Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Further LA restaurant recommendations:

#1 Real Food Daily. Very good vegan food. I recommend the "not-chos" and the veggie burger. My dining companions were very enthusiastic about the hemp "ice cream" which tasted a lot like chocolate ice cream. (I myself am not a big chocolate fan but I did appreciate the novelty--to me, anyway, of hemp ice cream.) Thanks to the faithful reader of this blog and distinguished perinatalogist who took me there last night.

#2 If you find yourself near the Century Plaza Hotel or the Westfield Mall and don't want to have lunch in the mall food court (although it may be the nicest mall food court in the world), cross Santa Monica Blvd (carefully) and try Clementine. Many thanks to the distinguished and methodologically astute historian of religion who took a group of us there two days ago. I had a very good tuna melt and side of roasted brussels sprouts.

#3 Similar to Clementine but more like a grocery store than a cafe is Joan's on Third. I enjoyed my salmon cake and roasted brussels sprouts there too (but I do have to say that the brussels sprouts were better at Clementine. But I thank the distinguished dermatologist and astute observer of the world who took me there with his delightful twin daughters on Saturday night.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Suzanne Vega

Listened to Suzanne Vega (WUMB #114), "Solitude Standing" (1987), while I drank my mid-morning coffee Friday and went through e-mails. I was in a Cathedral but could hear no bells.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Jimmy Buffet and Chris O'Brien

Yesterday's CD was Jimmy Buffet, "Jimmy Buffet Live! Feeding Frenzy" (1990)--that's what was in the Carnegie Library in Oakland yesterday. Mr. Margaritaville was #117 on the WUMB list. What can I say? It's Jimmy Buffet. This was a live concert recording and the opening bit where he channels Mel Brooks and/or Carl Reiner is strange--maybe it worked better on stage. With the wind blowing outside, this was not a bad accompaniment to dish-washing, flashlight checking, and reading.

My favorite song on the album was his version of "Jamaica Farewell" (aka "Kingston Town"), although overall I prefer Harry Belafonte.

Today's artist is #116 on the WUMB list--a relative newcomer, Boston-based singer-songwriter Chris O'Brien. He has two CD's out apparently but neither is in the Allegheny County library network. (He did play two concerts in Pittsburgh in the last year, though.) So I'm listening this morning to some of the sample songs on his website. So far, so good. Reminds me a little of Mark Erelli.

And a great line in his song "Rosa": "I'd have followed her to Boston." Now that's true love!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Singer of the Day: Priscilla Herdman

Priscilla Herdman comes in at #118 on the WUMB list.
CD: Daydreamer, 1993.

Children's songs in a folkish mode by Herdman and a number of others.
Listening at home now without the kids and enjoying it. Some cutesy stuff ("Ticklish Tom and Pickeldy Pie" but also a lovely version of "What a Wonderful World."

The WUMB Top 120 Project

A few weeks ago, WUMB in Boston released its list of the top 120 singers as voted by listeners on their website. A friend of ours and an excellent singer-songwriter was voted number 27. If you look at the list, you'll see he's in some pretty good company.

So I decided to print the list and try over the next few months to listen to at least one CD from each of the top 120... I won't go in exact order because I'm getting the CD's from the public library system and not all are available at the same time.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Two good restaurants in LA

Just got back from a short trip to LA for a small workshop. We had two excellent dinners at:

Jitlada Thai

and La Seranata de Garibaldi

Jitlada seems like it would be a well kept secret except that apparently (as my friend in LA who reads more periodicals than I do--which is quite a feat--tells me) has been discovered by LA's leading food writer.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

High turnout/low turnout?

I was voter 101 in my precinct at 3:20 pm today. Is that high or low for an off-year election with judge races and a mayoral race with an incumbent running?

A Chicagoan's View of Squirrel Hill

Always interesting to see what a visitor thinks about one's neighborhood:

He marvels at the mostly full storefronts. Good thing he came before Panera closed and Barnes and Noble announced their closing.

On the other hand: a kosher Dunkin' Donuts has opened. As an acquaintance said to me the other day--this is either great or terrible.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Happy New Academic Year

Many universities, including my own, begin today. And it is currently 65 degrees (F) and sunny here in Pittsburgh.

Let's hear from the Reverend Professor Simon Darcourt:

"Autumn, to me the most congenial of seasons: the University, to me the most congenial of lives. In all my years as a student and later a university teacher I have observed that university terms tend to begin on a fine day."

(Robertson Davies, The Rebel Angels, 1981).

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Some thoughts I had In Europe last week (in no particular order)

1. Europeans do not dress in special clothes to ride bicycles.

2. If you spend time in small cities in Italy and Germany where hardly anyone knows English and then go to Paris, it will seem like everyone in Paris is speaking English.

3. It is strange to find it easier to understand a 30 minute academic lecture in Italian than instructions on how to use the telephone in the hotel room.

4. There was more leg room in coach on my hour flight from Paris to Milan than on my seven hour flight from Pittsburgh to Paris.

5. It is possible to arrive too early for a flight in Europe.

6. I was upset when my train from Milan to Mantua was canceled and I had to wait two hours for the next one until I remembered that if a train from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia were canceled, one would have to wait until the next day for the next one.

7. Most people would not take a copy of every single newspaper available for free in the waiting area of the airport.

8. European airlines have not yet figured out how to cut costs like American airlines and I am happy about that. (This was a thought I had while reading my free copies of the International Herald Tribune, the Wall Street Journal Europe, the Financial Times, Le Monde, Le Figaro, Corriere della Serra, and El Pais in the Paris airport waiting for my flight to Milan.)

9. I will never master the subtleties of when to tip and how much to tip in Italy.

10. Mantua is a little hard to get to but tortelli di zucca makes it worth it.

11. I eat a lot of things at hotel breakfasts that I don't eat for breakfast at home.

12. Why do hotels put up environment-friendly notices advising guests to hang up towels that don't need to be replaced with a new one--and then fail to have enough hooks or bars to hang the towels?

13. It would be helpful to have the city map before getting to the hotel.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Slow news day at the Post-Gazette?

For this I have an RSS feed to the local paper?

Important breaking news here.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Bloomsday post redux

One of my favorite postings--in honor of Bloomsday 2006--here.

