Monday, September 20, 2010

Chester Beatty Library, Dublin

The Book of Kells was just the tip of the iceberg in Dublin. After our morning visit to Trinity College, we found our way to Dublin Castle and finally to one of Ireland's greatest treasures, the Chester Beatty Library. If you love books you must add this spot to your bucket list; I promise you won't be disappointed.

First of all, let me tell you a little about Chester Beatty. He was born in New York, and graduated from Columbia University as a mining engineer. (My husband, who is also all of these, felt an instant kinship.) Beatty headed west and started shoveling rock in Denver, worked very hard, and before long had built a successful consultant business based in New York. His first wife died of typhoid fever; Beatty left New York for London.

As a child, Beatty had collected minerals, bottles and stamps; as an adult, he moved on to Persian and European manuscripts. In a position to travel the world with his successful business ventures, he expanded to Japanese and Chinese, Egyptian and other bindings. He was particularly fond of highly illustrated books, fine bindings and beautiful calligraphy. In 1950, he moved to Ireland and built a library for his collection, which was given to a trust for the public when he died.

The Library consists of two floors of books and manuscripts. The first floor features the Arts of the Book which, at the time of our visit, had several books from India from the first half of the 17th century, mostly very small, so small you were provided with a hand magnifying glass so you could view the remarkable details of each page through the glass. The illustrations were absolutely breathtaking! The color, facial expression, costume detail and page composition were all exquisite. As no photographs were allowed, I'm reproducing several note cards I picked up in the gift shop just to give you an idea of what we saw.

On the second floor are the Sacred Traditions texts, including Jewish torahs and scrolls, early Christianity testaments, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism manuscripts, Egyptian papyrus fragments and scrolls, along with videos that explain the various rites of passage for the different belief systems. There is also a lovely roof garden, and in the library book store there was a little niche filled with marbled papers and handmade books from last year's discovery in Florence, Il Papiro.

Outside the Library, there is a delightful walled garden with a view of the Castle and surrounding buildings. Nearly the entire day had passed, without stopping for lunch or noticing the time, and we had to rush to make our way back to one of the last shuttles to the ship. All in all, what a great day for enjoying book arts!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Book of Kells, Dublin

Our next stop was Dublin, home of Trinity College and the largest collection of books in the world, including the enchanting Book of Kells. Trinity College Library houses over four million volumes, collected since the end of the 16th century. It was certainly going to be a book lovers day, to be sure, overwhelming and inspiring at the same time. So let's begin.

We took a shuttle bus into the city, as we had decided to do Dublin on our own instead of with the group. As you draw closer to the main part of town, the magnificent Samuel Beckett bridge greets you, spanning the Liffey River. Designed by architect Santiago Calartrava, the cable-stayed structure resembles a giant harp on its side. It appears to be weightless, a stunning contrast to the surrounding buildings, typical Dublin skies and dark water below. Lucky for us that the timing of this trip made it possible to see, as the bridge was only installed in late 2009.

Dublin is all about the book. Our first stop was Trinity College, where we joined the long line waiting to view the Book of Kells. We had last visited Dublin about 30 years ago; at that time, the Book of Kells occupied one modest glass case inside the Long Hall Library. Today, there are several rooms and a wonderful exhibit that accompany the display of the Book of Kells, located on the level below the Long Hall. Before you view the actual Book folios, there is an exhibit that explains the history, the production (thought to be done by a team of four monks), the techniques, tools and materials, all fascinating details to those of us interested in making books. Examples of Ethopian bindings, many with their own box-like leather carrying cases are included in the exhibit, and don't be surprised if some of next summer's workshop projects are inspired by what I saw here.

Alas, no photos were allowed inside, so you'll have to do a little online surfing of your own to see photos of the magnificent pages. They are incredibly colorful, almost contemporary in appearance; just imagine this intricate work being done with a tiny fraction of the tools and resources we have available today.

