Saturday, October 13, 2018

Cathedrals of Learning: Let's hear it for Libraries!

In honor of National Book Month.

Stiftsbibliothek, Kremsmunter, Austria, a monestary library built between 1680 and 1689.
photo by Massimo Listris, from his Photographing Libraries series. See them at:
"This photographer has an incredible body of work after traveling the globe to capture images of some of the world’s most beautiful  libraries. Massimo Listris’s 30-year pursuit has taken him to the likes of medieval chambers and 19th-century wonders. In some images, rich mahogany lights up rooms, and in others, grand statues, globes and ceiling installations capture the eye. The photographer, from Florence, Italy, said that everything about these grand venues attracts him — from the simple smell of dust, leather and wood, to the pleasure of opening an aged book (Caters News)."
I saw the headline and was intriqued. Photographing libraries around the world. Massimo Listris's work pulled me in. I looked at every image, in awe of the beauty of libraries and the world of books.

Looking through the Massimo Listris series took me back to my childhood and my learning years in college and beyond.  I grew up in libraries, loved them, loved books, wanted to devour them all.  I remember thinking as a little girl in Rochester, New York, and later when I studied at Wheaton College (MA) and at the University of Wisconsin, that I would never be able to read all the books the libraries held or absorb all the knowledge they contained. But I loved the feeling of being in a library.  Reading and research on a computer doesn't hold a candle to that experience. 
Trinity College Library, Dublin. 
Cathedrals of Learning. I thought of other beautiful libraries I had seen that were not in the Listris series.  Like the Trinity College Library in Dublin, where the ancient Book of Kells is housed. Elissa and I loved seeing the elegant Tudor Library and the ancient Bible with its Latin script and images.  A scholar's dream!

Closer to home, I think of the historic Carnegie Libraries.  These libraries dot the American cultural landscape and are worth a dedicated photographer of their own (see below for the architecture of some of them). What a treasure the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie bequeathed to us! He started building libraries in Scotland, where he was born, then built at least six public libraries in the Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, area, his adopted home town, the land of steel mills and heavy industry in his time.  Architectural critic Patricia Lowry wrote, "To this day, Carnegie's free libraries remain Pittsburgh's most significant cultural export, a gift that has shaped the minds and lives of millions."   

On the eve of a new century, in 1899, the Carnegie foundation greatly increased its funding for more and more libraries. This increase coincided with the rise of the Women Clubs movement and the emergence of women social reformers like Jane Addams in every city and town across the land. 

These women, many the first generation of college-educated women (imagine!), had few opportunities outside of teaching, but they searched for a life of purpose.  They found it in turning to public service and strengthening communities from the bottom up. Women were always the pioneers and leaders in social reform in America, although when men took over, as in the Anti-Slavery movement or the Progressive era, it was the men who made the history books. 

As Carnegie made more funding available, women stepped up to organize local efforts to establish libraries for all communities, including African-American communities. This convergence of Carnegie's philanthropy and women's social activism, a story that deserves broader telling, produced beautiful libraries for millions of Americans. 

By the 1930s, a total of 2,509 libraries were built. Their impact on young minds is beyond measure. Most still serve as havens of learning in communities large and small, in towns,villages and rural outposts, and most remain handsome structures. 

So many writers, like Maya Angelou, remember the influence these libraries had on them.  “A library is a rainbow in the clouds,” Angelou said, recalling the time she was a little girl, abused and mute, refusing to speak, who found a haven, a save harbour, in her school library in a little town in Arkansas. No doubt it was women who made sure that town had a library.

In praise of Libraries
“You never know what troubled little girl 
needs a book,” Nikki Giovanni wrote in one of her 
 “Knowledge sets us free, art sets us free. 
A great library is freedom,” Ursula K. Le Guin asserted 
in her beautiful essay on the sacredness of public libraries.
 “When a library is open, no matter its size or shape, 
democracy is open too,” wrote Bill Moyers
I remember the Carnegie Library near downtown DC, built in a classical style suitable to the architecture of our nation's capitol, awaiting a new life, and the Lake Mirror public library in St. Petersburg, Florida, built in that sunny southern style of stucco with a red tiled roof, still welcoming readers and browsers.  

Here in northwest Ohio, we are fortunate to have the Toledo/Lucas County Public Library and its many branches.  My kids and grandkids have benefitted from having such a great library system close at hand. 

