Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Japanese Bookstore

...and a Whole Lot More!

A few months ago, my family and I had the opportunity to visit a very interesting place in the Chicago area: a Japanese Mall. At least, that is what it is commonly called. (Its real name is Mitsuwa Marketplace). In fact, it is an indoor shopping center, which includes a Japanese supermarket, liquor store, bakery, video store, home supply store (more like touristy cups and plates store!), and of course a bookstore. All of these are around a central "food court," though I find the expression "food court" too "mall-ish" and Americanized. But this area contains a central eating area, surrounded by maybe a dozen Japanese (and maybe one Korean) style food houses or kiosks. The air is rich with the vapors of steaming ramen noodles, bathing in pork or chicken broths in some monster-sized kettles behind the kiosk curtains and back kitchens.

For those of you looking for an afternoon adventure, this is surely the place. The grocery store, for example, offers a rather interesting shopping experience, as there are many, many food options that you might not otherwise find in your run-of-the-mill grocery. And it all seems fairly priced. One can buy probably a dozen varieties of tofu, seaweed, or soba noodles here, or any combination of Asian cuisine sauces. Admittedly, I ended buying more than I probably needed, since it was a novelty for me, but I did eat well for the week following! There were also a lot of frozen items, as well as a specialty bakery in the back corner of the store.
Below, is an image of the eating area of the "food court," not far from the ice cream kiosk. This is where we enjoyed some steaming hot bowls of noodles and ton-katzu (sliced Japanese pork steaks, breaded and deep friend) with fresh cabbage, miso soup, and pickled vegetables.

Above and below, images of the book store. The book store was one of the larger establishments in the mall. It had a sizable inventory, mostly Japanese language materials. It had a little area dedicated to English language and other language dictionaries. And its magazine section was fairly large.

I'd wanted to visit this place for some time--years, in fact. Finally, the opportunity arose, and we all went. It was quite a place, and surprisingly, we spent much longer than I'd imagined wandering around and looking at all of the goods and wares of the place. The Mitsuwa Marketplace is, according to its website, the largest Japanese market in the United States. It has branches in California and New Jersey. Now even though I didn't buy a book about Japan, Japanese history or language, or any other book, for that matter, I was lucky enough to have such a pleasant afternoon, enjoying a new place, some new food, and some new culture with my family. And of course, discovering yet another bookstore is always an added treat.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Closing a Convent and Its Library

End of an Era...for Some

Now the truth is, the word "convent" probably brings images of the antique cloistered communities in old Europe, nestled away in the far reaches of Bergundian, Swabian, or Florentine valleys; giant stone walls from the time of St. Francis or his pious successors guarding the solemnly garbed sisters against the outside world. But today, I speak of something quite different. Admittedly, our visit today is not really a "convent" per se, but a home for Catholic women, some of them belonging to orders. This was a serendipitous find, partly because like many of my other travels and explorations, it came up as a total surprise. Two different friends and colleagues had been in touch about this project, and I'd been working with one of them that very morning, in the cold winter weather, on another project. We'd just had a big snow, and had been shoveling. But I also had a meeting with this friend to pick up some book boxes. After the delivery, I agreed to help with this project.

When I arrived with him at this other project, I discovered, to my surprise and delight, that the other friend was waiting--she'd been in charge of this move. The unassuming, though large, structure on a quiet street in Chicago, was the community home of a catholic women's community organization. Perhaps because of finances, perhaps because of dwindling numbers, or perhaps because of many inter-working causes, the owners of the home--some portion of the Catholic Church--had decided to consolidate, and move the inhabitants into a nearby Catholic institution, and sell this building. And so, I'd ended up as part of the moving crew of the books from the home's library. It was a fine library collection, plump with theological materials and "Catholicana" of varying brands. There were books all over the place, such as on this little ledge above; but there were shelves dedicated to a real "library space" on the top floor, which is where the majority of the collection was housed.

Intriguing religious images adorned the walls of the old house, including this "rabbinic" looking Last Supper. Below, we find an image of Saint Magdalena Zofia Barat. This image has her name written in the Slavic form, likely Polish, with the title "sw." or "swety" ("saint") before her name. Saint Magdalena Zofia Barat was born in France in 1779. She was one of the primary founders of the Society of the Sacred Heart in 1800. At her death in 1865, she'd have a following of more than 3,500 practitioners in nearly 100 religious houses around the world.

Above is an image of empty book cases in one of the hallways of the house. All the books here were taken away, moved to another location.

Above and below are images of some of the subject plates, which once directed visitors and patrons of the mini-library to their topics of choice.

Some of the books remaining on the shelves can still be seen here. Below, packing up the remains for Theological Book Network; eventually, many of these books will be redistributed--most likely, some new or growing seminary in the developing (or, "2/3s") world.

Looking out the windows...a quiet reminder of another closing chapter of life. Below, Melody Layton McMahon, Director of the Bechtold Library at the Catholic Theological Union, pausing to display a carved book-end of a pious monk-reader.

Ends and transitions are all part of life and this world. And there are likely to be many surprises, depending on where you look. I spent a good part of the day helping to carry boxes and shovel snow. Yet, once again, like some of our other adventures in book-land, we are capturing a moment of passing history. When I was leaving, I passed by these two items hanging on the wall (below): a mystical image of Christ in the most saintly pose and a little needlepoint of a grazing gazelle with the word "Thanks" above it. In some ways, seeing these two images was like experiencing a peaceful "sending off." Something like "so long...and thanks for visiting and remembering us!" I'm sure someone will remember this place. Another transition. Onto other pastures. I'm glad that I was around this day to help carry boxes and document the end of this library's chapter. Now a few more people will know the story of a once-lovely mini religious library.