Monday, February 14, Valentine’s Day
I awoke very early, as is the norm now. My shoulders still twinge if they bend or I reach the wrong way. Sleeping in the fetal position is the best.
I was away 2 weekends in Egypt, so the past week and this weekend in particular were catch up.
Since it now hurts to reach and lift single books up one at a time, I’ve learned different less stretchy ways to get them where they belong.
Still, my arms were very sore last night.
I wonder if something is torn? They have gotten somewhat better.
The temperature dropped suddenly from Saturday to Sunday. The week had been very mild—50s, even into the 60s. When I awoke around 3 a.m. Sunday and looked at my phone, it said it was snowing, in the low 30s and would continue to snow. I’d no idea! It was black night outside my windows. I turned on the outside lights, and all was covered in white. The smallest twig at the end of a tree branch had a half-inch of snow on it.
I didn’t want to be trapped or risk a scary descent, so I quickly put some sweats on and headed out. Fortunately, the pavement was black, and the gravel lane snowless.
I was at work at 4 a.m.
Not a bad place to be.
It was a particularly glorious day. Stunning books and old trade catalogs from Nabisco cookies to early automobiles, ephemera and artwork.
I hadn’t showered in my rush to get out. Nor had I showered on Saturday. I was pretty grungy, so I left in the middle of the day and went home and cleaned up.
Back to carts and books, life as I know it.
A long day, but satisfying.
I took the dogs home and stoked the fire.
I was barely interested in the Super Bowl. It has become less a sport than a Disney show. Throw in the politics and preaching (look to your own house), and it is just not fun like when I was a kid—awestruck by those super humans I looked up to. I made some Pho and opened a red Bordeaux. Flipped channels and went to bed before the game ended.
Same with the Olympics.
I don’t think I was able to convey the enormity of it all. Even though both stories were perhaps the longest ever. It is far more extensive in Luxor than Cairo.
A barren desert escarpment with dozens of brilliant art galleries buried invisibly beneath the red-brown sand and rubble. All these exhibitions are thousands of years old.
Above ground, there are temples and other structures everywhere. Many pillaged to mere outlines on the soil. And but for two short excursions, we didn’t see the many, many sites up and down the Nile.
There was plenty of ancient color above ground. Some walls and ceilings protected from the elements showed their paint thousands of years later.
Why here? In the middle of nowhere?
It is a long thin belt of habitable land along the river. To the east and west vast are deserts. To be invaded, opponents would have to come from the north or south and attack along a very narrow front.
Why the blossoming of culture and art? Some of it was due to the geographical protections—as well as extremely strong defenses.
You can also ask why the Renaissance? Why the flowering of Greece? Rome?
Shakespeare? Milton? Opera? Gatsby? Beatles?
Maybe it was aliens that planted their seed at el Qurn. LOL…
But now Egypt is a part of me. The trip was life changing. The daily sensory overload of beauty and majesty filled my mind—I think forever.
You know I love books. But the images in books or on screens cannot convey the enormity of standing in a tomb far below an African desert’s surface—all alone—surrounded—walls and ceiling—by colors and shapes and figures—magnificent art—people living and breathing three thousand years ago.
My cup runneth over.
I may never see the mountains of the moon. But I have visited a magnificent underworld.
Smoking… is still everywhere in the country. L&M seems to be a favorite brand.
It is like the 1960s. Ashtrays on every table.
My wonderful guide, Medhat, admitted to smoking. He never did it in a closed area. But there were times when I went down in a hole or somewhere else by myself that he was able to satisfy the urge. My mom had the same. She would send me to local—”bodega” I guess you would call it now. Boekel’s—on Main Street in Amherst. I used to turn in found bottles there for income. I’d wheel them over in my little red wagon. 2 cents for small bottles. 5 cents for quarts. Bubble gum cost a penny. Milky Ways a nickel. Sodas a dime.
My mom’s cigs? 25 cents a pack for Lark.
I don’t think I praised Medhat enough. We had some very spiritual conversations during down time. If you go to Luxor (you should!), I can recommend him highly. He was very knowledgeable about ancient sites. He was able to clue me in on life in current Egypt. His English was better than mine.