Given the Steelers and Penguins victories and the upcoming G20 summit, I am sure that Pittsburgh is the omphalos.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

More misc. frivolity

I jotted this down on a scrap of paper about a year ago and it turned up at the bottom of a pile of unfiled papers today. I think it may be my favorite sentence ever to appear in a movie review:

"Let me blunt: 'You Don't Mess with the Zohan' is the finest post-Zionist action-hairdressing sex comedy I have ever seen."
--A.O. Scott in the New York Times, June 6, 2008.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

In which I feel the urge to write a bad poem about a current news story...

On the contretemps over the Oxford Professorship of Poetry.

An unusual academic event; the press looks for a handle.
Trading in gossip; electioneering run amok; a scandal.
One is out for [alleged] impropriety.
The other resigns for the good of society.
I myself feel a distinct lack of piety.
The post is open again.
I nominate Gervase Fen.

Re-use, fix... if you have an in-home service plan

A few weeks ago, the screen on the Dell notebook I am currently typing on went a little crazy (wavy lines) and then blank. (A computer's version of a migraine?) I panicked. Then I turned on my wife's computer, went on-line, and followed the suggestion of someone on some website to plug the computer into an external monitor. I dragged the monitor from our old desktop to my desk, plugged in the computer and all seemed well, or at least, I could stop panicking because it clearly wasn't my hard drive dying.

Of course, I still had no screen. I was too busy then, in the middle of the semester, to deal with it, so I just worked on the external monitor for a few days until--out of the blue--the screen came back. So when it died again last week, I didn't panic. Instead I hooked up the trusty CRT and fiddled with the screen a little. And it came back soon enough. But when the screen did cut out again a day later, I did call Dell.

First pleasant surprise: I was on hold for about 5 minutes and the first human I spoke to could handle the whole call.

Second pleasant surprise: I figured that I would be told that the cost of fixing all this on a two-year-old laptop would be more than the cost of a new computer.

But I had forgotten that I had an extended in-home service plan. Today, my daughter and I watched a man take apart the entire computer at our dining room table, install a new motherboard and a new screen, and unscrew and screw about 6000 tiny screws in the process. Toward the end of this, he turned to me and said, I guess you have an extended service plan, huh? Yep, I said. Yes, he said, because if you didn't, this would be costing you somewhere around a $1000 for parts and labor.

Given that a new notebook costs somewhere around half of that, nobody without the service plan is going to repair the old computer. My guess is that Dell makes a good deal of money off the service plans. And I know that these service plans are usually a bad idea. But I have to say that I liked having the problem fixed without having to transfer all of my files to a new computer. Plus it was interesting to see the inside of the computer.

Monday, May 25, 2009

New Urbanism meet Old Suburbanism

In keeping with my late May tradition on this blog (see here for 2005 and here for 2007), I offer a few comments on urban planning and design.

I live not far from a new housing development called Summerset that bills itself as a "new traditional neighborhood." It's being built on a former slag heap, on the southern edge of Squirrel Hill, an old traditional neighborhood here in the East End of Pittsburgh. At the moment, it's accessible through only one entrance which is a short drive but a longish walk from the main routes through the neighborhood. One bus route runs into the development. The plan is to build out the main road of the development, Parkview Blvd, to a larger road, Brown's Hill Road, which has more bus routes, and is a short walk from shopping at the Waterfront (across the river in Homestead) and shopping in Greenfield, an adjoining neighborhood.

In addition, a new shopping complex, called Walnut Place, has recently been built at the future intersection of Brown's Hill Rd and Parkview Blvd and just a few yards from Old Brown's Hill Road where there is a larger senior-citizen housing complex. And construction work will begin soon on pedestrian and road improvements on Brown's Hill Road. See here for the Post-Gazette story.

Residents of Summerset will soon be able to walk out Parkview Blvd to Brown's Hill Road, catch a bus or walk into a Dunkin Donuts, a hair place, an IHOP, a fitness center, etc. Likewise, residents of southern part of Squirrel Hill and some parts of Greenfield will be able to walk down the hill to the same stores. And the more active seniors on Old Brown's Hill Road will be able to walk a short distance to those same stores and restaurants.

So far so good, right?

I decided the other day to take the short walk down the hill and see the new development and the pre-improvement streetscape. And I noticed one thing that disturbed: so far there is no clear pedestrian access to the Walnut Place shopping center from Brown's Hill Road. The only clear way in to both sides of the center is on an access road into the parking lots with no sidewalks. Now maybe, just maybe, the next phase of the plan will include pedestrian access from the adjoining streets--Brown's Hill Rd, Parkview Blvd, and Saline St (behind the complex). But I saw no evidence of this and the landscaping didn't give any indication that this is on tap.

In other words, residents of the "new traditional neighborhood" and the old traditional neighborhoods nearby will be able to walk to a traditional suburban shopping center and will have to walk through shrubbery or on a parking lot access road to approach the new stores and restaurants.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Information Literacy and the Nation

Lately, I've been trying to get students to appreciate the difference between gathering information and doing historical research that involves not only information gathering, but also interpretation.

This new book looks like it might help and it's on my reading list for the summer.

But one thing I might do next time I teach is start a conversation by asking students to comment on this brief exchange in the "Letters" section of this week's Nation (May 4, 2009, pp. 2,24--good luck finding it on-line):

A reader in New York writes:
"Christine Smallwood states that Elaine Showalter's book A Jury of Her Peers is the first literary history of American female authors... Frederick Ungar published American Womean Writers... [in the early 1980s]."

Elaine Showalter's response, quoted by Christine Smallwood:
"Jury of Her Peers is a narrative literary history, covering 350 years in twenty chapters and told by a single author with a point of view. The Ungar volumes, on the other hand, are critical reference guides comprising brief entries on many women writers, written by a range of contributors and arranged alphabetically."

Pittsburgh Symphony Rachmaninoff Festival Advisor Also Excellent Sales Rep

Saturday night, on our way to the finale of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Rachmaninoff Festival, my wife and I ate dinner at Christos, an excellent Greek restaurant in downtown Pittsburgh. The food is good (try the Jackie Onassis cake for dessert), but the most interesting part of the place in my view is how close the tables are to each other. At the beginning of our meal, two men sitting at the next table were having a lively and seemingly informed conversation about Rachmaninoff and other Russian composers of the twentieth century. Since we were nearly sitting in their laps, I couldn't help but overhear the conversation and wondered who they were. As one got up to pay the bill, I casually asked the one sitting down whether they were on their way to the concert.

It turns out that our (near) table companions were the artistic consultant and curator for the festival, Joseph Horowitz, and the classical music reviewer for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Mark Kanny.