Alas, it's also true that the older they get the less they use it in favor of their smart phones and online research, homework, and  social media. I think it's a shame, but my grandkids think I'm just "old fashioned."   

On the other hand, libraries have been on the front lines in responding to these changes.  Now we can take advantage of the fact that they are wired, their collections digitized, and their myriad services easily accessible online.  My friend Judi, at the wise age of 83,  has books, videos, and those wonderful PBS Masterpeice series sent to her home regularly. She's also a big fan of Tom Hanks and the library has sent her every movie he's ever made.  The Library makes her life, and the lives of many seniors, fuller, happier.  
Our Toledo Public Library, Main Branch in downtown Toledo, Ohio.
Exterior, grand hall entrance, stacks. 
Then there are the libraries I've had the pleasure of using or visiting in other cities. On top of the list are the grand libraries of Washington, DC, where I lived and worked for so many years. The Library of Congress heads the list. This library, comprised of three separate buildings near the U.S. Capitol, equals any in the world photographed by Listris, especially the Jefferson Building.  It's awesome. A Beaux-Arts style building know for its elaborate classical facade and elegant dedicated interior. I spent many happy times at the LOC, did research in the NAACP papers in the modern-looking Madison Building, and enjoyed lots of poetry readings and excellent lectures by eminent scholars.  The American Folklife Center is also located there, preserving some of our country's best folk art and music traditions.  Alan Jabbour was the director when I was in DC, a true preservor of a cherished culture, and a great fiddler himself! The LOC preservationists and librarians are among the most knowledgeable, talented, and helpful professionals you'll ever meet.  
The Library of Congress. Three buildings, the oldest the Jefferson Building, one of the most beautiful buildings in DC, and the newest the Madison building, where I worked in the NAACP Anti-Lynching Campaign papers. 
Near the Library of Congress is the Folger Shakespeare Library, an  elegant white marble building honoring Shakespeare and his works. The Tudor-style library is regal, as is the theatre.  I love that the building is extensively ornamented with inscriptions by and about Shakespeare.  I remember lots of plays, events and poetry readings at the Folger Shakespeare. 

Libraries in other US cities stand out as well. The iconic New York Public Library, with those large Lions standing sentinal at the entrance, is one example. The reading room blew me away.  I thought I had been transported to an ornate European castle. "This is a LIBRARY?" I remember thinking. This library, like most others, has grown, expanded, and changed over the years. It is now wired, digitized, computerized, but its mission remains the same, as does the unforgettable beauty of its original building. 

I visited the Boston Public Library when I was a student at Wheaton College in Norton, Mass. Impressive. It too has grown and changed with the times, but like other libraries it has accommodated fully to the computer age.  Our modern libraries have made the world of books and manuscripts, videos and digital materials more accessible than ever before.  
Boston Public Library. 

At the other end of the country, there's the University of California at Berkeley Library. It shines brilliantly on the classical campus, well used and well loved.  It  brings back memories of a visit to my dear friend Doris a few years back.  We took a wonderful stroll on the campus, my first time there. As we entered the Library reading room, we were greeted by that wonderful sculpture of Mark Twain, looking thoughtful and happy.  

America's libraries, from sea to shining sea!

It might be easy to take these august Cathedrals of Learning for granted, with the younger generations spending less time in the buildings themselves, plugged in as they are to their ever-upgrading tech devises.  Still, I hope millennials and future generations appreciate their legacies.  Libraries belong to everyone, and they continue to educate and inform, to beautify and honor our cultural landscape.  We need to be mindful of  their value, and support them however we can, through levies, donations, and active involvement in the world of knowledge they preserve and so generously share.   

Some sources and readings
* Book of Kells, at Trinity College Library, Dubin, Wikipedia "The Book of Kells (LatinCodex CenannensisIrishLeabhar Cheanannais; Dublin, Trinity College Library, MS A. I. [58], sometimes known as the Book of Columba) is an illuminated manuscript Gospel book in Latin, containing the four Gospels of the New Testament together with various prefatory texts and tables. It was created in a Columban monastery in either Britain or Ireland and may have had contributions from various Columban institutions from both Britain and Ireland. It is believed to have been created c. 800 AD. The text of the Gospels is largely drawn from the Vulgate, although it also includes several passages drawn from the earlier versions of the Bible known as the Vetus Latina. It is a masterwork of Western calligraphy and represents the pinnacle of Insular illumination. It is also widely regarded as Ireland's finest national treasure."

