Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Longing for...

...the Library.

We were driving in this morning along Oxford Street at the eastern edge of downtown Berkeley. As we crossed the intersection of Allston Way and Oxford Street I was seized with a moment of nostalgia for the hours I spent with my nose deep in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in the reference room high atop the main branch of the Berkeley Public Library. Generally speaking, at times like that I should've been in class at Berkeley High School a block to the west, but why bother? There was nothing compelling in class, but the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, there was a treasure house of strange facts and fuel for the RE Howard knockoffs I was continually starting and never finishing. I could wander into the reference room, grab one of the volumes of the chronicle and instantly find myself in some west British swamp in the year 733, clutching a battle axe and waiting for sounds of the approaching enemy. Having survived the resulting melee, I would then be surveying the Severn Estuary from the north coast of Cornwall, on the lookout for Irish pirates. How could algebra possibly be more fun than that, I ask you? Yes indeed. Thus the agony and confusion of being a socially inept teenager afflicted with acne and fear was swept away.

I have happily left behind that kind of agony and confusion, but the nostalgia remains. Just the impact of that total escape is nearly impossible to recreate now, and there are moments when I could really use it for just a little while. Libraries are not at all the same around here. The mustiness is gone, which some would say is a good thing, but not if you fancy yourself to be a character in a Lovecraft story, studying certain rare and arcane formulae. You need the smell of dust and old wood, and the creepy quiet of the darkest corner of the reading room. You need grey, silent people padding about. You can't reach that place in a modern, mechanised, computerised place like the library at Cal. Perhaps I'll wander downtown one of these days and see if they even still have the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. I can't really go back, but I might catch a glimpse. That might be good enough.

8 Comments:

Blogger Roy said...

Were there any flaxen-haired Saxon wenches? I have a particular weakness for them.

9:28 AM  
Blogger Harry said...

Dozens of them, along with raven haired beauties with fierce blue eyes...Garn! Harhar! Bring forth the mead!

9:33 AM  
Blogger Don said...

http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/OMACL/Anglo/

Not quite the same, is it.

9:54 AM  
Blogger Harry said...

Indeed, it isn't anything like the same. Still, I was there when:


"A.D. 733. This year Ethelbald took Somerton; the sun was
eclipsed; and Acca was driven from his bishopric."

9:59 AM  
Anonymous Wiggy said...

Oh my, Harry, what a wonderful post.

Your nostalgia for the mustiness of that library reminds me of mine when revisiting the Stanford campus to take my kids around to see colleges. Stanford had remodeled the ol' Green Library where I had gone many times in those college days to escape my fears of academic ineptitude (well-founded, I might add).

I was horrified to find that modernism had replaced those ancient low-ceilinged floors filled with aisles and aisles and aisles - long, cool, and delightfully musty - of shelves and shelves and shelves of long forgotten books.

Such a bummer.

10:51 AM  
Anonymous Wiggy said...

low-ceilinged floors

That sounds REALLY odd. But, truly, each floor (meaning 2nd floor, 3rd floor...) had very low ceilings - 7 foot ceilings as opposed to 8ers - making the aisles feel like coal-miners' tunnels.

1:29 PM  
Blogger Harry said...

Wiggy, it doesn't sound THAT odd. In fact, it was the perfect phrase. I knew exactly what you meant. Sounds like a great place, even if it is Stanfurd. ;-)

4:37 PM  
Anonymous Wiggy said...

Go Bears!

I'm so disloyal to my alma mater now that I have a daughter at Cal.

And it is spelled S-n-o-d-f-a-r-t, anyway. ;-)

2:15 AM  

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