Another library story, again in India

Curtis Bryant, the husband of a long-time librarian friend of mine, saw my post on Mahesh Rao’s article on libraries in India, and he wrote me about his own experience in a Delhi library.  He has given me permission to reprint it here.  I have also added a comment at the end.

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The “Elegy for the Library” article brought back memories of my time in India back in 1972. When I was staying in Delhi I stopped into the library at the University of Delhi, just to browse around. At the time I was interested in knowing more about the intersection of Eastern and Western knowledge and was particularly interested in how it was that the calendar and the constellations along the ecliptic (the astrological sun signs) pretty much correspond in both cultures.

I found my way down to a lower level where I began browsing the shelves and came across a dusty old book entitled “Early Astrology and Cosmology” by C. P. S. Menon.. The time of year was early January, which is the middle of the dry season in India. In spite of that, the effect of humidity over the years had taken its toll. The building at that time was ventilated with open tiles letting outside air in, no air conditioning. As soon as I pried open the cover the browned pages of the book began to crack and crumble in my hands as I turned them, but the subject matter was absolutely fascinating, delving into early Jain cosmology, which outlined a perfectly logical and empirical explanation for a flat, diamond shaped earth with India at the center. The shifting angle of the sun at the solstices and equinoxes had been accurately measured, and these early astronomers explained the seasonal change by proposing that the sun moved on a larger diamond shaped path, hence further south, in the winter and a smaller, tighter path further north in the summer.  The earth was divided into four quadrants, and by extension, the path of the sun went through twelve squares (or houses) that surrounded the four earthly divisions. Continuing in this manner, by adding more squares like a chess board, the next “ring” had twenty houses, then twenty eight corresponding to the lunar cycle.

Jain Cosmological Map

Jain Cosmological Map

The revelation that empirical measurement could lead to radically different views of reality, given the limitations of our instruments and perspective, struck me as having great significance, and I decided that I must copy the important parts of the book. They had no copier there, and I had no library privileges at the university, so I returned several times to the library copying significant portions of the text and illustrations. I felt like a medieval scribe who had come across one of the great lost works of ancient science, and spent the next several days compiling what I could manage into a notebook. Over the next three months I traveled around India, Nepal, and later to several countries in East Africa, including Egypt with my little treasure. Today I could dig it out again where it sits in a cabinet, certainly in a moldy state by now, down in our basement bedroom where you guys camped out with us.

So yes, the library must remain a part of our world, housing real books. I have a recurring nightmare of a coming dark age when after some unforeseen cosmic supernova sending cosmic rays that fry every electrical circuit on the planet, or even more simply, a malicious hacking of our too fragile Internet that we have come to depend on too heavily, the world plunges back into an age of fragmented knowledge and backward thinking. We are actually doing a pretty good job of this without the assistance of such catastrophes.

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Looking for images to illustrate Curtis’s letter I was very surprised to discover that Early Astronomy and Cosmology was published in 1932.  From his description of the dusty old book with brittle paper I imagined it was published in the 1800’s.  I was terribly disappointed and wasn’t sure what to do.  I wondered if Curtis after all these years had forgotten that it was a book only about 20 years older than he.  Now with the internet he could find it digitized on line and for sale at used book shops.  I almost decided not to reprint it here.  I didn’t want to ruin his memory.

But as I thought about it I realized that there is definitely something to be learned here.  Curtis’ nightmare is not inconceivable.  Librarians and archivists have done much to try to preserve originals — climate control, archival acid free storage, limiting usage of delicate items. However there is a great possibility that all of our time and energy spent on preservation, and on digitizing the great books, manuscripts, maps, and documents of civilization, may be for naught.  The digitized versions may be as fragile as the paper or parchment on which they were first written. I suppose it is possible that in the end we will be left with neither .

I recently went to see Frederick Wiseman’s documentary Ex Libris:  The New York Public Library.  Tears ran down my cheeks as certain images of the reading room, the stacks, the exhibits along the halls, the manuscript collections, the map room, the back rooms where the returns are sorted to be sent to the branches or to be put back on the shelves, and the lions flashed on the screen.  Digital books and access to digitized materials in your home while you are in your bathrobe are immediate and efficient, but there is nothing like the old, tried and true and tactical way of browsing and researching in a library.  We who are old enough to have had the experience are fortunate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

C’mon a my house —

My “constant companion and best friend in old age” and I love where we live, and I have written about the little hamlet, the views, the river, the birds, the train, and how wonderful it is to come home to when away.  With that in mind, we have renovated the cottage next door into a Guest House, and are happy to announce our opening of “The Make Your Own Damn Bed & Breakfast”.  We will provide you with the all fixings for your breakfast, and thus offer you privacy and flexibility.