Joseph Horowitz asked us--innocently and out of curiosity, I suppose--whether we were subscribers. We responded with guffaws. In fact, as we explained, we are subscribers, but have been debating whether to renew our subscription for next year. I pushed us to subscribe this year because I love orchestral music and despite our best intentions we just weren't getting organized to go to individual concerts. Three Fiddlesticks concerts (for kids) and two weekends at Tanglewood just wasn't enough for me. My wife--who has a much deeper classical music background than I do, by the way--likes orchestral music but prefers chamber music and also has felt that 6 or 7 classical concerts will crowd out other cultural events given our limited babysitting budget (she has been correct, actually). And we haven't even made it to all the concerts this year--we missed one because of a last-minute babysitter cancellation, another because of a last-minute kid illness. So in the last few weeks we have been close to a decision not to renew.

Then Joseph Horowitz, formerly of the New York Times and the Brooklyn Philharmonic, and leading American musicologist, asked another simple and presumably innocent question: how much were subscriptions? Well, we answered, our 7-concert series in the Heinz Hall bleachers (excuse me, the gallery) is about 200 for two tickets. It was at that moment that we realized that each concert was about $14 a person.

After Messrs. Horowitz and Kanny left us for the pre-concert talk and we dug into our spanakopita and stuffed peppers, we revisited the matter and concluded that a) we can spend $200 on a single shopping trip at Costco, Target, or Giant Eagle; and b) that even if we don't make it to every concert we can donate the unused tickets to the orchestra. We could also relieve my guilt feelings about not renewing the subscription during a recession.

Dear reader: on Monday I sent in the renewal form.

In other words, Joseph Horowitz not only put together an excellent Rachmaninoff Festival for the PSO and its audience, but also convinced at least two subscribers to renew.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Difdafti in mid-late February

What caught my eye on the new book shelf from roughly February 10 to earlier this week:

John Haldon, ed. A Social History of Byzantium (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009). Hardly any mention of Jews except for a brief mention of 12th-century Jewish silk weavers in one essay.

I've been interested in Margaret Mead for a while since I learned she was friendly with the founders of the progressive private school I went to as a kid and that she designed my fifth-grade social science curriculum, "MACOS" i.e. "Man a Course of Study," but we were in fifth grade so of course we called it "Mucus." So it was interesting to page through Nancy Lutkehaus, Margaret Mead: The Making of an American Icon (Princeton UP, 2008) which is not a biography of Mead (there are plenty of those) but an exploration of the history of (biography of) Mead's public image. No mention of my fifth-grade social studies curriculum, however.

I've noticed a lot of books on J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter lately. The one on the new book shelf a couple of weeks ago was Dedria Bryfonski, ed. Political Issues in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter Series (Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2009). Some of the essays criticize Rowling for portraying racism or classism which I find odd in that the authors seem to assume that representations of social inequality in literature represent an endorsement of such inequality. Perhaps one can make a case that we ought to avoid such representatons in children's literature, but I find the premise odd. Was Dickens in favor of "Dickensian" social conditions? In the case of the Harry Potter books, one of the most compelling aspects to my mind is the deftness with which Rowling portrays the magical world as very much like our own. The wizards and witches have to contend with bureaucracy, elitism, family squabbles, etc--just as we muggles do. One might say that the magical world seems behind our own in race relations (e.g. the treatment of the house elves; the notion of half-bloods) and social hierarchies--indeed much of the books' political atmosphere and major conflicts put me in mind of the politics of the 1930s and not the 1990s--but perhaps Rowling's implicit point is that the magicians are behind the muggles.... recall Mr. Weasly's fascination with muggle technology.

Leaving that aside (because I can't make a seamless transition), I also ran across:

Naftali Rothenberg, Wisdom of Love: Man, Woman, and God in Jewish Canonical Literature from the relatively new Academic Studies Press in Boston.

Nurit Stadler, Yeshiva Fundamentialism: Piety, Gender, and Resistance in the Ultra-Orthodox World (NYU Press, 2009) which my quick skim suggests is a remarkable ethnography. N.B. she means the "Ultra-Orthodox World" in Israel.

Jacob Neusner and Bruce Chilton, eds. The Golden Rule: The Ethics of Reciprocity in World Religion (Continuum, 2008). The collection of essays includes contributions on Zoroastrianism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Greco-Roman religion, in addition to biblical Israel, rabbinic Judaism and Christianity.

Carla Mazzio's The Inarticulate Renaissance: Language Trouble in an Age of Eloquence (UPenn Press, 2009) goes on my pile for later reading, especially ch. 1 with its intriguing title "The Renaissance of Mumbling." N. B. Mazzio means "The Inarticulate [English] Renaissance."

Still in the LC "PR" range: Ruth Mack, Literary Historicity: Literature and Historical Experience in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Stanford, 2009) suggests a rethinking of the development of historical consciousness.

A quick look at Tracy Davis, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Performance Studies (Cambridge UP, 2008) to see if it would offer insight into the popularity of "performance" as a concept in the humanities right now. The introduction has some comment on this.

Dan Diner's Lost in the Sacred: Why The Muslim World Stood Still now translated to English and out from Princeton UP (2009) is likely to be controversial and is something that I will return to for a more thorough reading later. The chapter on "Text and Speech" deals with the important (to my mind) question of orality and textuality.

Finally, there seems to be a renaissance of interest in the intellectual world of Rosenzweig, Benjamin, Scholem between the world wars. In the space of two weeks, three books have appeared:

Benjamin Lazier's God Interrupted: Heresy and the European Imagination between the World Wars (Princeton UP, 2008).

A new English translation of Stephane Moses (I can't make the accents work in Blogspot), The Angel of History: Rosenzweig, Benjamin, Scholem (Stanford UP, 2009). This was originally published in French in 1992.

And Asher D. Biemann, Inventing New Beginnings: On the Idea of Renaissance in Modern Judaism

And very soon, I understand, we will have Mara Benjamin's new assessment of Rosenzweig's Bible: Reinventing Scripture for Jewish Modernity (Cambridge, 2009, forthcoming)

With the publication of David Myers' assessment of "historicism and its discontents in German-Jewish thought" a few years ago (Reisisting History, Princeton, 2003) and with the Rosenzweig and Benjamin-Scholem industries experiencing no slowdown in production, our understanding of the interesting intellectual reflections by European Jews in the 1920s and 1930s has been enriched quite a lot in the last decade. The question of why this period is so fascinating is also of interest, but I'll save that for another day. (I should point out that Myers and Biemann are also interested in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries. I think there is a good case to be made for considering this longer time span in order to really assess the impact of WW1.)