No room or spot in the hotel or anywhere else was “smoky” smelling.
I wrote this one evening in the great hotel bar:
The big bar is smoky. Ishmael has the doors open and cool air from the Nile wafts in. A clutch of youngish women cackle behind me. Americans. The loudest has the unmistakable “smoker’s voice.” The ugly croak. If you thought smoking was behind us—it is alive and well in Egypt. There are ashtrays on the tables. A fancy brass ashtray is in front of every elevator. At least you can’t smoke in them.
There is no pork, obviously. The wonderful buffet breakfast had chicken or beef sausage and beef “bacon.” Every morning, I would have some of the various bean dishes. A hot one was “Foul.” Fava beans, I think, kind of like refried beans but not nearly as heavy. Delicious on toast. Hummus. Tahini. A fried bean “biscuit.” Lots of fruits and vegetables. Delicious!
I’m in a Dulles bar. Noon. Thursday the 17th. I’ll fly to Atlanta soon. Then Rome. Then…
I just got an email from Ray.
He thanked me for the gin I left. And he told me of a toe problem he had. A REALLY BIG toe problem. He had identified part of the foot of a colossal granodiorite seated statue of Ramesses II at Luxor Temple, and they tested the join on Wednesday. It fits perfectly, and will be mortared permanently into place next week.
Another match by my learned friend.
Piece by piece, they are putting ancient Egypt back together. And recording the unreadable walls and other surfaces and whatever else may be worn away by the elements.
If Wonder Book does “Book Rescue”, professionals like Ray and Jay do Rare Artifact Rescue.
I wrote to them, “Egypt is a part of me now.”
And it has captivated them (and my departed friend, Barbara) for their lifetimes.
Monday 5 a.m., Valentine’s Day
It is good to be curled up in bed with Merry and Pip. They make happy little grunts now and then. They press hard against me. For affection? Or warmth?
Outside, thousands of feminine emerald fingers are pushing up through the earth up. The first daffodils will open in a couple weeks.
Winter is about half over.
Last week was busy. A Washington Post reporter called and emailed a number of times. If it gets published, I hope it turns out ok. I was referred to him by another bookseller who had been very upset with me a couple of years ago. I still don’t know why.
He wrote, and we made up.
Your writings have a depth of soul to them.
Words like ‘old soul’ are thrown around, but they do it little justice.
I’ve always wondered if this business attracts people like us, or forges us through the experience.
Well, that was unexpected. Inspiration can come from the unlikeliest sources.
The next hurdles on the enormous was warehouse building project. Two more hurdles were cleared last week as well. We may break ground on the “vacant lot” before summer. A project nearly two years in the making. And it still isn’t off the ground.
I’ll head down the mountain soon and see what is going on. I need to visit the stores and show myself.
I have to get a COVID test this afternoon.
Yep. I’m going away again already. If I test negative. The trip to Egypt—postponed a few weeks by a positive COVID test—had to be squeezed in just before another long planned journey.
I’ll have to slow down, eventually.
But I’ve found every walk I take, every journey, every difficult endeavor ends up being worth the effort.
All the struggles getting to and returning from Egypt—they are just anecdotes. It would have been worth it if I’d only had one day to explore beneath desert.
I check the thermometer. 18 degrees outside. 62 in. I’ll need to bundle. Last week was in the 50s. The week before was in the desert of Africa. Winter won’t let go yet.
Checking my email before I get out of bed… my day just got re-planned.
These are great fun to work on. And very therapeutic for the stores. And a workout for me physically. I hope it doesn’t screw up my arms. My shoulders have not recovered yet. I hope I won’t need surgery.
62 linear feet or well-read art books! Those sections are desperate for thinning.
61 in. 27 out. But it is supposed to rise to 52 today. Spring. I am ready. The riot of color of thousands of daffodils is gaining momentum beneath the frozen earth here in the New World. Buried beauty.
The dawn is moody on this day.
It has been a hard week. Ernest and I went to different stores on Monday and Tuesday to cull for the big subject order. We pulled hundreds of stale or duplicated books. This will make room for fresh stock to be shelved.
On Monday, I even went to two stores—working into the evening to try to get ahead, so I can feel ok about getting away.