We consider it the perfect Sanctuary for One or a Love Nest for Two, but the cottage can easily accommodate four with the futon in the common space.

It is two floors & open concept. Take a look at the pictures — they speak for themselves.  It has lots of closet space and is ideal for a two person long term stay.

You will have a view of the Hudson River and the Catskills .  You will be a mere football field away from riverside Cheviot Park where you can launch your kayak, canoe or fishing rig, or fish from the pier.  From the small porch you can have coffee and watch the sun come up and the water birds and eagles hunt for fish.  In the sunroom you can enjoy an evening      cocktail and the pinks and greys of the sunset through the clouds. You can see the ice float up and down river depending upon the tides.  You can wave to the New York politicians taking Amtrak from the city to Albany. You can paint, take photos, walk, sleep, read.

Or you can leave the your nest to dine on fun or fine food, drink locally brewed beer and whisky, cook your own meal in a spotless new kitchen using local products purchased at nearby farmers’ markets in season. You can walk Warren Street in Hudson and marvel at how the prices of antiques rival if not top the prices of similar wares in the city.  You can visit your son at Bard, just 8+ miles away.  You can stroll in Rhinebeck, take in a movie, shop the many boutiques.  You can soak yourself in history, music, architecture, dance, art, and take scenic walks and challenging hikes.  All this and more — Gaskins, Tousey Winery, Upstate Films, Olana, Jazz in GTown

And like us, you will find out how wonderful it is come home to our little neighborhood with its view, tranquility and charm.

We hope you will come and stay a night or two.

Details and Bookings

 

 

 

Yes, I am in love but —

I am also misunderstood.  I take the blame.

I am in love with Mahesh Rao who wrote an article about libraries and librarians.  I am in love with the article.  That is what unexpectedly popped up on my screen yesterday morning.

Here is the link to that article: LINK

Not many people read Spoonbeams, so when “likes” come in, as they did for what I wrote yesterday LINK, I’m always very appreciative and try to figure out what there was about my writing that my likers liked.  Very few people who read my “love” post actually clicked on my link.  They didn’t see it?  They didn’t know it was a link?  When I realized what was happening I tried making the link more prominent but that didn’t help.  That’s why you see the awkward links above.

Does it matter what or who they thought I am in love with?  Not really.

This morning’s view from my “eerie” is nice but not as grabbing as yesterday’s. I do like the addition of fisherman down at the landing — especially when, like these two, they are quiet and don’t start fires in the night.  But the sky is not as blue, there are a few stink bugs and flies crawling on the windows, and that clear-cut box in the trees shows up ugly as sin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Eastern Shuttle

Earlier this week the Washington Post printed an article about unrealistic expectations by airline travelers.

It starts off with a quote by a veteran flight attendant:

I’m weary of those entitled passengers who are continuously whining and complaining. . . I feel like telling them, “Take some responsibility for your choices.”

The columnist Christopher Elliott then goes on to discuss the airlines’ point of view, which in a nutshell is that you get what you pay for, and if you pick the lowest price, then expect very little in comfort and service, and the cost conscious travelers’ point of view, which is that fees are out of control.

The article continues:

“. . a retired civilian Army employee who lives in Troy, Mich., took his first commercial flight in the early 1950s, and recalls paying just $72 to fly from Washington to San Francisco in 1967. He still has the ticket. In economy class, the flight attendants served passengers steak on real plates, he says.

An  eight dollar plus change, one-way student Eastern Newark to Boston Shuttle ticket from 1967 may be in a box of my lifetime treasures stored under a bed in my house, but it is doubtful. Whenever possible I was on a flight to visit my college beau. Tickets could be purchased ahead of time or at the gate. One just had to show a student card. Simple. There was always a seat.

Checking on line to see what Eastern was now charging for a flight from Newark to Boston, I was surprised to read that Eastern no longer exists. Imagine my delight discovering that Trump actually bought the Eastern shuttle in 1988, that he installed marble-finish lavatory fixtures in them, and that On September 20, 1990, he missed a $1.1 million interest payment for the Shuttle operation.

Back in my 20s and 30s I traveled here and there and a telephone call to any airline would give me all the information needed: what flights were available, the price of a ticket, and the representative would book my reservation on any carrier.

