30 June 2014

Bodleian Library

The highlight of my day today was our visit to the Bodleian Library at Oxford University. The building was started in the 1400s but the library itself did not flourish until the late 1500s when Thomas Bodley granted the university a large sum of money to restore and maintain it. This is why the library still carries his name over 400 years later.

Medieval shelving in Duke Humfrey's Library

Entering the hallway with the medieval library (called Duke Humfrey's Library) was like stepping out of a time machine. You can feel the weight of the ages in a room this old, and it pained me not to be able to take photos of such a beautiful space. (The photograph to the right is courtesy of TripAdvisor.) The shelves in the library are short, long, and set perpendicular to the walls rather than the floor-to-ceiling wall shelving that would later become popular. This was an effort to protect the books from dampness that might come seeping through the walls. Interestingly, the books were once stored in these areas horizontally until the library staff realized around 1600 that 10 times more books could fit in the space if they were stored upright. If I had unlimited space, I would actually prefer to store my books horizontally because I like the way it looks. I guess this makes me very old fashioned, at least in that regard.

Selden End expansion

An expansion was added next to the medieval library with wall shelving for 14,000 more books, and this area is what dominates the hallway as you enter. This area, called Selden End, has the floor-to-ceiling wall shelving covering two stories. The top half has books shelved normally because the staircases leading to the walkway above served as a barrier against their removal. The books on the bottom were chained to prevent their theft. Again, no photographs were allowed so the one on the left comes courtesy of IES Abroad. The books are shelved in categories, with the books for a Bachelor of Arts in the gallery. A printed catalog was sent to every university in Europe with the books available indexed by author.

This building in many ways reflects the old notion of librarians as guardians of the collections. It defeats the notion of a modern library to hoard books as if the patrons are thieves and destroyers rather than seekers of knowledge. Much of this stems from books' rarity before the invention and widespread use of the printing press, but it still strikes those from modern society as a little outrageous.

One of my favorite stories about the library during our tour was about the boys who worked underground in the early 1900s carting books from storage to the library. These "Bodley Boys" were hand-picked by the librarian for their intelligence. The poor boys who would otherwise have had no formal education were allowed to take books home with them. They would return to the library after reading their books to discuss what they had learned with the librarian. This generosity towards the poor was surprising and the librarian's thinking was far ahead of his time.

27 June 2014

London - First Impressions

When the plane was coming in over London, I didn't think the city looked that different in the air than any other city -- until we turned and I saw the Tower Bridge. Then it seemed so much more magical.

Getting here has been very anticlimactic so far -- lots of waiting. Queues are everywhere: customs, baggage claim, bus line... I guess what they say about the British loving to form lines is true. This has very much been a case of "hurry up and wait" as you rush to get to one place to find that you need to stand in a long line to continue on your journey. Once we were able to get on the bus, we rode out of the airport and into a traffic snarl because it is the morning rush hour in London. We were warned that it would take a while to get back to the dorm, but I was hoping that would be because of distance, not traffic.

On the way in we got to see some of regular old London (not the tourist parts), which I was surprised to see has a lot more green than cities in America. Even though there are so many people and buildings here, there are still big, green fields and playgrounds in the middle of the city. I'm sure this will taper off as we approach the city center, but it's nice to see pieces of the natural world peeking through the city streets.

On our ride to Stamford Street we were able to see several London landmarks -- the London Eye and Westminster Palace (Houses of Parliament) being two of the major ones. It was so great seeing how close we are to all of these amazing places... My list of things to do is long and having everything close by will assist me in completing it all!

26 June 2014

Flight: Chigago to London (Part 2)

We are flying over Canada now, which really makes me wish I had a window seat. I've never been to Canada so I'd like to see it. Even though I'd probably just see fluffy white clouds, I'd at least like to try. I'm flying over the Canadian mainland over/north of a big island that kind of looks like Cuba. I'll have to pull up a map with places labeled to find out where I am. (The internet tells me that "Cuba" is called Anticosti Island and that I was in the vicinity of Baie-Johan-Beetz in Quebec.)

Dinner was chicken marsala with some brown gelatinous blob that I assume was supposed to be the mushroom. It was hot though, so I can't complain. The pasta underneath was tasteless so I skipped most of it. I ate the entire dinner roll because, you know... Bread. =D There was also a brownie that I shoved into the seat pocket in case of stomach grumble emergency. I promptly forgot about the brownie and wonder if it's still there.

I'm still irrationally afraid of airplane bathrooms, but at least this one has some nice philosophy soap. Or at least it's in a philosophy bottle, because the stuff dries my hands out like crazy. No way people pay $30 for lotion that dries you out. The lock in the one nearest to me is a little jammed because some lady walked in on me while I was washing my hands. I'm glad it was only a little awkward instead of a lot awkward.

I watched Warm Bodies on my iPad before dinner came because the tiny screen in my seat back is so old that I don't know how to work it...

Flight: Chicago to London (Part 1)

Flying United is like an anti-commercial. It's an advertisement to fly any other airline. First off, there is a crap economy that is worse than what used to be regular economy (now called "economy plus"). The seats are smaller, and the technology is so antiquated I'm not even sure I can use it. I miss the Delta flights with complimentary beer & wine (it's not on United!) and the big interactive TV screens in the back of the seat in front of you. I have a tiny screen that's less than a 6" square and it doesn't have touch capability. The controls in the arm work the TV, and there are only 3 movie choices. I had 15 or more on my flight back from Ireland in 2009. Get with the times United! I'll just watch a movie on my iPad and then catch a nice, long snooze. I know I won't be able to sleep the whole 8 hours because my body still thinks it's about 5pm. Hopefully after a movie I'll be sleepy.

The first 10 minutes on the plane there was a screaming baby right behind me. God, I hope he calms down and stays that way.

Never are class lines more apparent than when on an international flight. The people in first class have the nice beds to sleep in, the people in business class have the nice, wide train-style seats that face each other (with the big TV screens), and even the economy plus people have seats that look more comfy than mine.

Chicago - O'Hare

The coolest thing about Chicago is that there is a dinosaur skeleton in the B concourse. It's a surreal thing to see when you're getting off of a plane. It's next to the Field Museum Gift Shop, so it has a logical reason for being in the airport... It's just not something you see every day.

Another weird thing about O'Hare is their crazy space age toilets. They have plastic similar to Saran Wrap around the seat that you can replace by waving your hand over a sensor. Self-covering toilet seats are a first for me. Definitely the wave of the future! I've also noticed after looking back at my entries from France that I write a lot about public bathrooms (I even have a tag for it on this blog). But it's all a part of the experience, right?

After a quick walk to the C concourse (thankfully in the same terminal), and some much-needed food from Mickey D's all that's left to do is sit and wait. A 3-hour layover sounded good at first because you won't feel rushed -- but it's a lot of time to kill. I walked around the C concourse with Kelly (my seatmate from the Charleston flight).

I accidentally bought Airborne Plus Energy instead of the regular stuff and it's making me crazy jittery. The Coke with lunch probably didn't help much either! I'm going to try to sleep on the flight because we land at 6am London time. I don't think I'll make it a whole day after all this sitting and waiting around. Walking around the airport was a great idea because that's the only exercise I'll get in today. I am not looking forward to 8 hours of sitting on a plane!