We can catch the same flight out tomorrow night

Our visit to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum engendered a bit of nostalgic feeling in me as the various manned space capsules on the main floor brought to mind my youthful interest in NASA's Gemini and Apollo programs.*  But it was washed away when I went upstairs and saw Tingmissartoq, the plane in which Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh flew the Great Circle Route to China in 1931.

Tingmissartoq is the name given the Lindberghs' plane by an Eskimo boy when
they landed in Greenland; it means "One who flies like a big bird".

Anne Lindbergh wrote about the experience in her book, North to the Orient, which I think is one of the best books ever in the travel by flight genre.  In fact, it got me started reading a number of other books about pioneering flight experiences.  And that made me realize how many people died in plane crashes, and that made me promise myself I'd never ever ever go up in a small plane, not even if you promised me a chocolate soda afterwards.  Not even if the chocolate soda was made of solid gold, because then I couldn't even drink it.

When I was in college, everybody and their grandmother was reading Bring Me a Unicorn, Lindbergh's first volume of her journals, covering her early college years.  I tried to read it a couple of times and kept falling asleep.  But North to the Orient is a beautiful and honestly written account by a skilled writer of a fascinating and adventurous flight in the early days of aviation.  So it was a bit of a thrill to see the actual plane that the Lindberghs flew in.

I will say that, because of North to the Orient, I went back and tried Bring Me a Unicorn one more time and enjoyed it enough to finish it.  I also read several other volumes of Lindbergh's journals, including my favorite, War Within and Without, which covers the years before and during World War II, and which, along with North to the Orient, is one of my all-time favorite books.  I recommend both.

I also saw The Spirit of St Louis at the museum, which was cool.  (And I also read the book, hereby recommended as well.)

*As I was writing this, I learned that Neil Armstrong died today.  That made me a little sad.


What a jaunt have I had

I think I might have talked about this before, but I wish there was a good word to describe someone who loves Shakespeare, at least a better word than the term "Bardolater".  First of all, I don't like it when people call Shakespeare "the Bard".  It's annoying.  Newspaper and magazine article writers are always saying annoying things like, "With Cymbeline, the Bard had apparently run out of ideas so the Bard went to the Bard's other plays and cherry-picked ideas from what the Bard had previously written."  Isn't that annoying?  And then to make it sound like people idolize the Bard, well, that's just silly.  Some people have used "Shakesfan", but I see problems with that one, too.

So, like any fan, if you're a Shakespeare lover (but you don't worship him even though you make pilgrimages to his birthplace and his grave, and you have a goal to see all his plays performed on stage), you tend to collect things related to your topic of interest, like mugs and t-shirts and dolls.

Ideally, and if one were fabulously wealthy, one would collect enough Shakespeare paraphernalia to fill a house, or even a large building.  But hardly anyone is that comfortably well off.  Among the few who are were Henry Clay Folger and his wife, Emily Jordan Folger.  Not only did they make trips to Europe to buy all the Shakespeare stuff they could get their hands on (and I'm not talking about mugs or t-shirts), they employed a book dealer named A S W (Acquire Shakespeare's Works?  Amass Shakespearean Writings?) Rosenbach to buy First Folios for them whenever they popped up on the rare book scene.  This was obviously back in the day when there was still a lot of Shakespeareana floating around in old, private libraries.  Pretty soon the Folgers' collection got so big, they decided to have a separate library built for it.  One thing led to another, and they acquired some land on which to build a library to house their collection across the street from the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, but Henry Folger died just after construction began in 1928.  Then the Great Depression came and his estate could no longer afford the total cost.  Emily Folger pitched in a few of her own millions, and her time and effort, and the Folger Shakespeare Library finally opened in 1932.

There are 228 known extant copies (out of about 750 originally printed) of the First Folio, and 82 of them are in the Folger Library.  That's like 36% of the extant copies.  (And there are 36 plays contained in the First Folio.  Make of that what you will.)  But 82 copies of the First Folio!  Not to mention all the quartos.  And all the other pre-1641 English literature.  And all the other thousands and thousands of books and manuscripts from other eras.  That's quite a collection the Folgers put together.  Naturally, if one is a Shakespeare lover, one counts the Folger Shakespeare Library as one of The Places to Go, at least if one happens to be in the vicinity of Washington, DC.  So, after our visit to the Library of Congress, and at my instigation (although Gary and Adrien were perfectly willing), we went to the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Of course, we had no library cards, so we couldn't go into the actual library.  Instead, we went into the exhibition hall, or Great Hall, as they call it.  There was a pretty fascinating exhibit there called "Fame, Fortune, & Theft:  The Shakespeare First Folio", about the history of the First Folio and public response to it, including how some copies have been rebound or otherwise abused (and thereby almost destroyed).  One previous owner even bleached his copy.  Don't ask me why.  Part of the display contained information about a Folio that was stolen from Durham University in 1998 and then sent to the Folger Library in 2008 to be appraised, and about how the Folio scholars who examined it figured out that it was the stolen copy.  As we examined the displays, Adrien and I thought it would be interesting to write a mystery story about an extremely valuable manuscript that people were being killed for.  The biggest mystery was how to make it not sound anything like a Dan Brown novel.

