Latinity!--it's just so pure!" (accompanied by a puckered kiss of the air: either to the Lord or to BVM--the Catholics know what I'm talkin' 'bout!--or to the beautiful perfection of the Latin language coming forth from Cicero's quills!)



























I will first give all due credit to Father Coulter's website, from which I've copied this image of the great Reginaldus Foster (Milwaukeensis!). I may dedicate another blog space and time to this venerable Magnissimus of Latinity, but for now, I will relate one great vignette of Fosterity, which deals of course with Cicero. On a trip to one of Cicero's homes south of Rome, the good Father Foster brought us to the remnants of the home, which now has a great church built over it. He introduced us to a pork-pie penitent, the rotund-est of religious men, whose name
was classically Don Pedro! Vestments and all. I felt like Don Quixote was about come up from behind on a mule! But above on a hill behind the church, we sat next to a stream that was rather small, but near a spot where the stream split into two streams. We pulled out sheets of "Cicerprose" as I'll call it: writings of Cicero, and read them aloud in Latin like school children in a 1843 Prussian school house. We came upon a sentence that contained the word "fluvium" or some variation, and we translated it as "where the river split." Foster Maximus lifted his hand to the sky, evoking nothing less than Woton of the Italic peninsula and shouted: "That! That was Cicero: he wrote that HERE!" (Imagine a highly cadenced voice, soprano to baritone and back again, ending with a deep throated Pagliacci "HERE!"). Then Foster points to the river splitting in front of us. Ahhhhhh...too bad there were no trees with carvings showing "Cicero was here." Hic, Haec, Hoc!