Saturday, September 18, 2010

Warning: the geek factor in the following post is off the charts. If you don't grok old books, you won't grok this post.

But first a bit of business. I think I'll be moving rooms in the next few days. I like my nice big room, but the one down the hall has much thicker walls (stone ones from the old construction) and the window doesn't overlook the courtyard directly, which means it will be quieter and more private. That way too, someone coming for the whole year can take the room with more storage space. I wish I wasn't such a light sleeper, but once people get up and moving around 6:20 or so in the morning it wakes me right up out of my doze, because the way my bedroom is set up now, the bed is in the corner against the walls to the hallway and the girl next-door's bathroom. So even though I like my pretty room and I've managed to find a place for everything to go, I think it will be a good change.

So: books! I don't think I'll be doing much touring in Ireland, though hopefully I'll have enough sense to see the city of Dublin at least, because I'm going to spend so much time in the library reading old books. And it's great! My reader's pass to Trinity gives me access to their early printed books room, so I can order an old book, someone fetches it for me within the hour, and I get to sit there and read it until the place closes, if I feel like it.

Yesterday I ordered a copy of one of the texts that I'm using for my thesis. It was printed in 1608 as part of a debate between a famous Jesuit missionary and the Protestant Dean of St Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin. The copy that Trinity has is the copy that the Jesuit had delivered to the Dean directly once it was printed, and the Dean wrote in his own comments to the Jesuit's not very charitable accusations about him in this treatise. So I just sat there and leafed through it, trying to discern the handwriting which was partially cut off when the book was rebound in the nineteenth century. Comments like "I said not so!" and other exclamations are scattered throughout. I was so excited to hold this book in my hands that my hands were literally shaking for the first twenty minutes.

Now I'l finally tell you all about what I did on Monday. After straightening things out with the Garda, I wandered over to Trinity to take the tour. It's not a long tour, but it's interesting, just giving a brief general history of some of the more prominent buildings. Their main library is named for the same guy that UCBerkeley is named for, actually. Trinity is amazing - it's right smack in the middle of downtown, like McGill but Dublin is a lot busier than Montreal, but Trinity is basically a fortress, surrounded by high walls and buildings, and you have to enter through little gates, so as soon as you step into the courtyard, you can't hear the traffic and street noise that' happening 50 feet away. It's its own little world. If I don't get into Oxford, Trinity is definitely the top choice for Irish Reformation studies in the world, hands down. I would love to go there. I picked up some admissions info during my wanderings, so I'll have to ponder that.

At the end of the tour we got admission to the Book of Kells, an illuminated (decorated) manuscript of the four Gospels from about the year 800. First there's an interesting exhibition all about how these old books were made, who wrote them, how they made the colors, the symbolism of the designs, etc. The designs are amazing when you see them blown up to wall-sized proportions; the details are incredible. But it's even more amazing when you go in to see the book itself: it's only the size of a textbook, and you can barely see the intricate detail that these monks spent years designing. Why did they do it? How did they do it, in fact? It was pretty incredible.

That's on the first floor of the Old Library, and as part of the exhibition you go upstairs to the first floor of the Old Library to the Long Room. The Long Room is just that: it takes up the entire length of the building and the vaulted ceilings bring it up to two stories high. And it is packed to the gills with old books. The books are arranged by size, not title or author or even subject, so the catalogues for them are these huge handwritten volumes that I had to consult when I wanted to order that book yesterday. The Long Room looks kind of like the library in Beauty and the Beast, but darker - we're talking floor to ceiling books, spindly ladders, busts of famous dead guys, the whole bit. I wanted to move in, I loved it so much. What I didn't know, actually, is that the reading room that I will be using is just in the top corner of this building, so I'll be spending quite a lot of time there, even if the ambience isn't exactly the same.

After that I ate some lunch, bought a couple of Guinness-related things, and then headed down to the National Library of Ireland to check that out. It's just around the corner from Trinity, and it was surprisingly easy to get a pass; I just had to register at the computer, and it was free. So I did that, and then I headed up to the reading room. One of the first volumes that caught my eye was a printed collection of State Papers for Ireland from 1570-1575. I nearly started hyperventilating, I was so excited about these books. There's lots of great reference works there, so whatever I can't find or can't take out from the universities because I'm only on a reader's pass, I can get from the NLI. Lots of my secondary sources reference stuff from the NLI all the time, so it will be great to go check them out for myself.

Seriously, even if I do nothing else here, the libraries are making this whole trip worth it. I worked really hard yesterday, so I think I'll just do a bit of reading at home today, plus going to buy a bike pump, and everything (including university libraries) is closed in Sunday anyways, so I won't be doing too much. But tomorrow is the celebration of the beatification of John Henry Newman, so while the Pope is doing that in England, lots of churches are having special Masses tomorrow to mark it. So I might head downtown to the old university chapel downtown that Newman established while he was here for the Mass tomorrow.

Notice: if you are in Montreal, Brother André will be canonized in October by the Pope at the Olympic Stadium. Tickets are $5 but there is a huge demand, so make so you get one!

And on one last cultural note, one of the Spanish girls popped in as I was writing this post to ask if she could put on some music. So now I'm being serenaded by frantic flamenco songs drifting in from the hallway.

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