The Grand Hall itself was rather impressive, having been built in the Tudor style with "oak-paneled walls", according to the pamphlet I picked up, "terra cotta floor, and strapwork plaster ceiling."  We were duly impressed, even though we had no idea what strapwork was.

After touring the hall, we went into the adjacent theatre to wait for a tour of the hall.  (I guess we did things a little bit backwards.)

The tour, I'm sorry to say, wasn't very good.  The tour guide didn't have her notes because, as she told us about three times in as many minutes, she had just got back from overseas.  What does that have to do with it, I wondered?  Did she leave her notes in Europe or something?  Or maybe she meant she had just got back from Europe and had come rushing over to the library from the airport.  She also mentioned a number of times that the Shakespeare coat of arms was carved into or painted on the ceiling of the Great Hall.  She said that William Shakespeare got the coat of arms because his father had tried to, but the right to have it was taken away from him.  So this guy in the group asked why or how the right could be taken away, and she said she didn't know (her answer was apparently still in her luggage) but asked if anyone else did.  So I (uncharacteristically) piped up to explain the situation with the Shakespeare coat of arms as best I could to a group of people who didn't want any details unless they came with music and juggling clowns.  Which means they lost interest after about 10 seconds, partly because someone suddenly opined that the Shakespeares were secret Catholics, which seemed to open the door to several conspiracy theories, none of which cast light on the question of the Shakespeares' coat of arms.  Having been a substitute teacher, I could tell by the look in people's eyes (sort of like how a fish looks at you while lying on its side on a bed of ice in the meat department at the grocery store) that I ought to wrap up the coat of arms explanation in an expedient manner, and I managed to do so quite handily, having spoken for all of about 30 seconds.*  Such was the inquiry into the facts of Shakespeare's life in the Great Hall of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Anyway, we continued our tour and saw the displays for the second time around.  We also got a peek (through a curtained glass window) at the famous Reading room, where Scholars go to do Research amongst the Books and Manuscripts so they can write about their Theories of Shakespeare's Life and Works.  When we moved on, Gary lagged behind and started taking video of the Reading Room.  A guard materialized out of air, out of thin air, and told him photography was not allowed.  Gary pointed out that there was no signage to that effect.  The guard apologized for the lack of public instruction and reiterated, kindly but firmly, that "no photography was allowed".  Gary put his camera away and caught up with us.

The last item of interest was Emily Folger's own office, located down a hallway off the Great Hall.  Everything is kept pretty much as she left it (she passed away in 1936).  I think it's interesting to note that (as far as I have been able to determine) Emily Folger became interested in Shakespeare through her husband, but furthered that interest herself and received an MA from Vassar in 1896 for her thesis on "The True Text of Shakespeare".  She also received an honorary doctorate from Amherst after the Library opened.

We soon left the library behind us, and I was content to have seen so many First Folios in one place.  We walked for a while I knew not where, and I was lost in thoughts of what a cool job it would be to be paid by someone to buy rare books for them, when I suddenly saw a sight that jolted me out of my reverie.  It was the Shakespeare Theatre Company!

As a Shakespeare lover, I had subscribed to the Shakespeare Newsletter (back when it was interesting, before one of the editors passed away and the other one quit) and had read reviews of many interesting productions put on by the Shakespeare Theatre Company.  I wished that I could have seen a play there, but alas, it was not to be.  Still, it was a nice way to conclude our excursion to one of the most important Shakespeare-related sites in the US.

[*Basically, it wasn't an issue of the right being given and then taken away; it was more a question of whether the Shakespeares had the right to begin with.  Shakespeare's father was trying to improve the family socially and enquired into the coat of arms when things were going well, but then he fell on hard times and nothing came of it.  Oh!  They fell on hard times because everyone found out he was a secret Catholic!  And so on.  Back on track:  William Shakespeare later finished the process and the coat of arms was granted, but then someone challenged it because he didn't think they deserveditbutthechallengedidn't holdupsotheygottokeepit!

At the end there, I felt sort of like Bugs Bunny talking to the greyhound hare.]

Next stop:  the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum!


