Expanding the Memory of the World: great books and other records

books, Chinese, bookWhen we think of UNESCO lists, we tend to think of UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites. UNESCO has another list, however, and it just got a lot longer.

The Memory of the World program lists books, inscriptions, libraries, and other documentary heritage to protect them from “collective amnesia” and the ravages of time. Last week the program held its annual meeting and voted to add 45 new entries into the list.

The new additions include the Compendium of Materia Medica, pictured here, which is a Chinese pharmaceutical text written by Li Shizhen (1518-1593 AD). Other additions include the Mainz Psalter (1457), the first printed color book in Europe to be entirely produced with mechanical methods; pictures, text, and records of the Indian indentured laborers in Fiji, Guyana, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago; and the Epigraphic Archives of Wat Pho in Thailand.

The list now includes 238 items. The entire list is here and a detailed looks at the new additions is here.

[Photo courtesy Li Shizhen]

Divorced Dads: Five travel tools and ideas to make visitation more fun

Divorced dads visitation ideasWhether you travel for visitation or not, there are many travel resources you can use to make your experience with your children more enjoyable. Over the past year as a divorced dad, this is something I’ve learned, and the revelations, if obvious to some, have been powerful for me, especially in winter, when outdoor options simply aren’t available. You don’t have to sit in the house and try in vain to entertain your kids. Instead, think like a visitor, and see what your community (local or not) has to offer.

For me, this was eye-opening. I travel to see my son, and I wasn’t fully aware of what was available in his town. With some help, I thought like a traveler and found some interesting options. Here are my top five:

1. Contact the visitors bureau: these organizations don’t just exist in big cities and tourist destinations. Cities and towns of all sizes have them, and their mission is to help you find things to do when visiting. You’ll find attractions you didn’t know existed – and that the locals may not know about. Stop by their websites, and if you don’t see something that catches your eye, fire off an email or make a phone call.
2. Check out local staples: the local library never occurred to me, but it’s now on my list for the next time I visit my son. There are book readings and other planned activities for children. They’re usually free, and will also help your kids get into the habit of appreciating reading!

3. Plan a tour: take a handful of everyday stops in your child’s hometown and fashion them into a fun local tour! Bring excitement to the mundane by planning an underlying theme that connects the familiar in a new or interesting way. Then, you can have a blast navigating this experience, showing your child the local world from a new perspective.

4. Watch the seasons: there are hayrides in the fall and snowy hills for sledding in the winter. Parks are great in the summer, and nothing beats throwing a Frisbee around after you’ve munched on a picnic lunch. Keep an eye on seasonal alternatives where you live and plan accordingly. Have a good idea for summer when the snow is knee-deep? Write it down! That tip will be useful before you know it.

5. Think like a kid on vacation: you’re used to seeing the roads you use for your daily commute and the same boring restaurants whose menus you memorized a long time ago. Shake your head, clear your eyes and take a different look at everything around you. Think back 30 or 40 years. What would you have seen when you were a kid? I remember seeing a tangled comforter as a rough landscape for toy soldiers – even though I now see it as a chore to be finished. We see things differently as adults, and it helps to toss that perspective aside.

[photo by Mike_fleming via Flickr]

My Valentine: 500 year-old letter is first Valentine’s Day card

Valentine, valentinePeople often think Valentine’s Day is a modern invention, a diabolical conspiracy of florists and greeting card companies to suck money out of poor chumps who should be able to show their love without spending a dime. Actually, sending Valentines is older than modern commercialism.

The BBC reports that the first use of “Valentine” in the English language was in a letter dated 1477 from Margery Brews to her suitor John Paston.

Opening her letter to John with “Me ryght welebeloued Voluntyne”, the 17 year-old Margery shows some old-school teen angst by asking why he hasn’t written her recently. John, who was 33, had asked for her hand in marriage but didn’t get the dowry he wanted. The relationship between Margery’s father and John deteriorated and it looked like the marriage would never happen until the pair’s mothers intervened and saved the day. Love triumphed, something that didn’t happen as much as it should have in the 15th century.

To hear the whole letter read in Middle English, check out this link. It’s amazing just how much you can figure out.

The love note comes from a collection called the Paston letters. More than a thousand letters from this wealthy family dating from 1422 to 1509 survive and give an amazing insight into the life of the gentry in the decades before Henry VIII. They’re housed in the British Library in London. Watch the video below for a quick tour courtesy of Rick Steves.

[Painting of Saint Valentine by Jacopo Bassano, 1575, courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Mystery hitchhiker becomes poster child for National Library of Wales

Have you seen this man?

This is Islwyn Roberts, who was photographed in 1958 by Welsh newspaper Y Cymro as he set off to hitchhike around the world. It was a different world back then–flying was only for the rich, and many countries were sealed off behind the Iron Curtain. Mr. Roberts would have seen traditions and cultures that have all but died out today.

It must have been an amazing journey. The only problem is, nobody seems to know what happened to him. There are no other reports of his trip, so it isn’t known if he achieved his dream or gave up before he even got to France, which according to his sign was his first destination.

The National Library of Wales wants to know. It’s launching an exhibition on October 16 called Small World–Travel in Wales and Beyond and it’s made Roberts the poster child in the hope that someone remembers his tale. The exhibition, which is located at the library in Aberystwyth and will last until 2 April 2011, will look at the history of travel from a Welsh perspective. Some of the treasures on display include maps, diaries, and old railway posters, including rare 16th century maps by Welsh explorer Humphrey Lhuyd.

I hope they find out more about Roberts. Just looking at this photo I know I’d like him. He’s got a quirky, determined air about him as he sets off into the unknown, nattily dressed in a jacket and tie, with the practical addition of a pair of sturdy boots. One of the biggest mysteries of this photo is–did this guy have any luggage?

[Photo courtesy The National Library of Wales]

Preserving the literary treasures of Timbuktu

Mali has been getting a bad rap lately with the kidnapping of a French aid worker and travel warnings about the dangers of terrorism, all thanks to Al-Qaeda’s local band of nutcases. But like everywhere else there are more good people than bad in Mali and they’ve been working hard to preserve a unique literary heritage in the famous city of Timbuktu.

Timbuktu is often thought of as a remote place, but it stands at an important point for the trade routes between West and North Africa. In the Middle Ages it was the center of a powerful empire and home to one of the first universities in the world. Students from all over the Muslim world came hear to learn about science, mathematics, geography, religion, philosophy, and more. Today the leading families of Timbuktu preserve the legacy of that golden age of learning–more than 100,000 handwritten manuscripts dating back as far as the 12th century. They cover a wide range of topics. The one pictured here is a treatise on astronomy.

Now these manuscripts will be available to the public thanks to the Ahmed Baba Institute, a state-of-the-art library built to preserve the crumbling documents and display them to the public. Several exhibitions are planned that will add historical context to one of the world’s more popular adventure destinations. The collection of manuscripts will be a lengthy process. Nobody knows just how many families in Timbuktu and other part of Mali have treasures squirreled away, so the institute should be seeing a lot of growth and changes in the coming years.

An interesting video about the project can be seen here.