Then for a while I didn’t travel much.  In the meantime, the world got internet, gas went up from 50 cents a gallon (I too do remember when it was twenty something cents), obscenely wealthy people, many of whom seem to be the only people who can get away with arrogant strutting displays of “entitlement” became the airlines preferred passengers, and the number of variables involved in making a reservation exploded.

I don’t feel entitled, but I am going to whine and complain. My complaint is that sorting through the many options when buying a plane ticket takes me hours and gives me angst. I don’t necessarily want to buy the cheapest seat available but I want to understand what I am paying for.

Back when life was simple I didn’t have to think about buying direct or through one of multiple third party sites. I didn’t need to study the nuances of budget, basic economy, economy, flexible economy, business class, first class, privileged class tickets on three or four different airlines. I wasn’t constrained by loyalty clubs.  I didn’t have to worry if my luggage would be accepted or not or where it would be stored and what I could put in the bags that would go in the cabin or in the baggage compartment and what would be confiscated and never returned. I knew that drinks and food would be served.   I could cancel or reschedule my flight without a hassle or a fee.

Not now. Now a ticket on United from Newark to Boston and return on the weekend of December eighth as listed on United’s website could cost me anywhere from $150 to $640. That includes taxes and fees but additional baggage charges could apply. That was yesterday’s price. Tomorrow’s most likely will be different. Do I dare check Delta? or American?

For a while my son who used to book travel for his boss would help me with my flight arrangements, but at this point in my life I have other things to pester him with. Now I go by train or drive, or tag along with friends who book my seats along with theirs, or if left to my own resources, become obsessed with the task — for weeks if time allows.  Perhaps if the airline industry acknowledged its “responsibility” to standardize terminology, to eliminate add-ons,  and to guarantee all of its customers a comfortable flight experience, flight attendants would not have so many complaints about “entitled” passengers, and perhaps I would travel more.

The Two-Legged Ones

Walter Kirn, who writes the “Easy Chair” column in Harper’s, reported on his August visit to Standing Rock  in the December 2016 issue.

In August Standiing Rock was

“a spectacular sight: thousands of Indians camped on the banks of the Cannonball River, on the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota. . . awaiting a federal court decision on whether construction of a $3.7 billion oil pipeline from the Bakken region to Southern Illinois will be halted.”  — New York Times

On the fourth of December, with thousands still standing ground but now in freezing cold

“the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that it will not be granting the easement to cross Lake Oahe for the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline. Instead, the Corps will be undertaking an environmental impact statement to look at possible alternative routes.” — standwithstandingrock.net

Now on March tenth thousands marched at the White House, for as we know, President Trump with a quick flick of his pen, signed

“an executive order that reversed a decision by the previous administration of Democratic President Barack Obama to delay approval of the Dakota pipeline, a $3.8 billion project by Energy Transfer Partners LP.” — New York Times

Tribes gathered in D.C. for several days ahead of the protest.
Paul J. Richards/AFT/Getty. Huffington Post

It was a very personal article, quite thoughtful and revealing both about the happenings at Standing Rock and about Kirn himself.  But the highlight in it for me, and the reason I sought out his website which has led me to add his books to my reading list, was the next to last paragraph.  A little mistake caused me to chuckle.  It wasn’t the error that the editor appended to the Letters section in January 2017’s edition, so I know they check for errors.

“Because of an editing error, “Standing Rock Speaks” [Easy Chair, December], by Walter Kirn, misstated the year of the American Indian Movement’s occupation of Wounded Knee. This event occurred in 1973, not 1972. We regret the error.”

Here’s what made me smile.  Kirn wrote:

Photo: Joe McKenna/Flickr Creative Commons

On my way to the camp, I parked along the river’s banks and watched it drag last spring’s Montana snowmelt slowly south across the prairies. There was a crow, of course, yakking on a tree branch, grouchy, ornery. Crows are often considered tricksters, and in some legends crows created the world. But now it is all ours, not theirs. It belongs to us, the two-legged ones.

Crows have two legs, the right one is peaking out from behind the left, believe me.

The glue here is Bourdain

Morgan – where & when?

My older son worked in restaurants while in school, during the summer, and when out of work. In fact my younger son worked in restaurants — how could I forget? I’m pretty sure both Sarah and Sam, their wives, did also.  Morgan at the old wonderful Woodshed in Moultonborough, Egg in Brooklyn, even Chili’s in Nashua, someplace on Martha’s Vineyard, at a few ski resorts, and Alex at Court Street Grocers again in Brooklyn, both of them at our Olde Orchard Inn. They washed dishes, cleaned the stove, threw pizzas, shucked oysters; worked the line and the register; expedited, managed, served, and played various roles at our bed and breakfast.

