The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik

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November 17, 2012

In the library

It took her no more than 10 minutes to get there. To pass in front of the two caryatids and into the lobby of the Marciana was to pass from the constant crowding of the piazza into the calm tranquility that thoughts and the books that contained them were meant to give.  She stood for a moment, as if she were a diver waiting to decompress, and then she approached the guard and mentioned Ezio's name.

He smiled and waved her through an apparently deactivated metal detector and into the foyer of the library. One of the guards must have phoned him, because by the time Caterina got to the head of the stairs Ezio was there, coming toward her with outstretched hands. There were lines around his eyes, and he seemed both thinner and shorter than he had been the last time she saw him, almost a decade ago, but the brightness and the smile were the same. He wrapped her in a tight hug, pushed her free of him, kissed her on both cheeks, and then they took turns saying all of those sweet things that old friends say when meeting again after many years. All of her sisters were fine, his kids were growing, and what was it she wanted him to do? 

She explained the need to find information about a baroque composer for a research project she was doing for the Foundation, of which he had heard, though vaguely. There was no need to explain more than that to him. He said she was welcome to use the stacks as much as she liked, then excused himself and said he'd go and organize a reading card for her as a visiting scholar.

'No!' he said, turning back toward her.'Let me take you up to the stacks, You can get an idea of what's there.' When she began to protest, he refused to listen, saying 'You're a friend of mine, so don't worry about the rules. Once I get you the card, you have access to almost everything.' Without waiting for her to answer, he set off to the right, and led her into the long gallery she recalled from her student days. The marble floor might have served as a chessboard for two opposing tribes of giants. ... The enormous globes of the earth appeared to be the same, as did the outrageous vaulted ceiling without an inch of empty space. Why were we Venetians so excessive, she wondered. Why did there always have to be so much of everything?  And all of it beautiful. ...

Turn and turn and turn about, and soon she had no idea where they were. ... 'How do you find anything?' she asked, when Ezio pointed to a wall of shelves. 

'Do you mean a room, or a book?' he asked

'Both. I'd never find my way out of here. And how do I know what's here?' she asked, looking around for the computer terminals.

Smiling a broad smile, Ezio led her over to a shoulder-high wooden cabinet, the front of which was entirely filled with small drawers. 'Do you remember?' he asked, patting the top of the wooden cabinet. 'I saved it,' he said, obviously boasting.

'O, Dio' she said, 'it's a card catalog!' When had she last seen one?  And where? She approached it as a true believer would approach a relic, and reached out and touched it, ran her hand along the top and side, slid her hand under a flange and pulled a drawer out a few centimeters, then slid it silently back in place. It's been a decade, maybe more. Then, in a conspiratorial voice, she said, 'I love them. They're so full of information.' Then lower still, 'What did you do?'

In the voice of an actor in a war film suffering from shell shock he said, "They were going to destroy all of the cards. My superior told me. It was a direct order.' He paused, and took in two very melodramatic breaths. 'First, I threatened to quit if they removed it.' She covered her mouth with her hands, though it was insufficient evidence of her horror. The she said 'You're here, so you didn't quit. What happened?'

'I threatened to tell his wife he was having an affair with one of my colleagues.'

Instead of laughing, which would have been her normal response, she asked 'Would you have done it?'

Ezio shook his head. 'I don't know, really. Maybe.'
from The Jewels of Paradise, by Donna Leon

I'm listening to this as an audiobook {I love 'reading' certain authors that way, including this one} ... so, if you want, add the Italian accents and la passione.

{image, and the wonderful story behind it, found here}

1 comment:

JoAnn said...

Certain authors, like Anne Tyler, have become my 'audio authors' . Donna Leon has been on my to read list for ages but, for some reason, I've never considered listening. Of course, I like to start at the beginning with Death at la Fenice. Don't see that one on audible, but Cassandra Campbell is favorite narrator and I see this one one of hers...

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