On Sunday, the four of us (Eric and Anne, visiting from Chicago; and my wife Vivian and myself, for those keeping score at home) engaged in one of the umpteen mandated activities for out-of-town visitors and took our city’s lovely, 60’s vintage monorail from downtown a whole mile to Seattle center, where the Space Needle and the Experience Music project are located.

The Seattle Monorail Project and the local politics around it came up, of course. I held back from a full-on rant about the incredible resistance to the monorail initiatives – soon to be voter approved in three separate ballot measures – on display from local elected officials and media, the absolute flip-side of the cheerleading for our thrice-defeated-at-the-polls sports stadiums. Our local political class and media leadership have set a tone, which is inimical to democracy, and it chaps my hide.

But as I said, I held back. Good for me.

We were considering visiting the Pacific Science Center, but decided against it; Eric and Anne were not really interested in visiting the Experience Music Project either. I’m not certain why, exactly, but after making sure they had a reasonable idea of what was available to see there, I didn’t push it.

We knew that there was an antiquarian book fair being held that weekend on the Center grounds and I was sure that Eric would be interested. We wandered in the direction of one of the exhibit halls, where I thought the fair was (incorrectly, as it turned out), and paused to observe the not-so-new any longer fountain, doing its’ synchronized fountaining to various music pieces, including a particularly ridiculous New Age inspirational number, all thrumming synth pan-pipes and smattered harpistry against the reverb of the kettle drum and chimes.

I was inspired to spontaneously narrate an inspirational powerpoint montage on the theme of teamwork, corporate efficiency, innovation, and the idiot pablum of the cube farm. I amused myself hugely. I have no idea about anyone else.

Moving around the fountain we passed the unctuous pre-recorded security warnings emanating from Key Arena, which sounded exactly like something from a Judge Dredd comic. I mocked them in this manner: “Greetings! You have entered a zone of suspended constitutional rights! For your safety, please do NOT make cynical or sarcastic remarks regarding these security measures! This undermines the ability of our enforcement personnel to maintain control of the situation! Violators WILL be beaten prior to being ejected from the premises!”

Ah, simple pleasures for a simple man.

Finally, after some misguided peregrinations we arrived at the book fair, two large rooms full of old and interesting books. I almost immediately ran into Rick, the guitarist from the Sun City Girls, a long-time acquaintance, and we chatted about their upcoming tour, his book stock (he was there as a dealer) and caught up in general.

There were two R. Crumb originals from the eighties on display and for sale in one booth; I did not ask the price for fear I’d decide I could afford them.

We wandered on, and in the second room, were immediately confronted with an intimidating, enticing, huge pile of individual leaves from medieval miniatures, all of great beauty. The booth these leaves were at offered a very extensive and high-quality stock, but was the only dealer offering large quantities of leaves. Individual book leaves such as these are controversial because in order to offer the leaves, a book must be broken up, which obviously makes scholastic work on the book impossible.

Nonetheless, stuff like this happens to all old and valued art in every culture throughout history and I can’t find it in me to get worked up over it.

Other items of note (some of which I’m still amazed to have gazed upon) included a first edition of a book printed by Ben Franklin; a book carrying a dedication and autograph from Ché to Juan Peron (“saludos revolucionarios, Ché”) that was of obscure fascination for me; a little note from J.R.R. Tolkien, which thrilled me in a way that’s hard to describe because I knew his handwriting.

The same case displayed two letters from George Washington, one of which was laid serendipitously next to a note from Thoreau. Geo’s handwriting was astonishingly meticulous, zero line variation or letter-shape variation, and open and clean and large and legible. It emanated discipline and rectitude.

Mr. Thoreau’s hasty note featured such wild variation of line width and apparent velocity that one could hardly fail to note that the philosophical approaches to life (and what we know of them as they have been depicted to us as media creations) of these two distinguished gentleman, inventors of my nation, were embodied in such a quotidian thing as their handwriting.

There was an unbroken medieval book of days available for a mere one-hundred-thousand dollars, and many small, ancient copies of printed manuals of magic and alchemy, collectively known as incunabulae and somewhat disparaged because of their status as supposed unreliable information sources and wellsprings of superstition. To me, they may be that. But so are more conventionally accepted works of spiritual reflection, and these books are also interesting sources of art and the printers’ craft well worthy of a leafing through.

I had an interesting conversation with a dealer who specialized in Latin America concerning some interesting books I have that passed to me from my family’s time in Chile in 1969; one of the books was published following the Chilean coup (of a few years later) in English and I understood it to be a publication of the junta aimed at increasing American support for the coup; the gentleman I spoke with knew the book bad had some differing opinions about the book, and encouraged me to get in touch with him.

I was surprised to see only one example of American woodtype publicity posters from the nineteenth century, which are my favorite for their shouting, bumptious ornamentation and flowery throbbist purple prose. Again, I did not ask the cost lest I should decide it was affordable.

There were four small first editions of the initial publications of Bartolomé de las Casas, a Spanish priest who spoke out against the treatment of the Native Americans at the hands of Columbus himself and continued to do so until his death, many years later. These works were heeded in their day but the polices growing from them proved unenforceable, and the consequence, through the end of the great plagues among the Natives, was virtual genocide. However, las Casas’ forceful advocacy for the native populace unquestionably helped provide the framework from which the rich and beautiful hybrid cultures of Latin America sprang.

Seeing these books was a moving experience for me. I was grateful for it.

Finally, there were numerous large (15 x 22 inch or larger) examples of medieval music, which immediately appealed to me as a possible wall decoration. Upon investigation, I was both surprised and not surprised to find that these large sheets were, as with the bound music I mentioned earlier this week, relatively inexpensive. Prices ranged from about $300 to as low as $50, which astounds me.

I was pleased to be able to (more-or-less) read the Latin on many of the sheets.

I did not buy any, though. If we’d gone on Saturday I believe I would have returned on Sunday to pick one up.

3 thoughts on “Books, part two

  1. Oops! I attributed some mayan language research to las Casas – I was mistaken, it was another church official, Bernardo de Sahagun.

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