Friday, 17 February 2012

Toronto librarian stumbles on mysterious card with Jorge Luis Borges connection


Handwritten in Spanish, the card is addressed from famed Argentinean author Jorge Luis Borges and it appears to carry his signature and a cartoon doodle.
Handwritten in Spanish, the card is addressed from famed Argentinean author Jorge Luis Borges and it appears to carry his signature and a cartoon doodle.
Anita LiStaff Reporter
Mystery shrouds an old greeting card tucked away in a dog-eared copy of Plato’s Republic that belongs to Toronto’s Agincourt District Library.
Handwritten in Spanish, the card is addressed from famed Argentinean author Jorge Luis Borges and it appears to carry his signature and a cartoon doodle. Borges’ works, including short story collection Ficciones, are considered literary classics. He died in 1986.
Librarian Louis Choquette discovered the card while flipping through the pages of a battered Plato book, he wrote in a Feb. 15 post for the Agincourt District Libraries blog. “I’m still in shock,” he wrote. “I happen to be a huge fan.”
Choquette is out of the country and unavailable for comment, said Anne-Marie Aikins, a Toronto Public Library spokesperson.
The note, dated June 14, 1978, says: “Thank you very much for your great welcome and reception. I wish you the very best success with your library and its marvellous collection of books,” according to Maria Figueredo, professor of Latin American literature at York University.
Signed “All the best,” the card’s signature matches a reproduced image of Borges’ signature in one of his books, claims Choquette. He adds that he found nothing in the library’s archives that mentions a visit from Borges to the Agincourt library. In 1978, the branch was located in nearby Agincourt Mall at Kennedy Rd. and Sheppard Ave. E. in Scarborough.
The question remains: Was Borges at Agincourt library?
According to Star archives, Borges visited Toronto in 1968 and Ottawa in 1983 for a total of two stays in Canada. During a visit here, Borges gave a lecture at the University of Toronto. There was no indication of a visit in 1978.
“If he would’ve been in Toronto, he would’ve stated it,” said Figueredo, who read Choquette’s blog post. “That would’ve been the normal Spanish way to do it. You’d locate yourself if you were in a different location. Whereas no mention of Toronto means most likely he was in his own hometown or somewhere close.”
Still, Figueredo believes the card is the real deal.
“I think the card may be authentic; there seems to be nothing to contradict it,” she said, adding that Borges likely did not write the note himself because he was blind by 1978 and often dictated his letters.
It could be a card that Borges sent somebody in Toronto, who then put it in the book, says Figueredo. Or, the book could have been purchased in Argentina and then donated by someone who brought it with them to Toronto, she adds.
So, is it all a hoax? Probably not, says Toronto-based historian David Wencer.
“Why would anybody bother to forge such an item?” he said. “It is a very strange thing to forge and then plant.”

Sunday, 12 February 2012

The Business Case for Beautiful Libraries

The Town of Lincoln is about to embark on the largest and most exciting building project in its history.  The upcoming Community Complex which will house an arena, a library and community space will provide a new civic meeting place for sports, culture and organizations.

Starting the week of February 13, there will be a short survey on the Town's website soliciting information from Lincoln residents on what they would like to see for their new complex. Please add your input to this very important information gathering process.

The timely article below by Lisa Rochon appeared in February 11th's Globe and Mail on the Business Case for Beautiful Libraries and by extension beautiful civic space.

