Last night daylight savings time ended, and we gained an hour of sleep. Sunset comes early now.
Fall has definitely arrived. The trees have carpeted our lawn with leaves and the lake is now far too cold for a swim. The ocean-going freighters transiting the lake are mostly headed for the St. Lawrence.
My friend, Jim, who lives in Québec may see them a few days from now. In about a month and a half, all traffic will cease and the St. Lawrence Seaway locks will freeze, closing the system until late March.
In Morocco, there was not much of an autumn. Mediterranean climates have basically two seasons, a cool wet one and a dry hot one. Winter crops start appearing as soon as it rains, and a brief spring appears in April and May. By June the field crops have been harvested and everything dries out, except where there is irrigation, until the winter rains. Many of the deciduous trees are evergreen, losing their leaves throughout the year. In Sefrou, the ashes and platanes (plane trees) lost their leaves, but not much else. Still, here and there, trees did provide a bit of color.
Liz and I spent the day cleaning leaves out of the gutters. As I write, a fire is burning in the fireplace, fed by beechwood from trees we had to cut down last fall. Fall is a busy season. We put away the lawn furniture, repeatedly clean the gutters of leaves, and try to mulch the fallen leaves, or otherwise dispose of them. Trees are lovely, but dealing with masses of leaves is not easy.
Next year we will have to take down an old oak. This fall, we found chicken-of-the-woods mushrooms growing on it.
Sadly, the roots of this tree shelter a beautiful trillium, which blooms every spring. Perhaps we can leave a large section of the trunk standing, and keep the trillium and the mushrooms for a while longer.
Fall also marks the time when the Friends of the Youngstown Free Library hosts a book sale in order to raise money for the library. Our local Friends group has a book sale twice a year, once in the fall and once in the spring. The books come from donations and library discards. If you are not familiar with the way libraries are run, discards are books that are damaged, outdated, or simply never circulate. Most libraries have limited shelf space, so making room for new materials is a necessity. In some cases, entire classes of materials are discarded. Few libraries keep periodicals and journals nowadays as most are accessible online. In the case of books, while it is true that many are available in computer readable formats, most library patrons still prefer to check out paper copies. In any case, this means that some library discards are still worthy of possession. For a bibliophile such as myself, the twice-a-year sale is a date on my calendar to which I look forward, and I try to give a helping hand. Running a two- or three-day sale is a real project, and I really admire the women who put their time and energy into the sale. Yes, it is usually women, as they make up a disproportionate number of the local « friends » groups, and they are willing to take on such a big endeavor. They deserve credit for what they do.
There were no such book sales in Morocco, and books were a relatively rare commodity when I lived there. At the time, illiteracy was common, and literacy, except for those with a secondary education, was, above all, functional. Since I was only literate in French, I scoured the souqs (local markets) for old books on subjects of my interest such as mountaineering and Moroccan history. New books tended to be expensive. Sometimes I was lucky enough to find a bookseller with a store of old books from the colonial period. I remember a little shop in the ville nouvelle in Rabat, just around the corner from the Peace Corps office, that had bins of Chrestomathie marocaine by Georges Séraphin Colin, a great collection of stories and sayings in dialectical Arabic. I didn’t buy any as I already had an old bound copy, but now, in retrospect, I wish I has bought a few more copies, though years later, Jim brought me a digitized copy. A year later the shop was out of business. Buying books in Morocco always involved what could be described as the thrill of the hunt, as well as a degree of serendipity, since one never knew what one would find.
Library book sales provide me with much of the same thrill in addition to the same element of serendipity. I do not collect rare books, nor purchase them for resale. I simply buy books because they interest me, and I hope to read them. I used to buy many books for my high school library since the book budget was not only ridiculously small, but the school district used designated state book aid for purchases clearly not permitted under the conditions specified by the State, and did not give it to the library. When I began my librarian job, the shelves were half-filled or empty. The librarians with whom I worked never liked my additions. Sometimes they were right about whether the books would be read or not, but I didn’t care. As long as there was shelf space, it was an opportunity that existed, and one of the librarian’s roles was, figuratively speaking, to sell books. A high school student might be reluctant to take on my favorite books such as I, Claudius, or The Master and the Margarita, and only a few would. My job, as I saw it, was to get the books into those students’ hands. I didn’t need to sell John Green novels—Green was doing a great job all by himself. I considered my colleagues unread, and with good reason, though in fairness, they did not have my education, nor life experiences such as my long stay in Morocco when I had the time and freedom to read widely. Nor did they read in any foreign language. Unfortunately, they were never going to read War and Peace, let alone explain to a student why they might want to read it. Then again many people will not read War and Peace, daunted by the length and put off by Russian names. Of course, I think every everyone should read it. War and Peace is a great love story as well as Tolstoy’s exposition on how history is made.
What did I find at the sale? I usually don’t look for anything specific, but I am a John LeCarré fan, the pen name of David Cornwell. I wanted a copy of his last novel, A Legacy of Spies. I found it to my delight. LeCarré’s signature contribution to the literature of espionage had always been to emphasize the moral ambiguity of the people and agencies engaged in it, a necessary corrective to the standard narratives of the good fighting the evil. The world of espionage has never resembled Narnia. LeCarre writes very well, too, though I don’t think his women characters are as well defined as his men.
As the Cold War ended, LeCarré was one of the first writers to recognize that the new arena might showcase contests by powerful multinational corporations and oligarchs using nationalism as an ideology—if one was even needed.
I also found a James Burke book. I have always enjoyed his BBC TV series, Connections and The Day the Universe Changed. Burke writes about the history of science and technology in an engaging way, emphasizing historical connections that most of us do not always see for ourselves. Though he writes for the layman, he never talks down to the reader.
The development of the stirrup serves as a good example. It was developed in China and spread across Asia into Europe in late Roman times. The stirrup improved the horse as a weapons platform and consequently led to breeding larger horses, which could carry more heavily armed riders. The use of the long bow in the Hundred Years War made it possible to pierce heavily armored knights, as the French found out to their great chagrin at the battle of Agincourt. By then, however, the development of large horses had also made it possible to plow the heavy soils of Northern Europe, and, along with other factors, contributed to the wealth that fueled the expansion of the Renaissance in the North. In the Mediterranean, thin soils never required as much plowing power. Sadly, many of those large breeds have been replaced by mechanization and are now disappearing at an alarming rate.
Finally, I found a French language book by the companion of Jacques Brel in his last years of life, Maddly Bamy. I thought that it might be biographical, but, after I had read a bit, the metaphysical bent put me off. I can’t say that I finish every book I start.
After the yard work, as the day drew to a close and the air became chilly, my wife and I went inside. I searched in my Italian cookbooks for a polenta recipe similar to the one my grandmother made. I didn’t find it, but tomorrow I will resume the search. I have more Italian cookbooks to consult—many thanks to the book sales.