Monday, February 23, 2009

A cautionary note

"More than ever Grant wondered with what part of their brains historians reasoned. It was certainly by no process of reasoning known to ordinary mortals that they arrived at their conclusions. Nowhere in life had he met any human being remotely resembling either Dr. Gairdner's Richard or Oliphant's Elizabeth Woodville."
Josephine Tey, The Daughter of Time, Scribner paperback edition, 1995, p.173.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


It occurs to me that I am not really a bibliomaniac, in the precise (clinical) sense.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Diary of a Bibliophile: My Trip to New York to see the Valmadonna Trust Library

The Valmadonna Trust Library is--without any doubt--the greatest private collection of early printed Hebrew books ever assembled. In size and scope, it also rivals the largest and most famous public collections of Hebrew books such as those of the National Library of Israel (formerly the Jewish National and University Library) in Jerusalem, the Bodleian Library at Oxford, the British Library in London , and the Jewish Theological Seminary Library in New York.

The collection is largely the product of a lifetime of collecting by one man, Jack Lunzer, a now-retired diamond 1merchant born in Antwerp. Mr. Lunzer’s wife’s family had assembled a moderately large collection of Hebrew books printed in Italy and he began to add to the collection starting in the 1950s, expanding the scope of the collection to include Hebrew books (and books in other languages with Hebrew type in them) from every place in Europe, Asia, and Africa that had a Hebrew printing industry.

The collection--now in the range of 13,000 books--has been housed for decades in the Lunzer home in London, available to scholars, but very much a private collection. I have known about the collection for several years from the footnotes of my colleagues and from conversations about books. I met Mr. Lunzer two years ago at a conference and a few weeks later received in the mail a photocopy of the opening pages from the first edition of Judah Halevi’s Book of the Kuzari, a twelfth-century philosophical text whose reception I had been researching.

Until last week, that is about what I knew of the collection. I should say, however, that I didn’t know the size of the collection. If you had asked me, I think I would have guessed that the collection consisted of a few thousand volumes, 3000 or 4000 at the most.

Tuesday February 10

I have an e-mail from David Wachtel, a librarian at the Jewish Theological Seminary and a consultant on Hebrew books to Sothebys, whom I’ve known for years. He wants me to publicize an exhibition of the Valmadonna Trust collection at Sothebys’ New York office on a blog I maintain for Jewish book studies. I open the attachments and am stunned to learn of the size of the collection, that it is being sold as one lot (I breathe a sigh of relief at the wisdom of the family not to break up this collection), and that the entire collection will be on view at Sothebys. How does one display 13,000 books?
I also learn that the asking price is $40 million and that Mr. Lunzer hopes that a major American library (like the Library of Congress) will buy it.
David tells me that it will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience to come see it. But who has time or money to go to New York.

Wednesday February 11

I post the information on the blog ( and continue my daily web-surfing. I come to the New York Times site and find Edward Rothstein’s review of the exhibition. The accompanying photos give me a sense of how the collection is displayed.

Thursday February 12
I’ve had an e-mail exchange with a colleague in Philadelphia over something else and I casually mention that the Valmadonna exhibit looks interesting and ask him whether he plans to go up to New York to see it. He replies that I ought to go--don’t spare any expense--for an absolutely “breathtaking” experience. He likens seeing this collection to seeing the whole of the Jewish people gathered in one place at one time. Hyperbole but I know this scholar well enough to take him seriously.

I broach the subject with my wife who is indulgent: check the frequent flier miles and the flights--maybe you can make a day trip, she says. She is right--we have oodles of USAir miles sitting around. As they cut back in Pittsburgh, what’s the use of hanging on to the miles? Lo and behold, I can go up for day trip on Sunday with direct flights. Last-minute ticketing costs an extra $50 but this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, right? Plus my wife’s parents are coming to town for the holiday weekend so I’m not leaving her all alone to deal with kids. I’m in.

Friday February 13
Second thoughts: who goes to New York for an afternoon to look at books?
I e-mail my sister and make lunch plans. She agrees I am nuts but she is my little sister and has known this for years. I e-mail a college friend and make plans to see him after the exhibit closes on my way back to the airport. He saw the article in the Times and thought of me, so he’s not entirely surprised. I notice that the Times article was one of the most e-mailed and worry that Sunday afternoon at Sothebys will be crowded. Then I remember that we are talking about a rare book exhibit--how crowded can it be?

Saturday February 14
Just before going to bed, I fill in the little box on Facebook with “Adam is going to New York tomorrow to look at 13,000 books. Really.” By Sunday morning, there is a comment from a friend in Israel asking me if I’m putting in a bid. This is not the first joke I will hear along these lines.

Sunday February 15
The big day. On the plane, I think of some other witty things to say about going to the exhibit and not having $40 million. The best one I come up with is: “I looked through all the couch cushions last night and still couldn’t come up with enough.” Not very good.

I’m on the left-side of the plane and we take a flight path into La Guardia across New Jersey with a sharp turn at Staten Island. It’s a clear day and I can see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, then Lower Manhattan. After a few minutes, we are flying right over the globe from the 1939 World’s Fair, past the new baseball stadium for the Mets and then into La Guardia. Platitudes about the Jewish books from London coming to the city and country that welcomed the Jewish people fill my head.

We land on-time at La Guardia. I make good time with a bus and then a subway and then a nice walk in the rare February sunshine and I’m on the Upper East Side by late morning. A nice lunch with sister, brother-in-law, and their toddler son. As we leave the restaurant, they decline to bring Max to the exhibit fearing that he will put a rare book in his mouth. I make a joke about then having to buy the whole lot. I make my other joke about the couch cushions.

They hug me, give me looks of pity, and send me on my way down York Avenue to Sothebys. It’s a few minutes after 1 pm and the exhibition hours are 1-5 pm on Sunday.

As I approach Sothebys, I fall in step behind a modern Orthodox family (judging from dress and the type of kippah on the father’s head), a mother, a father, a teenage daughter. A block away I see several other men in kippot heading into the building. I start to wonder about the size of the crowd again.