So I see you survived Washington

I’ve been to some pretty interesting literary sites this summer and I was going to write about them, but I realized I never wrote about the pretty interesting literary sites I went to last summer.   Most of the pretty interesting literary sites I went to last summer are in Washington, DC.  Some of them are obviously literary, like this bookstore.

I didn’t actually go here.  We passed by, and I thought it looked pretty
interesting, but certain people I was with were in kind of a hurry.

Some are less obvious, but I think you’ll get the connection.

Gary, Adrien, and I started out by touring the Capitol building.  While we were there getting drinks of water and waiting to go through the secret underground tunnel that leads to the Library of Congress, I overheard some children talking to their parents.  One of them, a boy about 9 or 10 years old, said, "Remember in National Treasure, he goes to buy a copy of the Decoration of Independence from the gift shop and it cost $35? Well in this gift shop it only cost $4!"  Like you’d think someone as familiar with the byways of the Capitol as Benjamin Gates was would know where the bargain souvenirs were sold.   And I'll probably call it the Decoration of Independence from now on. 

Soon enough, we took the secret tunnel and found ourselves in the Library of Congress.   

The walls and ceilings of the Library of Congress look like how I imagine the inside of my brain does when I think about my favorite authors and books:  so colorful and symbolic and really kind of overwrought and frenetic because you just can’t leave even a single impression alone. 

 I kind of wish this was my bedside lamp.

There were various displays in the library, but we didn’t have time to see them all because we only had about an hour and a half to spend there.   We saw Thomas Jefferson's original book collection, or what's left of it after it was partially destroyed in a fire in 1850-something.  No photography was allowed.  I can understand no flash photography, but not no photography at all.  Jefferson had a very interesting system for organizing his books.  I don’t think I’d use it, though, because his categories don't quite cover what I have in my library.  For instance, there's not a single steampunk novel in his entire collection.  Anyway, Jefferson’s library is probably the thing I like best about the man.  I’m a John Adams fan, myself.

We also saw a display of Civil War photographs, and of early Maya, Aztec, Mixtec, and Inca artifacts and documents.  No photography allowed.  Some of the documents were created by the Spaniards themselves when they first came into contact with those cultures.  Adrien said she wanted a Maya codex really bad.  So if you ever see one, get it for her, please.  

We wanted to see their copy of the Gutenberg Bible, but it was off display while they were working on the fire suppression system within the case.  I was a little disappointed, but I've seen Gutenberg Bibles at the Huntington and the British Library so I wasn't enraged.  

We also went upstairs to the Reading Room overlook which you may recall from the movie National Treasure 2 No photography allowed.  But that didn’t stop Adrien.

Next stop:  the Folger Shakespeare Library!


Do you want to talk about the Olympian ideal?

I’ve been watching the Olympics for the last few days.  I like the Olympics all right, especially the swimming and track & field events, and I have a special interest in rowing because my uncle won a gold medal in the men’s eight during the 1948 Olympics. 

The USA men's eight rowing team plus coxswain (my uncle is fourth from the right)

While I was watching, I started thinking about an intellectual equivalent to the Olympics, specifically one related to books.  I don’t know if there is anything like that.  Sure, they give prizes to people for writing books, but we don’t see them competing against each other in any immediate way, sitting at tables all in a row, furiously scribbling or tapping away at keyboards.  And what about all the other book-related activities out there in the world?  What about proofreading and editing and reviewing and stocking shelves and remaindering?  What about quoting favorite passages?  What about naming all the Newbery award-winning authors in order of the year they won?  Why can’t we reward people who excel in those activities?  I haven’t really worked it all out in my mind, but I think some of the sports could be:

Equestrian:  Contestants name all the books by Marguerite Henry as fast as they can.

Selling:  Contestants vie to sell the greatest number of books that are neither romance nor mystery novels to someone planning a beach vacation.

Wading (instead of Swimming):  Contestants wade through horridly written stuff.  Imagine the thrill of watching them flip through page after page of tripe!  However, since most of the horridly written stuff goes right to e-publication, I don’t know how interesting it would be to watch someone holding a Nook or a Kindle and flicking their finger once in a while.  This event needs some development, that’s for sure.  At any rate, it could be followed immediately by:

Recycling:  Upon finishing the Wading competition, contestants run the manuscripts of horridly written stuff through shredders and then take it all to the nearest recycling center.

Double skulls: Paired contestants engage in tandem recitations of the gravedigger scene from Hamlet.

Other possible events could include paperweight lifting, fountain pentathlon, and shooting.  

And I’d really like to see a contest where someone quotes a line from a novel or story and then their partner has to provide the correct following line.

What is your own opinion?