Visiting the Library

We walked across the fields on the sandy path.  The fields were rolling and grassy and the grass was short from the sheep grazing.  The cattle were up in the hills.  We heard their bells in the woods.

Everything good to the person happens after dark.  It’s like the secret real lives of people are nocturnal and rouse and rest with regularity to the murmur of lunar rhythms.  I have a theory about this.  It’s somehow too harsh, too difficult to face up to the raw self during the day.  There are destinations to rush to, people to meet, business to attend to: easier alternatives.  But as the night creeps those agendas decrescendo like the echoes of last night’s club.  Then there are no other choices…

So what’s new?  There is a divide between my life in written pages and in the real world. Hemingway and Rand (still slowly slogging through!) paint a world where meaning arises from simplicity.  Of purpose–of design.  But then through interaction with people you are confronted by the stain-specked reality, the ‘network of intersecting lines’, pipes bent and tangled over one another, staircases every-which way leading insistently to unexpected orientations.  I don’t know, this territory has all been tilled before.

It’s a damn good time meeting people.  I always like a good talk with someone with their own ideas.  When I first came here there was this insecurity–will I meet people who are like I am? with whom I’ll identify and call my friend? but that sea is calming.  I have met people I like and people whom I am less fond of.  I’ve relied on the kindness of strangers to an inordinate degree to survive.  The ‘gimme sympathy’ tone of voice has worked out surprisingly well in lowering prices when I find that my pocket change is short.  But then, there is almost no financial aid here for uni students, so perhaps a particular culture of sympathy has arisen to support a class of people who are reliably, consistently penniless.  Yes, those sentences should have been parenthetical.

Because people are tautologically social, you have certain needs for friendship apart from the educational value of meeting diverse minds.  But I try not to want anything too much these days. But that’s a bad characterization, because if you want nothing it would appear that you’ve lost something essentially human.  The trick I’m trying to master is wanting things with human earnest but avoiding ‘human’ disappointment when my expectations are frustrated.  On the one hand doublethink, on the other a natural emanation of the philosophy of yielding:

Men are born soft and supple.
Dead they are stiff and hard.
Plants are born tender and pliant.
Dead they are brittle and dry.

Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible is a disciple of death.
Whoever is soft and yielding is a disciple of life.
–The Tao

It turns out the only two books which can be fit into my coat pockets are the Tao and my personal journal.  When I have my bag on me Fiesta comes along too.

Photos are a no-no in The British Library so I tried to see very vividly for subsequent reference. I remember passing on my way an ornate building that climaxed in a steeple which had great white columns fitted in recesses in the brick facade at ground level and thinking: Roark would have hated these columns.  When you enter the library you are immediately distracted by security guards who ask to search your bag and feel suspiciously for objects of bulk.

‘I have a camera in there,’ I said.

‘What kind?’



(I was a student.)

From the foyer you can tell that it will be a confusing building.  The spaces are irregular: the architect has forgotten the use of right angles and the all-important rectangle, and when you wander through the exhibits later you will find that the structure has been carved into unique sections, all kinds of interesting shapes, such that each hollow comes to resound of its own character.  The thick columns separating the security area from the centered information desk are beige, as are the steps that lead to the mezzanine and seesaw down to the lower level.  You feel the thick columns.  They are the texture of smooth concrete dotted with irregular pock marks.  In the distance opposite rise up parallel tiers of balconies overlooking the mezzanine. From there doors which match the wall color lead to collections.  The balconies and balustrades are pure white, but stretching above the narrow white shafts of the balustrades are handrails cast from rich brown brass.  The chatter of people and footsteps on hard floor reverberate.  In the middle of everything is a large square glass box rising from bottom to top which contains a collection of old works in matching hard covers.  The glass is green and has been polished spotless.  Lining the left and right walls of the mezzanine are busts of men important to the founding and funding of the library.  There are no windows.  The lighting is diffuse and in good taste.

Three display items I really liked:

1– The handwritten manuscript of the Barcarolle.
2– The manuscript of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland which Dodgson spent two years writing and illustrating by hand.
3– The oldest surviving copy of Beowulf.

I was studying at the London Met library later on and they were giving away copies of SPSS tutorials.  My first thought: is this heaven, or something better?


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