The public library is a city’s epic living room – that’s why the French neoclassical architect Étienne-Louis Boullée designed his utopian library as a monumental, barrel-vaulted hall big enough to hold the memory of the entire world. That’s why the New York Public Library is a source of enlightenment and architectural pilgrimage. And it’s why every year 19 million people flood into Toronto’s libraries, many of them exhilarating, award-winning structures. Now, under constant fire from cities desperate to save money, libraries are figuring out how to get the message across that they are crucial to a vibrant civic life.
The Free Library of Philadelphia is focusing hard on the economic case. After $12-million (U.S.) was cut recently from its budget, the institution fought back with a compelling economic analysis. Its business plan targeted fresh ways to assist job hunters, education for small business entrepreneurs, orientation for newly arrived immigrants, the appetites of digital geeks and classes for pre-kindergarten kids. The University of Pennsylvania’s Fels Institute of Government created an economic impact report quantifying the value of the city’s vast library system in dollars and cents. What it discovered was that homes located within one-quarter mile of the library were worth more than those further away. And that the library had contributed through its training programs and sourcing of jobs an estimated $30-million in earned income in one year. To cost-cutting politicians, those are the kinds of arguments that matter.
There’s a key similarity between Philadelphia and Toronto: Both cities have seen an increase in police budgets while delivering punishing blows to libraries. Put more boots on the street to manage increasingly disenfranchised populations – the logic seems crazy but it’s real. “Nearly 50 per cent of working-age Philadelphians are functionally illiterate,” said Siobhan A. Reardon, president and director of the Free Library in a lecture at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. Though it operates as a municipal agency of the city of Philadelphia, the Free Library’s 40-member private board is planning to step up its fundraising efforts to cover recent budget cuts.
While the Free Library has used hard business-case facts, there are also libraries that have fought back with exhilarating, high-design environments. Desperate to re-engage a disenfranchised, illiterate community, politicians in southeast London turned to British pop-architect Will Alsop to produce the Peckham Library as one way to compete – somewhat – with hooliganism at soccer games and nightly binges at the pub. The copper-clad library raised up on cock-eyed stilts, much like the Alsop-designed Sharp Centre for Design at Toronto’s Ontario College of Art & Design, won the Civic Trust Award in 2003 for excellence in public architecture. In a city that enjoys wealthy patronage as well as the harsh reality of inner-city crack alleys, the $170-million Seattle Public Library was designed as a piece of contorted urban spectacle by Dutch cerebral starchitect Rem Koolhaas. On a Sunday afternoon a few years ago, the ground-floor atrium was pleasantly peopled, though not with the crush of people that regularly flows through the sumptuous, wood-lined Grande Bibliothèque in Montreal by the Patkau Architects of Vancouver.
Because of its critical role as a receptacle of collective memory and consciousness, the public library has always attracted among the most talented architects and even geniuses of art and design. In a cloister in Florence, Michelangelo designed Italy’s first public library, the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana (1534), with theatrical, almost surreal flourishes such as overscaled stairs that cascade from the reading room into a grey stone entrance vestibule.
One afternoon this week, walking through the white, light-filled Bloor-Gladstone Library in Toronto’s west end, reimagined in 2009 so that a contemporary glass jewel dialogues with a historic Beaux-Arts library, I was struck by the young, fit-looking urban dwellers focused intensely on a book, or working through some chemistry problems while others studied computer screens. Every lounge chair was taken. Every wooden work counter set below each of the gracefully arched windows had been claimed by pairs of people.
Across the city, where some 40,000 newly arrived Muslims from countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan and India live in high-rise towers, the new Thorncliffe Park Public Library is crammed with children who march from their elementary school – at more than 2,000 students, considered to be the largest one in North America – and into the naturally-lit, joyous space. There’s an interactive early literacy centre for parents and children under 5 at work here, and the computer stations are packed with teens and adults who are without Internet at home.
More and more, true, unfettered public space is increasingly hard to come by. And no, Coffee Time and Starbucks do not count. In a world obsessed by connection, via Twitter, e-mail and endlessly multiplying Facebook friends, the library gives us permission to hunker down by a window or a fireplace, disconnect from the hammering distractions of everyday life, and get on with what has to be learned, and contemplated.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Downton Abbey’s real appeal: Class warfare isn’t historical

