Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Three Months in Tuscany, Courtesy of the Buckland Public Library

When Liz, and then Diana, commented on how they enjoyed my use of the library ( their polite way of saying that I keep them extremely busy), I began to muse a bit. What is unusual about how I use the library and how did that all begin?

The habit started young. I grew up in New York City on the borderline between Queens and Brooklyn. Once a month trips would yield about 7 books in the bookbag. One of the highlights of my life was when I was old enough to walk on my very own to our library about a mile away. I could go after school, I could go on Saturday. Why, I could go just any old time. I could go and pick out a book and then another one and then another. And when I brought them home, I could have them in my room, all to myself. When going on vacation, I would get special dispensation from the librarian to take out more than the allowed amount of books. I could take out 12! And then I’d spend three weeks on lovely Sebago Lake, reading in the shade, hiding from my mother who would spend a good part of her day trying to get me to go out and play or swim or boat or ski. I didn’t need to do those things. I had my library books. I could be stranded on that far off wooded mountain after a plane crash, with only my wits and a few supplies to keep me alive. I could find that magic coin that would fulfill a wish only half way and cause me all kinds of trouble. I could be that child who lived in a big family who laughed all the time and grew up on the plains of the Midwest in 1875. Or I could be the English governess taking care of little Adele and falling in with Mr. Rochester. The world I grew up in extended far beyond our little neighborhood in Brooklyn or our yearly vacation on the lake. My world was huge because I had my library.
But we grow up and the adult life we so avidly await ends up being at times more than just a little frustrating. There are so many times in our lives that we just can’t do what we want to do. We want to learn something, go somewhere, do something, be something, have something, and we can’t. There’s not enough money, not enough time, not enough resources. We don’t have a sitter, don’t have the gas money, don’t have a car. We don’t have the strength, don’t have the energy or the physical stamina, don’t have the courage. Or, maybe, we just don’t know how to begin. Thank all the stars in heaven that we have our library.

Before my hair turned grey and these wrinkles on my face started staring back at me in the bathroom mirror, I lived way out in the country and raised a very big family. We were isolated in geography but I was never at a loss for things to do that interested me or that detoured me in interesting ways from the daily routines. I had my library. On hiatus from work, I was able to continue studying in my profession because of the library. A handicapped child with so many problems? A call to my librarian ( I know, I’m sooo old--- pre computer days) and resources flooded in. I learned physical therapy and speech therapy and stimulation techniques. No money for that lovely sewing book or an interesting novel? It was usually only a call away. Those days, those platinum days with 11 kids at home, did not reflect the poverty in which we lived. We had no TV ( by choice because free ones were offered to us) but we were rich. We had books and we read together and learned together. We could even get games from the library.

Now, it’s 2008. The gas prices are phenomenal and my nest egg for that long coveted trip to Tuscany, Italy just went for oil. I’m at the library again and again and again because now, I’ve decided to spend three months in Italy, made possible by my library. Perhaps my most favorite movie of all time is “Out of Africa”. There’s a scene in which someone asks Meryl Streep if she has traveled, and she replies that she an “armchair traveler”. It’s a lovely line. That line opened up the world to me because I began to explore just how far I could get being an “armchair traveler”. I can get pretty far. Just look here.

I started like any traveler would, by learning some of the language. I went on-line at CWMars and got out all the language books I needed. From them I was able to choose the course I liked best and which I later purchased. I study every day. I had some old travel books and those are always easy to supplement with library loan so I went further and started reading the books by people who had lived in Tuscany, their childhoods or their travels there, or their experience buying and renovating a house there. I needed something more. What do the houses look like, what do Tuscans eat, how do they cook, what do they wear? I ordered some books. I now know how to cook porcini mushrooms with pecorino cheese or how to make fried zucchini flowers stuffed with potato and basil. That information was all easily attainable from, yes, you guessed it, my Buckland library.

I’m glad I have a color copier at home, because I’ve copied some of those lovely Tuscan scenes and have them on my walls. I walk into my office and I am in Tuscany. A glance at the wall and I am picking olives and letting them fall into the nets below the trees. Another glance and I am walking up a stone path into a golden stuccoed house with a tiled roof bathed in the Mediterranean sun at the end of a tiring day in which I’ve picked in the vinyard that stretches out into the landscape for half a mile. In another spot on the wall, I join other women in the stone room at the back of the house where we make pecorino from the Pecora sheep’s milk. But a very favorite place is the piazza of a small town where shops line the edges and it takes you three hours to do your shopping for that night’s meal because you simply must stop and speak to each person you know who is doing likewise. I can feel that sense of community there in Tuscany because of my Buckland library.

And it’s not only books, because my library can get me all kinds of Italian films. I have been in Italy all week, listening to the language, looking at the amazing pink buildings, hearing the children squabbling in the streets. Films bring it all so near. And I’ve heard some different dialects because of the films.

This weekend I am touring Florence. I have my Rick Steeves’ guidebook and a good map of the city and I expect my big coffee table book on Florence to be in today. I’ll probably stay in Florence for a week and maybe go back there as more books arrive. Then there’s the bicycle trip and the hiking trips to the different regions and Tuscany has a coast, too. I’ll need to go there. Pisa is in Tuscany and I may want to read some about how they shored up the tower a few years ago to stabilize it as I travel in that city. I read and it just opens up new areas to explore. And I never run out of time like I do in real-time travel and I never get so exhaustedly tired.
I thought I would spend three months in Tuscany but it may take me a bit longer to perfect my gnocchi and my ravioli. And I’ve always wanted to see Rome. And because I love opera, I think I’ll study something of the lives of Puccini and Verdi. Then, too, I’ve discovered that so many of my favorite authors loved and wrote about Italy. I can’t wait to get books on their Italian stays by Henry James, Edith Wharton, D. H. Lawrence or Charles Dickens. What was it like in Italy 50 years ago, 100 years ago? They wrote about it and I can get their books from my library. I love dogs, so I’ve read about the sheep guard Maremma dogs. I spin and knit, so I know I’ll have to find out about the famous Italian knitting mills. ( I didn’t know how to knit until I got out books through the library).

Oh, there’s another nice thing about armchair travel. I can be with my husband and my dogs and I don’t have to leave my violin behind. It’s with me all the time. I still have to get out a songbook and learn some Italian songs. Then, of course, my trip won’t be complete without some books about the famous violin makers. How I would love to play a Stradivarius! And then, I might just want to learn about the restoring of the old violins and what goes into the perfect varnish. Oh, did I tell you that I learned how to play the violin through the library? Yes, this trip might take longer than three months.

So there you have it, Liz and Diana. Thank you for helping me with the books.

There’s something so special to me about a book. It makes me feel rich when I hold one.
I love my library.

~ Ann Bodkhe Buckland

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