My coat is checked and I’m upstairs to the 10th floor of Sotheby’s by 1:15. A number of people are milling around. I see David Wachtel at the entrance. We promise to catch up later but for now he is going to give a tour along with the other curator, Sharon Mintz, to begin at 1:30. I decided to make an overview loop before the tour begins. At 1:30 I head David’s booming voice (which became less booming over the course of the afternoon) gathering the tour group and splitting them in half. I am in the first room when the group comes in. In 15 minutes, the crowd has swelled. I estimate 200 people follow David into the room. There is no place to stand. I move quickly to the next room.

The crowd builds over the rest of the afternoon. David and Sharon run tours nearly continously. Later, David will introduce me to the head of the book department at Sothebys, David Redden, who is marvelling at the size of the crowd. Bigger than the crowd for an exhibit of Impressionist paintings he tells me.

The exhibit is brilliantly laid out. The first room is quite large with floor to ceiling bookshelves displaying nearly the entire collection. Every so often, a book is open but the rest sit on the shelves as in a library. Each shelf is labeled with the name of a city and books printed in that city are gathered near the name plate. But the collection’s scope is so large that not all the cities can be mentioned. Venice takes up a quarter of the room; Amsterdam, perhaps an eighth. Next to Amsterdam are cities in the Low Countries, France, and Germany. Across a doorway from Venice is another quarter of the room taken up with the other cities in Italy. The final quadrant are cities in the Middle East and India. There are not many name tags for cities in Eastern Europe leading to rumblings around the room that the collection is weak in those areas. Prague and Cracow are represented however with named shelves and I overhear David telling his tour group that all the cities of Eastern Europe have imprints in the collections. He points to shelves near the ceiling running the length of the room. An oversight of the designer not to have labels with Zhitomir and Vilna, perhaps. One of the few oversights.

To the right is a small alcove with a complete edition of the Bomberg Talmud laid out in display cases. Daniel Bomberg is a name familiar to every lover of the Jewish book. A Christian printer from Antwerp--Lunzer’s hometown--who settled in Venice at the beginning of the sixteenth century, Bomberg was responsible for many crucial Hebrew publishing projects. In 1517, he produced the first Biblia Rabbinica, an edition of the Hebrew Bible with key commentaries printed surrounding the biblical text. This was the launching of the standard format of the Jewish study Bible until today--the so-called “Mikraot Gedolot” [Great Bibles]: text in the middle; commentaries surrounding. His next great project was the printing of the Babylonian Talmud. Gershom Soncino and other pioneers of Hebrew printing had printed individual tractates but Bomberg was the first to produce an edition of the entire work, in several large folio volumes. If one has seen any edition of the Talmud, one can recognize Bomberg’s influence: the standard pagination (still used today), the text with the two main commentaries, Rashi and the “Tosafot” on either side. The Tosafot is really an anthology of comments by a school of rabbis in France and Germany in the 12th and 13th centuries. They were never edited and different versions of comments circulated in manuscripts in the Middle Ages. Bomberg’s editors, a group of Venetian rabbis, selected the “best” comments and created the Tosafot as we have it today. Generations of yeshiva students owe the foundaitons of their curriculum to a publishing project instituted by a Christian printer.

A really good Judaica collection may have a volume or two of this edition, but the earliest printed editions of the Talmud are quite rare, especially Italian editions, many of whose copies were burnt in 1553 under orders from the Pope. The Valmadonna Trust has a complete edition. And what a story behind this acquisition: The Bomberg Talmud in this collection was acquired from Westminster Abbey in 1980. In 1956, Jack Lunzer saw an exhibit at the Victoria and Albert museum that displayed one of the volumes. He quickly learned that Westminster Abbey had a complete Bomberg Talmud edition--shipped from Venice and bound at Oxford for the kings’ collection. The king was Henry VIII and legend has it that the copies were ordered in the midst of his divorce from Catherine of Aragon when (this part we are more sure about) his advisors consulted some rabbis on the Talmudic laws of divorce. By the time the books were bound, however, the marriage had been dissolved and the English Reformation had begun. The books were sent to Westminister Abbey and set, gathering dust, until the 1950s.

Beginning in 1956, Lunzer began a negotiation with Abbey officials to acquire the edition for his library. He knew that the Abbey would not part with such a prize easily and he presented the Abbey with many offers of swaps--the Valmadonna Trust would purchase books and manuscripts related to the Abbey’s collection and offer them in trade. Rebuffed for many years, Lunzer finally had success when the original 900-year-old charter of Westminster Abbey came on the market. The Valmadonna Trust purchased the charter and presented it to Westminster Abbey in exhange for the Talmud edition.

I love the story--and enjoyed hearing Jack Lunzer himself tell the tale on a video presentation playing on the other side of the exhibit when I got over there later in the afternoon.

From the main room, I passed into a smaller room with display cases, housing the incunabula of the collection. “Incunabula”--deriving from the Latin for “cradle”--is the technical term for books printed before 1500, i.e. books from the infancy of printing in the West. There are about 140 known Hebrew incunable editions. That is, extant today in the world’s libraries, are copies of about 140 Hebrew books printed before 1500. The Valmadonna Trust owns about 70. I knew this library had a great incunabula collection, but I did think “wow” when I walked into this room and realized I was seeing half of the known Hebrew incunabula displayed before me.

Some of these earliest Hebrew books were old friends, but I enjoyed seeing them again. One of the first books I see here is The Book of the Honeycomb’s Flow by Judah Messer Leon. This guide to Hebrew rhetoric, applying classical rhetoric to the Hebrew Bible, was printed in Mantua in 1477 and has the distinction of being the first Hebrew book printed in the lifetime of its author. I’ve seen a copy of this at the Rosenbach Museum in Philadelphia, a marvelously quirky library and museum (among other things, it owns the manuscript for Joyce’s Ulysses and the entire contents of the living room from Marianne Moore’s Greenwich Village apartment), but it’s been a while.

I had never seen what may be the first Hebrew printed book ever, a copy of Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed printed in Rome in the late 1560s or early 1570s. Some of the Bible editions printed in Spain before 1492 and in Portugal before 1497 (when Jews there were forcibly converted to Christianity) with commentaries on the side anticipate Bomberg’s later achievements in Venice.

Standing in this room, I hear my name called out. A colleague from Yale is here with his wife and small children. So far as I can tell, his children have not tried to eat any of the books. A few minutes later I see the former librarian of the Jewish Theological Seminary. Later, I will run into scholars from Yeshiva University and the Jewish Theological Seminary. Among the Jewish studies academics milling around, I seem to have come the farthest.