After the Book of Kells exhibit, we took the stairs up to the Long Hall, a library so over the top that you must take a deep breath when you enter and just take it all in before you proceed. Picture two very tall stories of floor to ceiling books for more than the entire length of a city block, with an even taller arched ceiling joining the two sides. The length is broken down into nooks, each with its own ladder to reach the upper shelves, and on both floors. It is more books than I have ever seen in one fell swoop, enough to make a book lover swoon.

The walls between the nooks each have a bust of a literati. Many volumes, due to age or condition, appear to have pages and covers tied together with a length of linen tape; you can see these bundles on the shelves in the photograph reproduced above. And then there is that wonderful library book smell that fills the hall. I'm pretty sure this must be what heaven is like.

After our visit, we walked around the Trinity College campus for awhile, noting that even the statues here are all holding books. It was a lovely morning, and in the afternoon we had another book related adventure which I'll share in the second part of this post.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Colorful Kinsale

In the afternoon, we went off on a side trip to Kinsale, famous as the town closest to where the Lucitania was sunk by a German U-boat in 1915 during World War I; the wreckage lies under the sea about 7 miles from the lighthouse. Of the almost 2,000 passengers on board, only about 800 survived, as the ship sank in less than 20 minutes after it was attacked. This was the second of what would become three major ship losses from this area; we'll talk about the third in a future post.

What a visual treat we encountered when we entered the town! The buildings were painted in rich colors, adorned by beautiful flowers in window boxes and shop goods hung outside to lure the customers in. And there were plenty of customers ... this town was hopping! Lots of lively little outdoor cafes, bookstores, pubs and shops -- and for once, it was mostly the townspeople and not so many tourists. I popped into the town's two bookstores, hoping to find some older titles on bookbinding but, alas, there were none to be had. We did find some lovely Aran yarn to bring back to our knitting friend, and Irish tweed woolen goods were plentiful and nicely priced. We marveled that even this town had a Thai restaurant. No Starbucks, and not missed.

So, enjoy this charming tidy town through the photos, and next post we'll enjoy the delights of a big city.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Cobh, Ireland

We spent the next morning walking around the town of Cobh (pronounced Cove), our first stop in Ireland and port for the city of Cork, Blarney Castle, the Waterford Crystal Factory, and Kinsale (more about this in the next post). Cobh is known for a few things: it was the last port of call for the ill-fated Titanic on her maiden voyage in 1914, before setting out on the Atlantic. Cobh was also the departure point for many thousands of Irish who fled the country to escape the potato famine in the mid 1800s.

Cobh is a town of tiny houses painted in wonderful bright colors, dominated visually by a ginourmous cathedral on top of a hill. Once again, we marveled at the lavish use of flowers all over town, and began to covet the tall, three-tiered flower boxes for our own garden at home. We spent our morning walking the streets, slowly winding our way up to the cathedral, and were rewarded on top by some lovely views.

My memory of this port will be the texture of all the houses when seen from the ship; row after row of tiny random color chips that seem to get along with each other just fine. Shown here are a few photos from our morning walk; in the next post, we'll take a field trip in the afternoon to Kinsale.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Guernsey Literati

Last year, our book club read the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a novel based on the German occupation of Guernsey during World War II. Guernsey was the only part of Britian that was so occupied; the island is located just 8 miles off the coast of France, so it was inevitable that the Germans would take it after France had fallen. Britian could not afford to defend the tiny island without tremendous loss of civilian life, and so decided to evacuate all the children and adults who wished to go, leaving behind a handful of brave men and women to continue. It's a great read, written in the form of correspondence between the main characters on Guernsey and mainland Britian and U.S. I didn't know at the time that I read it that I would be visiting there so soon!

We had sailed from Southampton the day before and arrived in St. Peter Port early the next morning. The dock there is quite small, so our giant ship could not come all the way in; we anchored just outside the harbor and went in by tender (small boat). Approaching the island, you can't miss the giant fortress; while many others in the group opted to go there on a tour including the underground tunnel museum, we decided to stay above ground and explore Guernsey by foot.