Judith Timson From Friday's Globe and Mail
It’s not just me. The most addictive British series since the 1980s hit Brideshead Revisited, Downton Abbey, the soapy saga of a grand estate in Yorkshire and the lives and loves of not only its owners – the Earl and Countess of Grantham and their three marriageable daughters – but of their vast domestic staff downstairs – has found giddy favour at a time when much of its audience is financially hurting and obsessed with the notion of class again.
I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
The U.S. presidential race is replete with back and forths about “class warfare” and President Barack Obama’s supposed “war against the rich.” (The President has been sternly talking about people at the top paying their “fair share.”) Prominent Republicans are turning themselves into instant comic canon fodder for comedians like Jon Stewart by intoning, as Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels did, “This is not a nation of the haves and have-nots, it’s the haves and soon-to-haves.” (This resulted in a pie chart on The Daily Show, with the “haves” and the “somewhat later to haves.”) And when GOP comer Senator Marco Rubio of Florida taking another stab at finding the upside in a country in which the myth of meritocracy has given way to a shockingly widening gap between the rich and the poor, explained that when Americans drive through rich neighbourhoods, “they don’t say we hate the people who live in these nice houses, they say congratulations on your nice house and guess what? We will be joining you here soon”, Mr. Stewart smirked: “There’s nothing that rich people like more than poor people circling their neighbourhood at night saying we will be joining you soon.”
Meanwhile a disturbing new book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, by controversial American academic Charles Murray has been met with both criticism and approval even in Republican circles as it argues that “America is coming apart at the seams – not seams of race or ethnicity, but of class.”
According to Mr. Murray, we now have the “cognitive elite” living the gated good life, absorbing their own culture (like Downton Abbey?),safe in their self-perpetuating bubble of good schools, relatively stable marriages and well-paying jobs while the new lower class, unemployed and shorn of religious belief or the promise of a better life, wander morally unmoored in a bleak landscape of family breakdown.
I found some rueful truth in Mr. Murray’s depiction of a self-satisfied cognoscenti who wouldn’t be caught dead watching The Bachorlette but claim to know exactly what the audience of such a show is thinking or feeling. And the prospect of a world in which equal opportunity is a myth while only those at the very top plunder and prosper, is of course what fuelled the still percolating Occupy movement.
So it’s no wonder, with high unemployment numbers, continuing foreclosures, stacks of unpaid bills, and a bleak global economic outlook, the haves and the haven’t-quite-paid-for-it’s alike are feasting their sore eyes on the real-estate porn of a great fictional English country house in the 1900s.
But it has probably not been lost on many viewers that the current middle-aged Earl, played to gallant perfection by Hugh Bonneville, was forced to marry Cora, an American heiress (Elizabeth McGovern with an odd mid-Atlantic accent) whom he now loves dearly, just to keep that old pile of bricks going.
Meanwhile, down in the butler’s pantry, where there is more intrigue than you can shake a silver candle snuffer at, almost every servant is dreaming of a better chance in a fairer world.
So while the overwhelming attraction of Downton Abbey may a cracking good storyline and great characters amid splendid garden parties and gleaming candelabra, it’s also about financial peril, how to keep what you’ve got and get more, and how to get ahead no matter what the world throws at you.
Or as everyone’s favourite character, the wickedly witty Dowager Countess Violet, deliciously brought to life by Dame Maggie Smith, says to Lady Edith, one of her downcast granddaughters who can’t seem to find a husband or a place in her rarefied world: “Don’t be defeatist, dear, it’s very middle-class.”

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Downton Abbey

Many of my patrons are very excited that season 2 of Downton Abbey is being released in DVD. 

I found this article on how the fans of the show celebrate it.  They are almost as passionate as Coronation Street fans!