The casual talk is over who will buy the collection: names of prominent universities in the northeastern United States are mentioned (I won’t mention names here). Some think nobody will step up in this economic climate. Others think it’s a relative bargain--when the economy recovers, it may be valued at more than $40 million.

I stand next to two young women who are talking about the expurgation and the marginalia in a commentary on Psalms by David Kimhi. I lean in and take a closer look. I think the marginalia are actually textual emendations--an owner of the book has compared it to a manuscript (or his memory) and filled in missing words and made corrections. I’m a busy-body so I tell the women this. They seem impressed but move away quickly.

There are another few examples of expurgated books throughout the exhibit: expurgation was a form of censorship in late sixteenth-century and seventeenth-century Italy in which a Church official crossed out passages in Hebrew texts that had been deemed offensive to Christianity. Each time I stopped at one, I heard someone remarking on this phenomenon.

Expurgation and blue paper seemed to draw a lot of interest from the crowd. Changes in the process for dying paper and the greater availability of indigo made it easier to start printing on blue paper in the sixteenth century. But it was still relatively rare and something of a luxury item at first. The Valmadonna Trust has an unusually large collection of editions printed on blue paper as well.

When one of the tour groups enters the incunabula room I move to the next room where several manuscripts are on display. Mr. Lunzer and the Valmadonna Trust set as their main goal the collecting of printed books but along the way, they acquired quite a manuscript collection, small but significant. It includes one of the earliest Pentateuchs copied in Europe in the 10th or 11th century. It also includes the only dated Hebrew manuscript still extant from medieval England, another Pentateuch, written in 1189, just about a century before the Jews were expelled from England in 1290.

I move into the fourth room, another large room. The designers of the exhibit have dubbed this the “Reading Room” and it consists of 8 long rows of display cases, displaying hundreds of books. Most are open to title pages, some to internal pages of interest. The riches in this room are also unbelievable.

I find some other old friends--I mean books, of course, like the Riva di Trento edition of Alfasi’s commentary/abridgement of the Talmud with the coat of arms of Cardinal Cristoforo Madruzzo on the title page. Cardinal Madruzzo was the prince-bishop of Trent and therefore the host of the Council of Trent, the Catholic church’s major program of response to the Reformation in the middle of the sixteenth century.

I also find an old friend (a person) who was on the same fellowship in Israel several year ago. He is there with his wife, one of his children, and his father-in-law, a prominent Israeli scholar. We catch up and then we go back to looking at the books. A few minutes later, I see him again and he tells me that he saw Dr. Ruth walk by in the other room.

Some other highlights in this room:
--a copy of Sefer Abudraham published in Fez in 1516, only the very first book ever printed on the African continent and possibly one of two copies extant in the world.
--a series of calendars, diplomas, and broadsides hanging on the wall, including wall calendars from Mantua, 1553, and Venice, 1612, listing Saints Days and other Christian holidays along with Jewish holidays.
--one of the broadsides is “Eleh Divre ha-Brit” from the Hague, 1798, declaring the rights of man after the Napoleonic invasion of the Low Countries.

Every so often I look out at the crowd: heavily Jewish, and heavily Orthodox--mainly modern Orthodox, some haredim, but all ages are there, men and women. I think of that phrase “the people of the book.”

This room also contains a number of books, newsletters, journals, and reports printed by the Jewish communities of India in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It’s remarkable to see a book with text in Hebrew, English, and Marathi on the same page. I only know it’s Marathi because the label tells me so. I think of the movie that my wife and I saw just the night before, “Slumdog Millionaire,” and I have an irreverant vision of the crowd breaking into a Bollywood dance sequence.

I turn and see Jack Lunzer standing and talking, surrounded by dozens of people asking him questions, complimenting him on the collection. I think of going and introducing myself and thanking him again for the photocopies but every time I look over he is surrounded.

I leave this room and find the room with a video of Mr. Lunzer speaking about the collection. If I can’t speak to the man, I’ll listen to him on tape. This room is packed as well; when the video ends and loops around to the beginning, some seats open up. I take one and settle in to hear about the collection. After a few minutes, a diminutive woman with a familiar face walks by me, looking for a seat. It takes me a few minutes to recognize Dr. Ruth.

I’m starting to get tired but I make another pass through the collection to get to some of the corners that I missed when the crowd was at its peak. I decide to go down at 4:45 to avoid the crush at the coat check. As I leave Sothebys just a few minutes before 5, I hear a man behind me in the lobby trying to gather a mincha minyan (a quorum of ten men for the afternoon prayers). I look back and see more than 10 men. I can go meet my college friend and not feel guilty.

As I leave, I realize that indeed, this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I enjoyed the books, and I took some notes on things I noticed to follow up on in my own research. I also was grateful to the designers of the exhibit for finding a way to not only see some books but to really see and feel the magnitude of the collection. I also enjoyed seeing--and being in--the crowd. At the beginning of Edward Rothstein’s article in the New York Times he asked whether bibliophilia could be a religious experience. I thought of this as I was leaving and hearing the mincha service starting behind me. And the thought occurred to me: this hadn’t just been a day trip to the big city, but a pilgrimage of sorts.

(The original title was "Diary of a Bibliomaniac" but I changed that after some reflection on the meaning of the terms "Bibliomaniac" and "Bibliophile.")
(I had originally called Bomberg a Calvinist but a sharp-eyed correspondent e-mailed to point out that there is no evidence that Daniel Bomberg was ever a Calvinist--and, of course, he certainly wasn't a Calvinist when he began his printing career in Venice.)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

There's an article in the Forward on the malaise in the movement of Conservative Judaism with this telling paragraph:

"Emblematic of the malaise is the rise of something known as transdenominational Judaism. It consists of Jewish religious and cultural activists, mostly under 35, who reject denominational labels, viewing their Judaism as transcending the separate streams. Its best-known expressions are so-called independent minyanim, informal prayer groups that meet in community centers, synagogue basements or even churches, refusing synagogue affiliation. There are said to be at least 80 such groups across the country, with thousands of members. Their primary leaders, most observers say, are young graduates of Conservative schools, summer camps and even seminaries who continue to practice Conservative Judaism but reject the name and the institutions."

Maybe changing the name from the "United Synagogue of America" to "United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism" in the early 1990s wasn't such a good idea after all.

