Tuesday, July 26, 2011

That Old LIbrary Smell

Things are different now in libraries. For the past ten years or so, out area libraries have been on a building spree, erecting very large spaces. And I mean, very large spaces, in which the shelving looks a bit lost and meager. High ceilings, vast staircases, miles of carpeting, and snack bars. Jusst in time for the revolution in reading materials, libraries are dedicating enormous spaces for traditional books. Many of them are also mounting tax levies for the voters, come November. They all had lots of money for their expansion, but now they need more dough for operations. I am all for libraries staying in operation, no matter what kinds of reading, or information resources they are going to handle, but I think it would have been a good idea to have more foresight, both in the financial end of things and in the future of reading material. There is a whole new generation of people, many of whom don't read at all, and those who do, use E-readers and God only knows what technology may change that.
But what I miss most of all is that library smell which permeated the smaller, more compact spaces which used to comprise the buildings of old. It hit you when you walked in, a combination of paper, cardboard, glue,  dust, maybe the homeless in the periodical section, and on rainy days, ,wet wool. It gave off an aura of BOOKS, lots of BOOKS and primed one for the fun of finding just the one that would take you some place you'd never been. 
I loved the library i n Springfield, Ohio. It was a Richardsonian stone building, with a tower which led  to the children's room, named for Lois Lenski who had spent her childhood in that town. I loved her historical fiction about pioneers, Indian captives, New England small towns and adventurous and brave children. Our library in Atlanta, called the Wren's Nest because it was near the same named home Joel Chandler Harris, was basically a storefront and it was my first library and I loved it, but the ambiance of the one in Springfield was just so satisfying. The main reading room did have a fireplace and high ceiling which was later divided into a second floor.There were exciting glass floors in the non-fiction and reference sectionwhere my sister and I would get out Eveybody's Favorite Music books from which we would manage to murder some of the classics. (I shouldn't say that about her; she played very well.)
Summer was a great time for going to the library. Since  we were pretty  much library kids, we never got  into the Nancy Drew books, since librarians apparently  looked down on them, but we  made up for it with mysteries by Augusta Huell Seaman, in which almost every story seemed to have its roots in the Lost Dauphin of France or the Princes in the Tower. They were very old fashioned books and we loved them. When we were older we got hooked the the "Jalna" series, which had been popular in the twenties.  They were a multigenerational saga about a Canadian family, covering over a hundred years. There were scandals, chaste romances, births and deaths and we just dove into them.  We devoured books by Richard Halliburton, who was an adventurer who traveled all over the world and did exciting things, or supposedly did exciting things. I think he was later revealed as one who embroidered his adventure a bit, but he knew how to tell a good story. All these books had that library smell, mainly because most of them were already pretty old by the time we got to them. We did go outside in the summer, swimming,  biking and hanging out with friends, but there was many a day when the only sound in the house was of pages turning.
I have nothing against new libraries, and I know that they are still places to make discoveries and a wonderful asset to a community, a valuable resource for adding to the quality of life. They just don't smell like books any more.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Doing Things

The Blossom Chamber  Music concerts have started up again, but this year there are only six concerts cornets instead of nine, and I have already missed two of them. It usually runs through the second week of August, so I thought I had time. Rats! At any rate , I did get to one student concert and one faculty concert, both of which were splendid indeed. The faulty consists of regular KSU music department folks and Cleveland Orchestra players. The Miami String Quartet is the resident quartet at the university and they are outstanding. They did a "Death and the Maiden" that was just so moving ya wanted to die. They will be doing two more concerts  and the students will be doing three more. I imagine the shortening of the summer sessions is for financial reasons, since the arts are in peril at this university now. Gotta give the president his obscene bonuses for just doing his damn job. Don't get me started.
Went over to the Akron Art Museum to see the Paula Nadelstern kaleidoscope quilts, a series of phenomenal works which look like paintings. I found out that her fabrics, which almost look embroidered, are from Liberty of London, with such sumptuous designs and colors that you are mystified by how she blends and marches patterns. She also uses brilliant silks and dyes. Her quilts are a made of myriads  of tiny pieces, and according to the catalog, she makes them at her kitchen table in her Bronx apartment. Along with her quilts, the museum is displaying artist made kaleidoscopes, so you can look and watch the shifting designs that inspired the quilt artist.
The other show is a selection of works collected by the Vogels, that couple form New York who started collecting works by New York artists back in the 60s. They've been written up in magazines and newspapers because they don't fit the mold of most collectors. He worked at the post office;  she was a librarian. They have given their multimillion dollar collection to the Notional Art Gallery in D. C., and this show is a small portion. It's mostly very minimalist, installation dependent stuff that interests me not at all. My favorite is a seines of water color blobs on notebook paper, the three hole kind, torn out of the notebook and framed simply. Dozens of them lined up in a long row. Red, Blue Yellow,Green, Aqua. Blobs. Now valuable, only because the Vogels collected them? I guess I'm a Philistine.
Went to see "Tree of Life." At the beginning, it looks it looks like one of the most pretentious films ever. I am a Terry Malick fan, ever since "Badlands ' and "Days of Heaven," so I stuck with it. It's uses sort of an indirect storytelling scheme, when the characters muse, whisper and do very little communicating with each other or the viewer directly. It reminded me of the early New Wave French films of the 60s, in that you sort of have to construct the story yourself. The young actors in it are so good and can use their faces and bodies to convey both thoughts emotions better than most adults. It's not a terrific movie, but I became absorbed in the family and their dynamics. "Days of Heaven" is much better and one of the most beautiful movies ever filmed. I did see some previews which look promising for the coming fall season.
Went to see the last harry Potter movie. I had not seen part 1, but it didn't matter. I have not read the books. I started the first one, expecting E. Nesbit and C.S. Lewis, but did not and quit reading after about 30 pages. But I must say I have loved the movies and this one was very, very good. Lots of CGI, of course, and noisy booing and things going up in flame and all creepy crawly creatures, etc. but very much fun and exciting and Alan Rickman turned out not to be such a bad guy. Interestingly, the audience was almost all adults and they applauded at the end.
In between all this, my fellow spellers and I participated in a spelling bee over in the Falls at the library. It was the worst bee I have ever been in. The person could not pronounce half the words, she did not have the origin or the definition of the words and it was painful. Our champion speller won, as she always does. She is amazing. I ran afoul of "idiosyncrasy," throwing in a "c" instead of an "s" at the end.
I outlasted  a  couple other spellers who got stuck with really hard words and mispronunciation on the part of the pronouncer...ot mispronouncer.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Contemplating Felineacide