*  On the importance of libraries to African-American writers, and to all writers: . "It is amazing, for me, to have been taken to a library when I was eight. I had been abused and I returned to a little village in Arkansas. And a black lady… knew I wasn’t speaking — I refused to speak — for six years I was a volunteer mute. She took me to library in the black school. The library probably had 300 books...The books were given to the black school from the white school and, often, there were no backs on the books. So we took shingles, cut them down to the size of the book, got some cotton and then pretty cloth, and covered those shingles and then laced them from the back, so that the books were beautiful. And those were the books she took me to see. She said, “I want you to read every book in this library.” And she did, and never stopped reading to her dying day.

* A lovely book by Richard Wright.
On Carnegie Libraries, Wikipedia: 
"Most of the Carnegie library buildings were unique, constructed in a number of styles, including Beaux-ArtsItalian RenaissanceBaroque, Classical Revival, and Spanish ColonialScottish Baronial was one of the styles used in Carnegie's native Scotland. Each style was chosen by the community, although as the years went by James Bertram, Carnegie's secretary, became less tolerant of designs which were not to his taste. Edward Lippincott Tilton, a friend often recommended by Bertram, designed many of the buildings. The architecture was typically simple and formal, welcoming patrons to enter through a prominent doorway, nearly always accessed via a staircase. The entry staircase symbolized a person's elevation by learning. Similarly, outside virtually every library was a lamppost or lantern, meant as a symbol of enlightenment./  Carnegie’s grants were very large for the era and his library philanthropy is one of the largest philanthropic activities, by value, in history. Small towns received grants of $10,000 that enabled them to build large libraries that immediately were among the most significant town amenities in hundreds of communities."  

Monday, September 17, 2018

Life Enhanced: The Southeastern English Countryside and London

Rochester, Kent, UK:  James & Edward, their lovely house (center), garden & flowers; Rochester Cathedral; the medieval Castle; Restoration House (upper left), named for the time Charles II stayed there the day before his "restoration" as King, and the model for Miss Havisham's home in Dickens' Great Expectations; wonderful restaurants with memorable meals. 

James and Edward's garden, from the back of their house. 
Tea with James and Edward  in the 
Lamb House Garden,  Rye, Sussex, UK. 
So British! Photo by Edward 

I wish I could take a trip to England every year, because it's such a lovely country, so much to see and learn, easy for an American to travel around, and there's never enough time to take it all in properly. But no matter when I visit, it's always fantastic. This time it was awesome.

I went with friend Linda Furney, the first time we traveled together. We had a wonderful time, made good traveling partners. We started out in Rochester, Kent, with our hosts James and Edward, in their  much-loved home with its beautiful garden. They were the best hosts. They made sure we felt at home and that we experienced all the highlights of Rochester and the southeastern region of the UK. 

On the way to Rye, by Edward 
The poem by William Blake, "And did those feet in ancient times," which was put to music by Sir Hubert Perry in 1916 and called "Jerusalem," ran through my head the whole time I was there (poem below). Sometimes I burst into song.  We were immersed in England's "green and pleasant land" that stood strong against the "dark satanic mills" of industrialization, the "pleasant pastures" where "the holy lamb of god" was seen.

James spent a day showing us Rochester: the red brick Castle and medieval fortifications; the Cathedral dating to the 7th century, founded by Justus and Augustine to spread Christianity, built and rebuilt over time; Restoration House, an historic city mansion lovingly restored inside and out, the Satis House of Dickens' Great Expectations, with a lovely cafe for tea and lunch; a lively Main street and town center. I thought I heard Dickens whispering his paeans to pastoral Kent county as we strolled the very streets he walked and saw the structures and landscape he loved.
Breakfast (brekkie) at The Fig, in Rochester, our funsome foursome

At the Canterbury Cathedral, awesome, huge, ever-expanding, always under construction and/or restoration. The wood, arches, art, stained glass windows, sculpturing, the details, the interior decorations and motifs are stunning to behold, beyond beautiful. Photo with cross and swords is the shrine of Thomas Becket, the archbishop murdered at the Cathedral in 1170.  
Thomas Becket Shrine. 
The Northwest Transept
The next day James, our tour guide par excellence, offered us a special treat: a trip to Canterbury to see one of  the oldest and largest Cathedrals in England, the iconic Canterbury Cathedral. Oh what a sight! It is so large that we were thrilled just to get to see bits and parts of it. The Cathedral was founded in 597 (imagine!), rebuilt between 1070 and 1077, largely rebuilt in the Gothic style following a fire in 1174, with significant extensions to accommodate the flow of pilgrims visiting the shrine of Thomas Becket.