Valmadonna Trust Library on exhibit

Over on one of my official work blogs which is concerned professionally with "old books" I posted this notice about an incredible book exhibit now going on in New York.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Difdafti ha-yom

In the column on the right, I put books I have read. By "read" I mean more or less read through the whole thing although my wife says I read so fast sometimes I'm really skimming.

I do a lot of skimming as well and I also read a lot of journal articles or parts of monographs in the course of doing research. I generally refrain from putting that reading in the right column on the blog.

But there is another kind of handling of books and journals that I do a lot. Israelis call it "le-dafdef"-- "to page through"-- it means something like skimming but more like scanning the chapter headings, the first paragraphs of sections, the table of contents, etc.--something like what your teacher in a high school "study skills" class might have told you about "previewing" a textbook chapter before reading it.

(I think the lack of capital letters makes Hebrew very hard to skim. I either le-dafdef a Hebrew text or I have to really read it.)

Not only do I sometimes go in search of material to le-dafdef on purpose ("keeping up with the literature") sometimes such material comes to me in the mail (journals) and sometimes by e-mail. And I can't walk by the new book shelf in my university library without stopping. Since I walk by it several times a week, I tend to le-dafdef a lot of new books, some in my field, some in related fields, and some in other people's fields. I couldn't possibly list all the works that I difdef, but I'm launching a new feature here to list some of the more interesting finds.

I tend to assume I have no readers so I'm mainly doing this for myself. Giving myself a Google-able way to remember where I've come across something.

So in Hillman Library today, difdafti:

Ronald Ehrenburg and Charlotte Kuh, eds. Doctoral Education and the Faculty of the Future (Oxford UP, 2009) which reports on the Mellon Graduate Education Initiative that was in place at a number of institutions including the Penn History department in the 1990s.... this was a nice piece of serendipity since the other day on the same shelf I came across the latest book on the philosophy of history by Murray Murphy, who taught for many years in that department. I've been reading his Truth and History (SUNY Press, 2009) on the bus.

Howard Schwartz's most recent collection of Jewish folktales is Leaves from the Garden of Eden (Oxford UP, 2009). He includes all the useful scholarly information, like notes on sources, commentary, and indexes at the back. Well, indexes are always at the back but would it be terrible to have the note on sources and the commentary included with each story?

Karen O'Reilly's Key Concepts in Ethnography only occupied me for only a few minutes because I'm not planning to do any ethnography any time soon (I would need a time machine). But a number of the grad students I work with do some ethnography.

Finally, I teach a little about ancient empires in my survey courses as part of the background of Jewish life in antiquity. So Ian Morris and Walter Scheidel, eds. The Dynamics of Early Empires: State Power from Assyria to Byzantium (Oxford UP, 2009) caught my eye.

Looking back on it, I guess a big order from Oxford UP was recently cataloged.

(And yes, I realize that saying "to le-dafdef" makes little sense grammatically but bear with me...)

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Books I Read in 2008

December, 2008:
Seymour Epstein, Leah
Israel M. Ta-Shma, Creativity and Tradition
E.M. Forster, Howard's End
Dashiell Hammett, The Thin Man
Josephine Tey, A Shilling for Candles
November, 2008:
Arianna Franklin, Mistress of the Art of Death
October, 2008:
Kate Summerscale, The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher
Faye Kellerman, Milk and Honey
Faye Kellerman, Day of Atonement
September, 2008:
Faye Kellerman, Stone Kiss
Batya Gur, Bethlehem Road Murder
August 2008:
P.D. James, Devices and Desires
Josephine Tey, The Franchise Affair
Faye Kellerman, Jupiter's Bones
Faye Kellerman, Sacred and Profane
Margery Allingham, The Case of the Late Pig
Faye Kellerman, The Ritual Bath
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Ayelet Waldman, Death Gets a Time-Out
Geraldine Brooks, People of the Book
July 2008:
Clive James, Cultural Amnesia
Lawrence Raphael, ed. Criminal Kabbalah
Lawrence Raphael, ed. Mystery Midrash
Max Apple, The Jew of Home Depot
A.A. Milne, The Red House Mystery
Chaim Potok, The Promise
Chaim Potok, The Chosen
Woody Allen, Mere Anarchy
Sue Erikson Bloland, In the Shadow of Fame
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Donna Leon, Through a Glass, Darkly
Edmund Crispin, Glimpses of the Moon
Laurence Roth, Inspecting Jews: American Jewish Detective Stories
Amanda Cross, The Edge of Doom
Amanda Cross, Honest Doubt
June 2008:
n+1 collective, What We Should Have Known
Detection Club, Ask a Policeman
The New Yorker, January-June 2008
Edmund Crispin, Buried for Pleasure
Edmund Crispin, Love Lies Bleeding
Beaumont and Fletcher, Philaster
Amanda Cross, The Theban Mysteries
Amanda Cross, No Word from Winifred
Amanda Cross, A Trap for Fools
Amanda Cross, An Imperfect Spy
Amanda Cross, The Puzzled Heart
Julius Lester, The Autobiography of God
May 2008:
Rachel Elior and Peter Schaefer, eds. Creation and Re-Creation in Jewish Thought
Nicholas Rescher, Interpreting Philosophy
Amanda Cross, Sweet Death, Kind Death
Amanda Cross, The Question of Max
Robert Kahn McGregor and Ethan Lewis, Conundrums for the Long Weekend
Edmund Crispin, Swan Song
Anthony Grafton, Codex in Crisis
Amanda Cross, In the Last Analysis
Amanda Cross, The James Joyce Murder
Amanda Cross, Poetic Justice
Amanda Cross, The Players Come Again
Donna Leon, Death and Judgement
April 2008:
Donna Leon, Death in a Strange Country
Donna Leon, Death at La Fenice
Jill Paton Walsh and Dorothy Sayers, Presumption of Death
Edmund Crispin, The Moving Toyshop
Edmund Crispin, Holy Disorders
Giulio Lucarelli, Carte Blanche
March 2008:
Donna Leon, Dressed for Death
Dara Horn, In the Image
Giulio Leoni, The Mosaic Crimes
February 2008:
Lee Goldberg, Mr. Monk and the Two Assistants
Etienne Balibar, We, The People of Europe?
Moshe Rosman, How Jewish is Jewish History?
Maggie Anton, Rashi's Daughters, Book Two: Miriam
Aaron Hughes, The Art of Dialogue in Jewish Philosophy
Maggie Anton, Rashi's Daughters, Book One: Joheved
Dara Horn, The World to Come
George Steiner, My Unwritten Books
January 2008:
Leslie Howsam, Old Books and New Studies
Mary McCarthy, The Groves of Academe