Dupree Danticat is driving me nuts. Since John is away, he is missing him, manifesting itself in melancholy yowling and manipulating me with his food. I open a can of Fancy Feast whatever, and he will scarf it down --for a while. Then it just sits on the plate and spoils, while he roams around the house yowling for more food. So I give him some new food, which he nibbles on and then abandons. What he likes at 8 a.m. he no longer likes at 11 a.m. Sometimes if I wait him out, he'll eat it. But sometimes he won't and complains in his Siamese-y yowl until I have to throw things at him. It's like having a two year old kid back in the house.
When he's not yowling he sits on my lap and stares at me while I'm trying to read. Very high maintenance, he is. He's older than I am, in cat years, and his teeth hurt and all, but he is very hard to live with these days. He is relentless and I am very tired of him.

Monday, July 11, 2011


A dear old friend died yesterday. Harriet Begala was ninety and had been in poor health for most of last year. She had moved into an assisted living center, a very nice one, but it was not her home. She had to leave her beautiful apartment in the Silk Mill, where she had been the first and only tenant for many months. It is an enormous old mill building alongside the Cuyahoga River in downtown Kent. Some early Kent entrepreneurs had tried to start a silk business there, importing worms from Japan and planting mulberry trees. Everything died and it went through a variety of businesses for over a hundred years before being left empty, until being bought by Jim Arthur, who set about restoring it and turning it into luxury apartments.
When she had to leave the house that she and Joe had built some 47 years ago, she was determined to live the way she wanted to. She called Jim, whose building was still in the midst of restoration, and told him she wanted an apartment as soon as one was available. She moved in as soon as the apartment was finished. When I would enter the almost empty building and ride the elevator up to her 4th floor aerie, I marveled at her courage on living in this vast structure pretty much by herself. She loved it. She made it beautiful, as she did with anything she touched, with her paintings, antiques and two silky cats, Tula and Bingo. She loved to entertain, to get a group of friends singing around the piano. I remember her once singing "Solvig's Song" from Peer Gynt in her old, sweet voice. Among the art on the walls were woodcuts she made many years ago of Norwegian folk figures from her Scandinavian heritage.
She was a woman of many sides: born in Norway, coming to adulthood in California and maturity in Kent, Ohio, her final home and the place which owes so much to her community activism. (Pictures of her as a young woman show the ultimate California blond, the girl in the in the white swim suit on the beach.) She used to say that she'd always be an outsider here, but I think that sense ended many years ago as the community caught up with what she was trying to change for the good. One of the founders of the Kent Environmental Council, which she and other began by picking up trash along the river, organizing a viable and vital group which has made Kent a leader in the movement. During the Viet Nam War, she was involved in the peace movement, which culminated in her enthusiastic support of George McGovern running his campaign here and in Akron. She was tireless, she was demanding, she was an idealist who didn't just dream, but acted and worked her and everyone else' butts off with great hope. It was a pleasure to work with her because of her enthusiasm and there were always plenty of laughs.
It's hard to describe her sense of humor. Quirky? She loved to tease and play little jokes. She had a record of the inimitable Florence Foster Jenkins, which she would have Joe play, and would tell the listeners that is was she, and just knew they would like it. Watching their stunned faces gave her great amusement. A few years ago, she startled a rather stuffy doctor by serenading him with "Darktown Strutters' Ball" as she lay on the examining table. Told me I should have seen his face. She decided one day that she and I should speak German at one of the KEC's breakfast meetings. Both of our German speaking abilities were minimal, so I declined and she said I was a spoilsport.
She could be blunt. She and the late Pam Quinn and I used to go out to dinner once a month, choosing a different place each time, not always successfully food wise. One spring evening, when she picked me up, she commented that I was all wrinkly, and said the same to Pam when she joined us. It turns out hat the weather had turned warm and both of us had pulled out summer clothes without bothering to iron them. So we were wrinkly and she let us know that she didn't approve. She was always turned out perfectly, favoring the blues and yellows that went with her coloring. Never a wrinkle.
The accompanying pictures were her pride and joy. She met Barack Obama at a conference in Cleveland back  in 2006. In the first picture she is telling him that he will be president some day. When she came back from that meeting, she called the local paper to tell them what she had said to him. Two years later, she was not able to do her usual work on her campaign, but she was there, doing what she could and was thrilled with his election.
When Harriet had to leave her beloved apartment and move into assisted living, she was able to take some paintings and antiques, but had to give up Tula and Bingo, her furry companions and comfort. I know she grieved for them, but she became a presence at the center and made the best of things. I was amazed and impressed by her ability to adapt. This past year her health declined and her son moved her up to the Cleveland area. I never had a chance to say goodbye, which I regret, but she will always be in my thoughts and in the thoughts of many, many people whom she influenced so positively and in the quality of life in this community which she and her colleagues have spent their time improving.
Her body may no longer live, but her spirit certainly buzzes around this city.