513wxtu2q4l-_sx331_bo1204203200_They told stories of course, but nothing like those of Anthony Bourdain in Kitchen Confidential, which came out in 2000. I read it, learned from it, cringed at parts of it.  It was a peak into what went on in kitchens and what happened after the kitchens closed. It was a frenetic read, but thankfully it was neither of my son’s lives.

I never forgot the book, in fact thought of it often, but never followed Bourdain nor watched his series. Now Journeyman, the article in a recent New Yorker has Bourdain calling to me again and hopefully I’ll catch up.  He is not, yet he is, the same man whose book I read.

Bourdain takes Obama to dinner in Hanoi - $6

Bourdain takes Obama to dinner in Hanoi – $6

Why my inerest? His life, his work, his experiences are legend.  He’s been everywhere, eaten everything, gets to film it, write about it.  President Obama had lunch with him on one of his adventures.  So cool.  Would I like to go on  one of those adventures?  Not so sure I could do it.  I once invited myself to lunch with Norman Mailer and then could barely say a word.

All through the  New Yorker article I found snippets that made me think of my children, quotes to send them or not send them. I usually have to think it through — how often to email, call or text. How often to intrude into their already full adult lives.  These are important decisions for a mom who is so proud of and so loves her sons and their wives but doesn’t want to be over-momming it.

Instead I’ll write them here.  Perhaps they will read them some day.

For Morgan, who has done research on New York City’s food carts, and who with his wife Sarah works at the NYC Department of Health & Mental Hygiene, this quote from Bourdain describing his proposed Pier 57 “market modelled on Singapore’s hawker centers or open-air food courts.”  Bourdain plans to bring in the “best street-food vendors” recruited “from around the world and awarded visas — assuming that the United States is still issuing them — ”

Singapore’s orderly hawker markets combine the delights of roadside
gastronomy with an approach to public-health regulation that could pass

muster in post-Bloomberg New York. They cracked the code with out
losing this amazing culture.

For  Sam, who writes for Food 52, and Alex who is a frequent commenter, this clip on Bourdain confessing that he now seeks to “capture how people go about their daily lives amid violent conflict” while filming Parts Unknown — ”

160912113331-parts-unknown-s8-card-large-169

As ‘Parts Unknown’ has evolved, it has become less preoccupied with food and
more concerned with the sociology and geopolitics of places Bourdain visits. . .
To viewers who complain that the show has become too focussed on politics, Bourdain responds that food is politics: most cuisines reflect an amalgamation of influences and tell a story of migration and conquest, each flavor representing a sedimentary layer of history.  He points out that most shows about food are premised on a level of abundance that is unfamiliar in many parts of the world.

Go Sam!  We all knew you were right to bring politics onto the website!

I’ve got a good one for my buddy Lee, who’s a firm believer in “if it doesn’t kill you it will make you strong” as he judges the edibility of some morsel that I question.  It’s a conversation of Bourdain’s with Stephen Werther, his partner in his new market project, and Stephen Alesch of Roman and Williams, the design firm which has agreed to work on the Market.  They are talking about those Asian food vendors again. “The new frontier for American tastes is fermentation. . . That’s funk. . . Aged steaks. . . Age is code for rot. .  . Cured.”

“Alcohol is the by-product of yeast,” Stephen Alesch chimed in.  It’s the
piss of yeast.”

“Basically , what we’re saying is that filth is good,” Bourdain concluded.

And I found one for me. Bourdain’s publisher Dan Halpern from Ecco and HarperCollins says of Bourdain —

“He can’t believe his luck. He always seems happy that he actually is Anthony Bourdain.”

I am so lucky too!

* * * * * * * * * *

Last night, after putting this post to bed for a quick review in the morning before publishing, the thought came to me that there was still more to do. Netflix streams Parts Unknown.  I watched the first episode, filmed in 2013, in Myanmar.   Bourdain presents an interesting, colorful travelogue, integrating the life of the people with the food of the country.   His dining companions spoke out loud, but guardedly, of their new freedoms. The story is out of date because the papers today are filled with atrocities against the Rohingya, and I was left wondering what his experience would be if he went back.   Bourdain seemed surprisingly uncomfortable in front of the camera.   I will watch more.