Expatriot Act

The university of these days is a collection of books.

13 April 2009

Nerd Tourism: Streets of Philadelphia

The movers came and they took quite a while getting my things into the truck, but that's also because they were doing it right, wrapping everything in blankets and such to ensure its safe delivery, 3000 miles away. Afterwards I had to find something to do with myself for the rest of the day. Luckily that wasn't hard to do.

Bunnicula doesn't know what to do in the empty apartment
Bunnicula does not know what to make of the empty apartment.

I stopped for lunch then headed for the Mason Museum, a place I've always wanted to check out, taking photos along the way...

In an aeroplane over City Hall
Wee airplane over City Hall
Old Frank could use a shoe shine
Former Mayor Frank Rizzo could use a shoe shine.
More signs of spring
Sakura it to me
John McCain as a mummer?
John McCain as a mummer?
Stars and bricks forever

To my chagrin but not my surprise, the Mason Museum is closed on Mondays. So I hightailed it over to the Franklin Institute in hopes of catching the Galileo exhibit there.

Galileo and Franklin, two of my favorite dudes

Seeing the instruments in the exhibit were cool, but unfortunately nearly all of the medieval books in the exhibit were facsimiles, and not terribly convincing ones at that. I could tell the 4 or 5 real ones out of the dozens of fakes from across the room. Also, although most of the exhibit was very low lit, at the exit two of the REAL medieval books, one on loan from UPenn's rare book room and another, funnily enough, from my now-former company (because the book was published in Amsterdam by Louis Elzevir in the 1600s) were under the harshest possible fluorescent lights. I shook my head. Tsk tsk. Wanted to call the book police, as if there were such a thing.

But the Franklin holds a lot of Philly nostalgia for me. As a very young child I thought I'd be a scientist (a paleontologist, I declared, in kindergarten). Going through the heart for the first time is a very vivid, exciting childhood memory of mine. A first love, even. I went through it again today. Though I've been at the Franklin for a number of things over my years in Philadelphia (shooting a music video, seeing IMAX films, even DJing there) but going through the heart today as an adult was movingly nostalgic for me.

The man
Wee bit claustrophobic

Also I forgot how much I adored Foucault's Pendulum, even if it does remind me of Vertigo.

I love it
About half of the pegs knocked down means it's near closing time
Can you feel the earth move under your feet? Since half of the pegs are knocked down, you can see it's near closing time.

Speaking of first loves, I ducked into the Free Library of Philadelphia, but only briefly. Missed the rare book room hours. Might try to find the time to go by again this week. That was the first rare book room I'd been in, and now I feel I'd appreciate it much more. Also, as a teenager, I started taking the train into the city to work on this research project, and it was an important summer for me, learning to love not only the library but negotiating the city for the first time on my own.

A first love
Even the smell is familiar
Beware the library cop

I also ducked into the Book Corner, a beloved former haunt, to see what they had in their rare books, even though I can't buy a thing because all of my stuff is packed and gone. Still spent a decent amount of time in there. They've got great pretty used copies of everything. A real browsing bookstore.

Old haunt

Continued on over to Mugshots for a coffee, passing another fave, Eastern State Penitentiary. One peanut butter and chocolate soy smoothie (plus espresso shot) and a few chapters of Origin of the Species via Kindle later, and it wasn't a bad first day of (thankfully temporary) unemployment.

Not a bad first day of (temporary) unemployment

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20 March 2009

Nerd Tourism: DC Edition

I was happy to find out that my last work trip before I leave my company would be in Washington, DC, not only because I have friends there, but because there was some serious nerdery I wanted to get up to in DC before moving across the country.

Some of the nerdery was serendipitous. I was lured to an Asian restaurant across the street from Ford's Theatre by their vegan pho, only to discover they had a special of Lincoln's favorite drink: Laird's Apple Jack with homemade orange bitters. Let me tell you, the man was wise in many ways. Also the age-old question of what the hell he's been drinkin' is finally put to rest (it was not turpentine after all!)

Another case of serendipity, I was on my way to Mecca (aka The Library of Congress) when I saw on the map that one of the buildings was marked FOLGER SHAKESPEARE LIBRARY. I literally gasped outloud, "No WAY!" During my regrettably short docentship at the The Rosenbach Museum (one bittersweet thing about moving), I would rattle off the various rare books libraries in the country whose collections Rosenbach had helped build. Widener Library at Harvard, the Huntington (featured in a recent entry), and the Folger Shakespeare Library. But I must admit that I had no idea it was in DC, and practically ran there once I realized it was a block away from where I stood!

They've got about 80 first folios

I was not disappointed. I got to chat with the charming, southern gentleman docent before the tour. They have frequent Shakespeare performances in addition to the research library and public expositions. In addition to their permanent collection (which includes about 80 first folios like the one above, the most in any one spot in the world) they had a special exhibit on dreaming in Shakespeare. They had Shakespeare works, and famous and lesser known early printed works and manuscripts showing Elizabethian era concepts of what herbs and gems one can use to manipulate dreams, what one can do "to make one sleepe," and even Elizabethian era dressing gowns.

