Ever get 'shhhsssed' in a foreign language?
I’ve been thinking a lot about libraries, lately. When most of us travel, we tend to spend our time visiting castles and cathedrals and ruins. And I’m no different.
However, when possible, I like to visit libraries in foreign countries.
One of my Red Hat friends is traveling to Egypt this month. When she mentioned her pending trip, my first thought was of the library in Alexandria. Not the pyramids, not the Nile, not the Valley of the Kings but the library in one of my most favorite cities in the world.
“You have to visit Alexandria to see the library,” I told her.
I’d been to Egypt once before I traveled there in 2006. Alexandria had not built a new library yet at the time of my earlier journey. When I took a train from Cairo to Alexandria on my second visit, the first place I headed for was the famous new library I’d heard about.
My curiosity had the better of me since I hadn’t seen any pictures of the building. Would the library be typical of the ancient architecture of Cleopatra and Antony’s day? Would it be similar in design to a mosque? Would it be ornate?
And then I saw the library.
My first reaction was that I now knew why I hadn’t seen pictures before. A magnificent structure stood before me, modern in design, unbelievable in contours and shapes and various heights. There was no way to take a picture that could display what the eye saw. Not even from the air.
Inside the Alexandria library, the same feeling of the exterior’s breathtaking design prevailed. Believe it or not, with this unusual interior architecture, I could find the books with ease. I didn’t want to leave.
When I first started my literary agency 36 years ago, I left my home in San Andreas and hopped a plane to New York City to visit publishing houses. The trip proved fruitful, as far as my business was concerned. The best part of the trip, however, was the day I spent in the New York City Library. For a writer and a reader, it was heaven.
On my first of many trips to London, I immediately sought out the British Library. That wasn’t hard since my bed-and-breakfast was four blocks away.
What is it about libraries that can be so magical? I told my grandchildren when they were young that books were precious. They shouldn’t throw them on the floor or tear the pages. They should keep them forever. Maybe that’s why my books will soon force me out of my office as I continue to bring more books home I think I can’t live without.
I remember many of the ruins I saw in Ephesus, Turkey, but two of them stand out above all the others. One is the plumbing system they had in Ephesus, the city where Virgin Mary spent her last years and where she was buried. And the other is the spectacular two-story marble library built in the midst of the many buildings in Ephesus.
I often wish I could find out if people had been free to roam the galleries where the scrolls and books were stored in wall recesses. Could the people read at their leisure or check out books and scrolls to take home? Those remaining walls must have many stories to tell, having been built in 114 AD.
I walked by several libraries during my last visit to Florence, Italy - the medieval building in the Medici-Riccardi Palazzo and the Biblioteca di Micelozzo in the San Marco Cathedral Museum, both not far from our apartment. They spoke of Italy in every stone, every beam, every ancient door.
Once, while touring Israel, Lebanon and Greece, we stopped at Crete and the city of Knossos, built in 2000 BC. I remember the bright tiles in the palace rooms depicting scenes from that era on floors, walls and ceilings. Some of the rooms were not labeled as having had a particular use. I’ve often thought that in such a splendid building, the Minoans must surely have had a library.
In America, many cities are fortunate to have Carnegie Libraries, like we do in Lincoln. The architecture is so distinguishable, that no matter the size, one can always recognize the design. I hope most cities have not destroyed their Carnegie buildings so they’ll become a part of America’s history, like the magnificent libraries in Alexandria, Florence, London, Ephesus, New York, and maybe even in Knossos?