Books I Read in 2007

December 2007:
Martin Aurand, The Spectator and the Topographical City
Mordecai Richler, Solomon Gursky Was Here
October 2007:
P.D. James, Death in Holy Orders
September 2007:
Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin, The Censor, The Editor, and the Text: The Catholic Church and the Shaping of the Jewish Canon in the Sixteenth Century
Zev Gries, The Book in the Jewish World, 1700-1900
C.P. Snow, The Affair
Marcus Moseley, Being for Myself Alone: Origins of Jewish Autobiography
August 2007:
Robert Holub, Crossing Borders: Reception Theory, Poststructuralism, Deconstruction
Edward Crispin, Frequent Hearses
Diana Lobel, A Sufi-Jewish Dialogue: Philosophy and Mysticism in Bahya ibn Pakuda's Duties of the Heart
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Michael Stanislawski, A Murder in Lemberg: Politics, Religion, and Violence in Modern Jewish History
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
July 2007:
William Baring-Gould, Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Akzaban
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Judith Martin, No Vulgar Hotel: The Desire and Pursuit of Venice
Edward Crispin, The Case of the Gilded Fly
Iain Pears, An Instance of the Fingerpost
Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason
John Brabazon, Dorothy L. Sayers: A Biography
Dorothy Sayers, Murder Must Advertise
Abraham Socher, The Radical Enlightenment of Solomon Maimon: Judaism, Heresy, and Philosophy
June 2007:
Dorothy Sayers, The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club
Robert Alter, Imagined Cities: Urban Experience and the Language of the Novel
Dorothy Sayers, Unnatural Death (The Dawson Pedigree)
Robertson Davies, A Mixture of Frailties
Robertson Davies, Leaven of Malice
Robertson Davies, Tempest Tost
Dorothy Sayers and Robert Eustace, The Documents in the Case
Barbara Pym, An Academic Question
E.C. Bentley, Trent's Last Case
Naomi Seidman, Faithful Renderings: Jewish-Christian Difference and the Politics of Translation
Dorothy Sayers, Five Red Herrings
Richard Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible?
May 2007:
Sherwin Nuland, Maimonides
Dorothy Sayers and Jill Patton Walsh, Thrones, Dominations
Dorothy Sayers, Busmam's Honeymoon
Batya Gur, Murder Duet
Batya Gur, Murder in Jerusalem
Michael Chabon, The Yiddish Policemen's Union
Tom Wolfe, I am Charlotte Simmons
April 2007:
Cora Daniels, Ghettonation
David Lodge, Small World
Dorothy Sayers, Strong Poison
Dorothy Sayers, Clouds of Witness
Dorothy Sayers, Whose Body?
Dorothy Sayers, Gaudy Night
Edith Skom, The Charles Dickens Murders
March 2007:
David Lodge, Changing Places
Israel Zangwill, The Big Bow Mystery
Paul Bass and Douglas Rae, Murder in the Model City
Arthur Asa Berger, Durkheim is Dead
Carole Nelson Douglas, Castle Rouge
Michael Cook, The Koran: A Very Short Introduction
George Dove, The Reader and the Detective Story
Israel Yuval, Two Nations in Your Womb
Caleb Carr, The Italian Secretary
February 2007:
Elizabeth Clark, History, Theory, Text
A.E. Murch, The Development of the Detective Novel
Julia Kristeva, Murder in Byzantium
Jerrold Seigel, The Idea of the Self
Malcolm Turnball, Victims or Villains: Jewish Images in Classic English Detective Fiction
Laurie R. King, The Art of Detection
January 2007:
Abigail Browning, ed. Murder is No Mitzvah
Carole Nelson Douglas, Goodnight Mr. Holmes
Carlo Ginzburg, Wooden Eyes: Nine Reflections on Distance
Carlo Ginzburg, Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches' Sabbath
Carlo Ginzburg, The Cheese and the Worms
Gluckel of Hameln, Memoirs
Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures
Laurie R. King, Night Work

Monday, January 26, 2009

Through the pane

I've always like the poem by "Ch.D." included at the beginning of Natalie Zemon Davis' Society and Culture in Early Modern France (Stanford University Press, 1975). Here is the opening stanza:

"Born abroad, she longs for you, compagnons.
She longs to shake your hand, to share your wine.
She longs for home, four hundred years away.
Through the pane she hears you but is not heard.
She deserves your pity but will not have it. "

I immediately thought of this poem last weekend when I came across this passage in Jack Finney's time-travel novel, Time and Again (Simon & Schuster, 1970):

"There--well, there they were, the people of the stiff old woodcuts, only... these moved. The swaying coats and dresses there on the walks and crossing the street before and behind us were of new-dyed cloth--maroon, bottle-green, blue, strong brown, unfaded blacks--and I saw the shimmer of light and shadow in the appearing and disappearing long folds. And the leather and rubber they walked in pressed into and marked the slush of the street crossings; and their breaths puffed out into the winter air, momentarily visible. And through the trembling, rattling glass panes of the bus we heard their living voices, and heard a girl laugh aloud. Looking out at their winter-flushed faces, I felt like shouting for joy." (121)

Historians are not time-travellers, of course, and we are professionalized to poo-poo the "antiquarian." But the desire to hear the dead when they were living-- that desire is there, I think, for almost all of us in some form or another.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Eclecticism of the Year 2008

For my first post after a long absence from blogging here, I would like to award the first annual Tea-Lemon-Old Books Award for Best Statement Regarding Old Books Revealing Eclectic Interests Published in Journalism or Scholarly Outlets for 2008. The winner is:

Leon Wieseltier, The New Republic, December 31, 2008, p.48 of the print edition:

"Among the delicacies in my library alongside Sefer Hasidim, Bologna, 1538, first edition, Salman Schocken's copy, and the Collected Poems of Edward Thomas, London 1920, first edition, foreword by Walter de la Mare, is Bettie Page: The Life of a Pin-up Legend, by Karen Essex and James L. Swanson, Los Angeles, 1996, first edition, inscribed by its subject."

Mr. Wieseltier, stop by to claim your prize (a cup of hot tea with lemon) next time you are in Pittsburgh. (Just bring that copy of Sefer Hasidim with you...).