The Circle of (Book) Life.
People bring books to the stores. We bring them to the warehouse. We send some back to the stores. What customers don’t buy gets returned to the warehouse.
The “formula.” It keeps evolving. I hope it keeps working.
We will go to two different stores, Ernest and I, today to finish up the order.
I will try to clear my desk—actually a table—covered with paper sprawl.
My arms ache. But the pain is not as acute as it was. It still hurts to “reach.”
I got my COVID results yesterday afternoon. Negative. The final hurdle to flight.
The mask mandate was lifted in Frederick on Saturday. I didn’t know. When I got to work, I noticed some people had faces. What’s going on? They will maybe end the mandate in Montgomery County next Monday. D.C. will end the “vax passports” soon. You won’t need to show your vax card to go to restaurants down there any more.
I am so glad we weren’t faced with the proposed law to demand employees get vaxed… or else. That would have been an impossible situation for a simple bookseller to face.
I’m still wearing my mask, and many others are as well. Why? I don’t know. I guess, like Egypt, it has become a part of me. Maybe it’s because I’ve been through this all before and before and before.
My Irish friends are planning to return in March! They will come and pillage each of the stores.
That’s where all this nightmare began two years ago. They were here, like every year, and then the world started to go crazy. They had to rush to get out of the US to their home.
It will be good to see them. I’ll escort them from store to store. In the evening, we will have beers and dinner and catch up.
If it works out, it will close the circle in some ways.
They were here at the beginning of the madness. They may be here at what may be the end of it.
I feel much older than I was two years ago. COVID-aged.
I had a dream last night. I was in a medical setting. Lying on a table. Tubes were running fluids in and out of me. Somehow, I knew I was being rejuvenated. Science had found a way to reverse aging.
That would be nice.
There are a lot of things I’d like to do again—now I’ve learned so many lessons.
I’m about to board for Atlanta.
It will be a long few flights. I hope they won’t be as “exciting” as the Egypt flights.
The airport is still very empty. There are two big parking garages. You can walk to the terminal underground from them. Garage #2 is “closed.” It was closed last trip too.
It was a double whirlwind week. I was catching up from Egypt. I also had to “get ahead” for Sicily.
Bank. Bank. Lawyer. Lawyer. Accountant. Bank.
Carts. Carts. Carts.
On one of the carts, there was a little pile of paper. Hotel notepaper. Why was it on my cart? I nearly threw it away. Trash. Something stayed my hand. A couple days later, I took a closer. It was poetry. Or stream of consciousness. It spoke to me. I have no idea where it came from. Its hand is not quite feminine. Nor masculine. I’ll guess female, though.
The pages read:
Bookshop in Berkeley… Had its day in the 70s… Pillars of books… neckbreaking stacks.
Spider living on the top shelf of American… books that haven’t been touched since 1975… safe haven.
Clicking. door dinging… bubble wrap snapping.
carried in on an 1918 copy of Jean Cocteau’s:
Le Coq. et L’Arlequin of course
It had to be rebound. Of course.
My favorite part of the book are the 3 illustrations by Picasso. The first, a realist rendering of Jean Cocteau drawing on a spiral tablet; reprinted on the Frontispiece was not my favorite. But at least I have a fairly accurate account of the author… A kinda crocked-eyed aesthetic. w/ a skinny neck; clean ears. not very daring in the look’s department.
It is the Second two drawings that held my attention a Rooster on page 25 & on p49 the ultimate harlequin jester/matador.
Each one drawn w/ a continuous line. A spider web of continuous thought.
The new binding if you could call it new… it was probably 1975 era… but it was finished w/ a snappy close—hand marbled paper in those vague orange/green colors of aging.
voices disturbing—mulberry, flatware. nooooo—very British noooooo
can’t. on death row… oh so very, very, very… OH [f***ing] Lord!! a dull ache in my pyshi-pain. Rubish… any old invoice… CLUNK… ding on the bell they exit.
Faces bearing down… loud laughing faces… on the backs of books
poised prima what nots.
loud… loud clamoring voices… fighting slinging arrows for attention… the muffled cry of the stacked books.