A passion for Downton Abbey inspires viewing parties — but without butlers

Christina Haag, left, and Emily Bergl put steak and Guinness pie and Eton mess on the menu for their Downton Abbey viewing party.
Watching Downton Christina Haag, left, and Emily Bergl put steak and Guinness pie and Eton mess on the menu for their Downton Abbey viewing party.
Andrew Kropa/New York Times
NEW YORK To much of the civilized world, the “entail” sounds like some part of a cow that Mario Batali might serve alla Romana. But to aficionados of Downton Abbey, which recently began a second, highly anticipated season on PBS, it is “the great matter,” the root of all evil — and all delight.
The series was introduced last year to a North American audience of Anglophiles parched for a refreshment of costume-heavy British soap opera. (It’s been a long wait since the 1984 miniseries The Jewel in the Crown, and the recent sequel to Upstairs, Downstairs was widely deemed a bit bland.)
“All the DVD stores have been back-ordered for The Forsyte Saga just to fill in the gap,” said Julie Alter, 54, a casting director who grits her teeth at any mention of the entail, “that absurd act of legal theft,” as the mistress of Downton calls it, which forbade English women from inheriting property and forms the series’ main plot line.
See clips on YouTube
Indeed, passion for Downton runs so deep that many diehard fans greeted the new season as a reason for viewing parties. At the Manhattan home of Kelvin Dinkins Jr., 24, a graduate student at Columbia, friends gathered for finger sandwiches, properly made pots of tea and a drinking game: a slog of wine or beer every time the dowager countess (played by the scene-stealing Maggie Smith) delivers a withering one-liner. (Nearly falling out of a swivel chair and informed that it was invented by Thomas Jefferson, she snarled, “Why does every day involve a fight with an American?”)
Kate Lewis, 39, an executive director of human resources at Conde Nast Publications, took some licence with the time frame (1916) of the second season première to prepare an Edwardian feast. (King Edward VII died in 1910.)
“We thought of hiring a butler but decided we could wait on ourselves,” Lewis said. Guests enjoyed cream of parsnip soup, roast pork with chestnut glaze and sticky toffee pudding at her Brooklyn home.
“But I don’t know if we can ever watch the show together again,” she said. “There was a huge debate about Mr. Bates. I love him, but my friends think he’s kind of a wimp.”
Christina Haag, who wrote the book Come to the Edge about her relationship with John F. Kennedy Jr., brought a selection of British cheeses to the party held by her friend, actress and singer Emily Bergl in Greenwich Village.
“I eat red meat about twice a year, but Downton has given me a craving for it,” Haag said, and Bergl obliged with steak and Guinness pie, a recipe from her Irish mother.
Dessert was Eton mess, a whipped-cream-and-berries homage to the prep school of Bergl’s English father, who grew up in a Downton-esque home, now owned by Rod Stewart. Bling was provided by napkin rings that resembled large diamonds, and Bergl burned a briquette of turf, which she poked in the fireplace, exclaiming, “Excuse me, lords and ladies, while I tend the fire.”
The concept of marriage based on dowry — a common custom at the turn of the century — grates on Elizabeth McGovern, who plays Lady Cora. “Much of my challenge is not screaming about what she has to accept,” McGovern said. “I find myself viscerally wound up a lot of the time, without realizing why. It’s because the lot of many women at that time was leading such idle, frustrating lives.”
The eminently crafty Martha Stewart, 70, does not prepare special props or foods for watching Downton, but the show did engender a recent craving for cucumber sandwiches on white bread.
“I’d never seen Season 1 because it wasn’t on at a convenient time,” she said. “But then I got sick so I locked my door, uploaded the entire series onto my iPad and watched all seven hours. I was so depressed when it was over and I had to wait for the next season, but whatever flu-ish symptoms I had were gone.”
For Sarah O’Holla, 29, a librarian at the Village Community School in Manhattan, “my British obsession started last year when I woke up at 4 a.m. to watch the royal wedding,” she said.
A friend brought back a feathery fascinator headpiece, which she now wears for Downton viewing parties. The guests are other librarians and teachers who already had a tradition of reading Bronte novels together and formed what they called the Elegant Ladies’ Club (although the viewings now include one man). “We all have the same level of obsession about the show,” she said, “and we like any excuse to dress up.”
But the award for best costume might go to Patricia Morrison, 65, even though no one will see it. Morrison, widow of the rocker Jim Morrison and author of a memoir called Strange Days, watches Downton alone in bed, wearing sweat pants and a tiara. “I happen to have two,” she said. “Who knew you could get tiaras on eBay? But I’m deeply disappointed that nobody on Downton has worn one so far.”
She was also upset to learn that some bits of the show are broadcast only in Britain. “It’s edited here so that PBS can cram in Laura Linney to introduce it,” she said. “Lovely woman, lovely actress, but we don’t need her. More of Downton, please.”
New York Times News Service