Shakespeare Love American style

It's a really odd building architecturally, the outside being both a touch neoclassical like its surroundings and also built in the 30s; the docent called it "greco deco." Inside was a charming mix of early industrial American bravado and Anglophilia. The docent huddled us into the middle of the room and dramatically pulled a curtain and this is what we saw:

Ye Olde Reading Room

...or at least this is what I saw from my smooshed perspective. I want to go to there. No fair ;) It kinda makes me laugh though that a lot of these gorgeous research libraries save the prettiest rooms for researchers only, but then show the tourists the rooms through a window, giving the feeling of a zoo exhibit. They did that at the Library of Congress as well, but photography was not allowed as it disturbs the animalsresearchers. Which is a pity, because gee, golly.

I could have almost been contented with just seeing the Folger, but I came for Mecca, and Mecca I shall see. I headed over to the Library of Congress, which was somehow far grander and beautiful in a way I didn't expect.

Shine a light

So colorful and busy! Mosaics and paintings and allegory everywhere, my eye just kept catching all of these wonderful surprises.

Anarchy in the U-S!

The grandeur of it all was dizzying. And there were great quotes all over the walls. "The university of these days is a collection of books." "Books must follow sciences and not sciences books." But all of the best parts of the library were the parts where you weren't allowed to photograph. There was a wonderful Lincoln exhibit (as most museums have this year) that included, memorably, his Bible that Obama used at his inauguration.

Walking through this place alone, I was honestly choked with emotion and patriotism. The most awe-inspiring for me was walking through Thomas Jefferson's original collection, which was set up in a bit of a spiral, and you could walk on either side. Seeing how he arranged his books, and what he had, it really brought him to life as a person to me. I understand why projects like Librarything's Legacy Projects are undertaken, or, more humbly, why people who care about books always check out others' bookshelves in their homes. It's like crawling around in someone's head for a while.

Thanks dude. Sweet place.

Thanks dude, for letting me crawl around in your place, and your head, for a while. It was well worth the trip. Up soon: Nerdin' in New York.

24 February 2009

Nerd Tourism: Westward Edition

I've always had a tendency to seek out nerdly delights wherever I travel, but over the past year or so it's definitely hit a fever pitch. As my interest and knowledge of rare books grows, I get more familiar with the places where they're kept and know where to look when I travel. I've been referring to this trajectory as Nerd Tourism, though I'm sure I'm not the first one to think of it. Anyway here's my latest installment of nerd tourism, California and Las Vegas edition.

I hadn't heard of Henry Huntington until I started my docent training at the Rosenbach Museum & Library. Dr. Rosenbach is known for building most of the best rare books libraries in the United States on behalf of his wealthy clients, and Mr. Huntington was his best client, and the only one not living in the northeast. His former residence is now the The Huntington Museum, Library, and Botanical Gardens, and the grounds are absolutely massive. No modern day millionaire would ever be able to afford or maintain this kind of California real estate. Just my luck, it was pouring down rain in the Sunshine state the day of my visit, but my interests lay where there was practically no light to be found.

What's on your desk, Henry?

Because of my MLIS and my connection with the Rosenbach, I managed to get a behind-the-scenes tour of the library building at the Huntington. Unfortunately (and such is the trouble with nerd tourism in general) most museums are not very photo-friendly, especially in the places others never get to go. The photos I have here from the Huntington are from the historic house where photos are allowed. Anyway the Huntington is an absolutely amazing facility, especially if you are one of their lucky "readers" who get access to the collections. Every corner we turned, I thought I couldn't be more astounded, and then there'd be something else. The original stacks Huntington had built that aren't connected to the floor or walls (hard to explain unless you're looking at them) so they would sway in case of earthquake...reading rooms that rival the New York Public Library's just tucked away into corners...a jaw-dropping state-of-the-art photography studio...and a conservation center with medieval printing tools to repair their treasures.


It was pretty amazing to have the Rosenbach context on the collections, because so many of the things that Dr. R bought for Huntington he ended up collecting himself as well. One notable exception is a medieval elephant folio (read: effing huge) Canterbury Tales that the executors of Chaucer's estate had made in his memory. One delightful surprise that I highly, highly recommend checking out is their History of Science collection. I seriously lost my shit in that hall over all the amazing old science books and association copies. The layout of the exhibit was amazing, and they had interactive pieces (you could look through a replica of Galileo's telescope to see how he would have seen the moon) and they also had digital screens where one could flip through the books on display and zoom in and out using your fingernail. It was glorious, I can't wait to go back on a sunnier day.