Thomas Becket? Good heavens. I had to dig deep to remember this history and was grateful for a very knowledgable volunteer docent who retold the story in vivid detail. King Henry II had frequent conflicts with the strong-willed Becket and is said to have exclaimed in frustration: "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?"  Four of his knights took him literally, killing Becket in cold blood in the northwest transept of Canterbury in December 1170. Murder in the Cathedral. I couldn't believe we were standing on the very spot. It sent a chill down my spine. I was moved to prayer.

With visions of Canterbury dancing in our heads, full of images and stories, we took the train back to Rochester.  We had tea at the house (of course), regaled Edward with our adventure, and ended the day with a delicious meal at James' and Edwards' favorite Thai restaurant. The juxtaposition of the old and the new couldn't have been better.
Enjoying the town of Rye and the Sussex countryside with Edward and James; the Lamb House, where Henry James stayed; the river at low tide; the town, gardens, aging limestone, historic Inns; the "pleasant pastures" of England; tea in the Lamb House garden.  The best photos are by Edward, a man of many talents.
Lamb House
In Rye, East Sussex, UK.
Edward took over on Saturday, his day off from a busy work week, and drove us into the English countryside of Kent and Sussex as only a native-born Brit can do. We were on the highways and byways of England's "green and pleasant land." We traveled over once-dirt roads that were narrow, winding, barely paved, driving from town to town, from farms and villages to the sea.

Edward's destination was the notable English port town of Rye. What a charming place!  Even the 13th-century Rye Castle, once a jail, had its charm, with a special women's section (a first) and nice views of the town's harbours. As we strolled the cobble-stoned streets, past old homes, shops, and inns like the historic Mermaid Inn, we came upon the Lamb House, the 18th-century mansion where American novelist Henry James lived from 1897-1914. The house, well-cared for, with lovely furnishings and features, is now a writer's house museum owned by the National Trust. What better way to end our time in East Sussex than taking in this fine mansion and having tea in its Tudor and Renaissance-style gardens!

It was hard tearing ourselves away from this heavenly place and saying goodbye for now to dear friends Edward and James, until we meet again.  It was on to London.

Prince Albert Memorial and Royal Albert Hall, just a walk
across the park, past the Princess Diana Memorial. wiki photo.
The hotel we booked through Tripmaster's was fantastic, the Caesar on Queen's Garden street in the Bayswater section of the city, a tube ride into town or a walk across Kensington Gardens (map above).  Actually the walk across the park was a nice little adventure. We saw on our map that the Albert and Victoria Museum was just on the other side of Kensington Gardens from where we were, a few blocks from our hotel.

So we ventured forth, following the paths, getting a few helpful tips at forks in the road, passing the Diana Memorial, and landing at the grandiose and colorful Albert Memorial. We admired the memorial, then walked on past the Royal Albert Hall to the grand Albert and Victoria Museum.  We went there for the Frida Kahlo exhibit, only to learn the tickets were sold out.  We did the next best thing and toured the museum, Linda and I going our separate ways to investigate whatever drew us in and at our own pace, always a good thing to do in a large museum that you are visiting for the first time.
LONDON! By this time my camera battery was not functioning, so didn't get many photos. But who can forget being in the heart of  London? Highlights: Bayswater (white row houses, bottom left); Kensington Gardens;  Albert & Victoria Museum, interior& exterior, where we saw Frida Kahlo costume exhibit when Linda became a member. Kinky Boots. "Hi Kids, I'm fine!" James made a great sign for me but, alas, left it home, so I improvised for my kids and grandkids on our trusty map! 
The next day Linda awoke with a brainstorm.
"I have an idea of how we can get into the Frida Kahlo exhibit," she told me. Hmm, I thought.
"Really, how is that possible?"
"I can join the museum, become a member! I wish I had thought of it yesterday while we were right there."