Its so cruel to stack books the ones on the bottom suffocate… The upper layers still get an occasional whimper
a fine paragraph of a drawing. held together w/ years of preparation.
cont. Whimper heard…
Book must be stored upright in rows their top exposed to air… Someplace for their voice to be released. But this is cause for a very noisy night. Sleepless as they all tell their stories in one loud cry…
They sleep all day… waiting til the last click of the key. And a unison sigh… announces the start… first one… barely audible… then recognizable… swelling til dawn.
Whew! My kind of writing.
A little discovery lost in a book. Found by serendipity and recorded here.
I wonder at the person.
The shop? Moe’s? Serendipity? Another?
Written in the 90s? Early 2000s?
A kindred spirit I will never meet. In the world.
Another who knows books live. Biblio-morphism?
What else did I find this week?
This one of a kind manuscript book:
A Ferlinghetti poem done by a woman in Louisiana in 1963. She dedicated it to Larry.
The poem “The Long Street.”
She drew a street all the way through it. Page by page.
My two trips to San Francisco last spring. The flight dystopian. COVID.
The city dystopian. Plague and lawlessness.
My brother’s death while I visited Muir Woods.
The return trip to be on the boat while his ashes were spread in the bay.
And then the trip south to Stanford where my older son went a few years and took all my income for three years. Ticked me off at the time. But it was worth it.
Then down to Monterey. And on to Big Sur.
This book, her labor of love, came to us by serendipity. Trashed likely if it had ended up anywhere else in a bulk load.
Well, like the writer above, the book has a voice and speaks to me.
It will live on until…
These writings I do.
Therapy to keep the spooks away.
Two hundred and forty weeks in a row.
Words. Sometimes true. Sometimes fantasy. Biography. What goes on behind the scenes and what makes the “sausage factory” producing. Vanity. People. Memories. Travels. My hermit life. Whining. Verse, or what I say passes for verse. Songs.
Well, I tried.
And I’ll keep trying.
And I’ll keep slinging books as long as I can lift them.
The succession plan is evolving. I won’t have to dismantle this. The lawyer is working on this. A kind gentle soul. Guiding my way to the well-planned finish. So I won’t leave a mess.
Fingers crossed that is a long way off.
Lots of old stories left to record.
Lots of new adventures too.
Lots of books to discover.
I looked at these giants this morning in Annika’s research area.
There’s a handed colored double folio image of London’s Great Fire. Inspiring.
Since she attended CABS, she’s become scholarly. I have to remind her sometimes “fast and dirty.”
I left her plenty of work.
The Atlanta airport is BOOMING.
Packed. I had to go by 5 bars to find a seat.
Maybe it is a southern thing.
Five hours til the flight to Rome.
Maybe I’ll get this blog out. I don’t know what the next day will bring as far as internet.
And my poor editor needs a short story.
Books are everywhere if you keep your eyes open.
Here are some of MLK’s in a display at the airport:
And my first visit to Atlanta—a Gibson with a pretty hard to find gin:
I keep a bottle of it in the freezer on the mountain—for special occasions.
An overnight flight.
I was there in December 2019.
When I returned, I had a terrible flu. I coughed my lungs out for days.
Maybe it was early COVID.
But then, I had COVID a month ago.
So getting there will close a COVID circle too as well.
I hope the circle gets closed.
I’m ready for a less dystopian world.
I don’t do any social media besides Instagram.
It is just pretty pictures, mostly.
Tame, but weird and sometimes “please don’t! I’ll have to put a fork in my eye” sexy pics people feel the need to share.
I have three accounts:
Books by the Foot images do great!
This picture had 10,000 “likes.”
Maybe we should sell piles of crunchy old orphaned antiquarian books?
“I” like them. The aesthetic.
We were given lots and lots of COVID tests!
Our tax dollars at work.
I hope we don’t need them.
Someone will have to pay for all this. Look in the mirror.
All right. Quiz time.
What team is this ball cap from?
I’d watch them play!
One last anecdote.
I came across this little broadside this week:
This guy took this approach to sell coffee and tea in Pennsylvania.
Look at the prices per pound!
Well, I’ll be over the ocean for many hours soon.
This morning’s dawn was magnificent.
Not a bad thing to wake up next to.