A day, a desert drive, and a stop at the Pee Wee's Big Adventure dinosaurs later, I was in Las Vegas for a work trip. The night before I left I managed to get to Bauman's Rare Books at the Shoppes at the Palazzo. I first heard of Bauman's through my boyfriend's father, there was a store in Philadelphia which are now administrative offices. One of the very few things I liked about Vegas: even the rare book shop, which on a whole are always known for being only open for 2 hours on a Tuesday, was open until 11pm. And it was an oasis in the noisy, smoky den of iniquity that is Las Vegas.

Bauman Rare Books - haven in a land of chaos

Can you hear the angels heralding? I spent a long, long time browsing the shelves, and taking photos, and talking to the shopkeeps. They even let me paw this little $36 thousand number...

Cover of $36k Ulysses
I like the I love Lucy font - title page

This copy of James Joyce's Ulysses is special in that it is illustrated by Henri Matisse, and signed by them both. And as is often the case with Joyce, there is drama surrounding this partnership. The apocryphal story is that the two artists were sitting at a table signing these special edition copies of the book, and about 12 signatures in Joyce realized that Matisse didn't illustrate the action in his story at all, but just did illustrations for Homer's Odyssey instead. And of course, anyone who knows Ulysses and who looks at the drawings Matisse did would jump to similar conclusions. Apparently Joyce stormed off in a huff. Can't say I blame him. But the resulting, rare artifact is an interesting, unusual piece with a great story behind it.

Matisse drawing inserts

It was definitely my favorite moment in Sin City. Unfortunately at that price, it'll stay in Vegas.

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15 December 2008

My Antiques Roadshow style birthday gift

I was fussing over a random book I found on a shelf in a used/rare book store in San Diego. It was a touch out of impulse buy price range, so as the BF and I walked around the store I talked myself into the purchase outloud. He disappeared and came back, having haggled over it for an undisclosed lower amount and gifted it to me. It is the best kind of gift, something not only fun and beautiful to behold, but full of mysteries to uncover.

Come through the pages with me, won't you?

The clerk at the store described it as a community book... something folks write in and pass around, but that's all he knew of it. After I got it home and got to look over some pages more carefully, I would say it's more likely a book the owner kept in the house and visitors would leave well wishes in, with some scrapbook elements as well. Dates inside range from 1931-1936, all manuscript by many authors in French and some English, includes photos, printed ephemera, calling cards, and official French government documents. Some deducing leads me to believe it belonged to one Madame William Warren Card, who was recognized by her friends for her philanthropy. She was also, apparently, recognized by the French government for her charitable works, as in 1933 she was inducted into the French Legion of Honor, and there are numerous official documents, congratulations cards, and well wishes to that effect.

I didn't even find this letter, folded modestly and pasted inside, until well after I got it home. It is from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, dated June 27, 1933, notifying Mme. Card of her recommendation for the cross of Officer in the Legion of Honor.

Some very preliminary research (aka Googling) tells me William Warren Card was chief engineer and general superintendent of the Cleveland, Tuscarawas Valley and Wheeling Railroad. Born in New York state in 1831, his parents moved to Lancaster, Ohio in 1837 where his father served as county surveyor for Fairfield County, Ohio, and son William assisted. He eventually worked his way up to superintendent and general freight agent until 1864, when he gained the same position for the Pittsburgh, Columbus and Cincinnati Railroad, where he stayed until 1871. He was a colleague of George Westinghouse, Jr., and resigned his position in 1871 to work for the Westinghouse Air Brake Company. In 1873, he became superintendent and chief engineer of the Lake Shore and Tuscarawas Valley Railroad, now known as the Cleveland, Tuscarawas Valley and Wheeling Railroad. And apparently he looks like this. In June 1872, he married Miss Hattie Dinsmore, stepdaughter of Rev. D. D. Mather, of Delaware, Ohio, and presumably owner of the book that is now in my possession. Further Googling reports that the Reverend gave a fairly famous speech on the occasion of Lincoln's death, and was apparently a trusted community leader, until accusations of indiscretion led to public shaming and the sudden suicide of his just-wed daughter, Stella.

I believe this photo is our lady and former owner of the book, Mme W.W. Card:

Congratulations card (here it is opened), opposite page a letter to the French president.

Calling cards and opposing page acid burns

Life is like a mirror, if you grimace it will send that back to you, but if you smile, it will smile upon you. Sept 7 1935

What fun mysteries to unfurl in this little leather book! So many signatures to decipher, I wonder if any of these folks writing sonnets are celebrated poets perhaps, since she seems like the type of lady who could be an artist's patron. I will slowly savor the discoveries this book will reveal over time as I delve into it. Couldn't think of a better birthday gift for a francophilic book nerd like me. :)

07 November 2008

In other nerdery...

Megan's Dewey Decimal Section:

182 Pre-Socratic Greek philosophies

Megan's birthday: 12/01/1981 = 1201+1981 = 3182

100 Philosophy & Psychology

Books on metaphysics, logic, ethics and philosophy.

What it says about you:
You're a careful thinker, but your life can be complicated and hard for others to understand at times. You try to explain things and strive to express yourself.

Find your Dewey Decimal Section at Spacefem.com