Our first stop was St. James Church, the tall spire you can see in the photo above. Housed inside St. James are the Guernsey Tapestries, a collection of 10 unique, heavily embroidered works, each depicting a century of Guernsey history. They were created as a collaborative work by residents of the 10 boroughs that make up the island. Dozens of needle artists of all skill levels contributed hundreds of hours to the completion of these tapestries over the course of about three years. They were finished around 2002; the Queen visited for the opening and awarded a medal to the organizer of the project. She probably was invited to one of those garden parties as well. You can see more of the tapestries here .

Guernsey has more claim to fame than good looking cows; it was also where the first post box was invented. While French is the official language, English is most often spoken; they have their own pound currency (I brought a bill home to press in my book) and postage stamps. One of the churches that we visited was having a sort of spontaneous rummage sale, and I purchased several collections of colorful Guernsey stamps to use in future art projects. As we passed the pub shown above, I wondered if it was the site of the original cock and bull story. Who knew?

Next stop was the Guernsey Museum and Art Gallery, high atop a hill with the best views in town. The Museum is full of war time memorabilia and provides an excellent commentary on the German occupation. The adjoining Art Gallery was showing art created during this time by residents who had the added challenge of not having very much to work with. It's amazing how resourceful people can be when circumstances call for it. Many household items were repurposed during this time, and here you thought our current frenzy for altering things was a brand new idea! At the museum I purchased a great little reproduction book of a government war publication, titled Make Do and Mend -- I see it is also on Oh, and there was tea and scones at the adjoining cafe in the gardens.

Our final destination was to find the house where Victor Hugo lived for about 14 years while in exile from France. It was here that he wrote Les Miserables among other works. The house is lovely; the gardens in the back even more so, with views of his beloved France from the upper windows. I've included a few photos above. Alas, all we could see across the water on this day was the giant cruise ship waiting down in the harbor.

Long before our day ended there, I had fallen in love with Guernsey. The flowers all over the island were magnificent; hundreds of hanging baskets and tiny courtyards filled with beauty; the temperature was around 75 degrees; a welcome escape from our sweltering Chicago summer. So, if I go missing sometime, there is a good chance you will find me here again in this charming, inspirational setting.

The Other Queen

Ginny Carter Smallenburg and I have had this Queen thing going on for years. It started back in the days of Art Continuum and the Creative Block, and to this day I start nearly all my correspondence to her addressed as The Queen. So imagine my surprise to find there is another Queen out there, with maybe an even larger home and fabulous gardens to match!

Our second day in London was spent at Buckingham Palace. In the morning, we saw the changing of the palace guard. We were approaching the palace along a wide, grand boulevard when the guards suddenly just marched in front of us! We shot some photos, then tried to keep up with them on the sidewalk as they approached the palace, a task that became increasingly difficult because the crowds were enormous around the palace gates and surrounding circle.

Our timing for this trip was perfect, for when the Queen is away on vacation (she goes to Scotland for two months every summer), the Palace state rooms are open to the public for tours. There are a total of 26 rooms altogether ... ballrooms, sitting rooms, music room, throne room (and we're not talking toilets, here) receiving rooms, grand staircases, painting gallery rooms and many others. There was also a very nice exhibit of Queen stuff ... gowns and crowns, those ever present hats and sensible handbags, swords and pillows, and a collection of this year's birthday cards to the Queen ... a delightful display, highlighting all of the Queen's many official responsibilities throughout the year. And you thought you lived a highly scheduled life!

My new goal is to get myself invited to one of the three garden parties held each year on the grounds ... about 8,000 people attend each one, so surely there is a chance for me somewhere! (Memo to self: do something worthy of Queen attention.)

We decided to have lunch at the Palace because, in the summer, you can. Even our coffee came with this special insignia. Lovely!

At the obligatory stop at the gift shop as we left, I happened upon this fabulous box which, when opened, turned out to be not only a sewing kit, but a kind of book structure that I have seen somewhere before. Don't be surprised if it finds its way into my repertoire at some point!

Next post we're off to the Isle of Guernsey, where we had several artful adventures.