It seemed an expensive option, but a great idea, and Linda was adamant. So back to the Museum we went, with high hopes, this time by cab, although the traffic was so bad, so snarled and jammed, it would have been quicker to walk.  We made it, and tra la, Linda is now a member in good standing of the Albert and Victoria Museum! The Toledo-London connection.  I was her guest, and we both got into the Frida Kahlo exhibit just like that! I'm grateful to Linda that we did. It is a unigue and breathtaking exhibit (a blockbuster for the Museum), giving viewers a context for understanding Frida, herself a great artist, and her times; insight into the indigenous people of southern Mexico (with some beautiful videos); Frida's relationship with Diego Rivera, the renowned muralist; her fierce sense of independence and autonomy.  Making her Self. Being her Self.  Determined to embody the soul and spirit of the real Mexico. The exquisite and beautiful skirts and tops (huipils), jewelry and hair decorations, every glorious item full of color and texture, flowers, indigenous designs, beauty.  Take a look:

We also made that almost-obligatory journey to London's Leicester Square, the heart of the London theatre district, hoping against hope to get tickets to the play "Hamilton." We went the traditional way, via the Tube. We had to refresh ourselves a bit, but we did an okay job of reading the Tube maps, switching lines, going in the right direction, getting it right, and we were proud of ourselves. We two girls knew how to get around!

Of course, as we suspected, the play was sold out, until October, beyond our stay. Sold out, like the Frida Kahlo tickets. Even Linda couldn't get around this one, so we quickly decided to get tickets to another play, and at Linda's suggestion just as quickly decided on the sassy musical Kinky Boots. It's a story about new friendships and making your own dreams, with fun songs by Cyndi Lauper and sterling production by Harvey Fierstein (La Cage aux Folles); great dancing, actors and singers; super sets and lighting. The play was actually inspired by true events, taking us boisterously from a gentlemen's shoe factory in Northampton, Mass, USA, to high-style Milan, where models, male and female, need glamorous heels and boots to strut the catwalk. Here's where the fabulous character Lola comes in, in the play a performer in need of sturdy new stiletttoes and glamorous high-calved boots. He was fantastic, flamboyant! I enjoyed the play and Linda was in 7th heaven with delight. "LOVED it!" I didn't know that flamboyant, rocking, dazzling, hot musicals were her cup of tea.
Queen Elizabeth was here, and dedicated the Tea Room on her Jubilee in 2012.  
And speaking of her cup of tea, and to top off our London visit, we celebrated Linda's birthday with a traditional English high tea at fabulous Fortnum and Mason.  It's a grand upscale store established in 1707 in Piccadilly, London, and still going strong through many different transformations.  It felt as if I was inside Selfridges, the elegant department store featured in the PBS Masterpiece series of the same name.*  But here we were; it was 9/11, and Linda's birthday. What a date, evoking New York's Twin Towers  and tragedy. But Linda has given her birth date a special touch of her own, and tea is the centerpiece of it.  I've never had such a wonderful afternoon tea as I did with Linda at Fortnum and Mason,  the place for tea in London, Edward assured us.The best teas and scones ever in the world, sumptuous tea sandwiches and cakes. Linda is an English tea aficionado through and through. She bought some tea and china, cups and saucers in those soft aqua pastel colors.  9/11 transfixed into a day of goodness and celebration.  Linda was Queen for a Day, and I had the pleasure of sharing it with her.

Delicious memories! New adventures, transforming and unforgettable. Travel transcendant. Life enhanced. The big city after the countryside, London after Kent and Sussex. It was a perfectly wonderful way to be in England.  Can more adventures be far behind?

Blake's poem
And did those feet in ancient times,
Walk upon England's mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On England's pleasant pastures seen!
         And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England's green & pleasant Land.

* For an interesting history of these elegant stores:

*  Fortnum and Mason: The Tea Salon--SERVING TEA SINCE 1926
"Our Tea Salon has been a great many things for over 307 years. Beginning as an apartment for the Fortnum family, an interior decorating department in the 1920s and 1930s, and an antiques department and a restaurant known as St. James’s, it now pays homage to the timeless tradition of Afternoon Tea. / Epitomising the sophistication of Afternoon and High Tea in all its splendour, our Diamond Jubilee was named in honour of Her Majesty’s visit in 2012, when she formally opened the room, in the company of their Royal Highnesses the Duchess of Cornwall and the Duchess of Cambridge."

Cathedrals of Learning: Let's hear it for Libraries!

In honor of National Book Month. Stiftsbibliothek, Kremsmunter, Austria, a monestary library built between 1680 and 1689. photo b...