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

When 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]

Cool travel souvenir: Hotel door hangers

Much of my apartment is decorated with travel souvenirs. The ceramic wine carafe I bought in Cinque Terre sits on the bar. Pictures I found at the Buenos Aires San Telmo Sunday market line the wall. Postcards bought in Iceland are propped on the fireplace mantel. I love being surrounding by reminders of my adventures, so I was intrigued and inspired when I saw this collection of vintage hotel room door hangers.

Michael Leibowitz says on his website that the collection belonged to his recently deceased grandfather, who had covered a wall of his study with “do not disturb” signs from hotels around the world. Locations represented in his collection range across the globe and include Athens, Bangkok, Budapest, Hawaii, Paris, New Zealand, Florence, Tasmania, and Tokyo.

There are signs from hotels like the Beirut Phoenicia Intercontinental, and from countries such as Yugoslavia, that no longer exist, and there are hangers from iconic hotels like the Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok that have been around for over 100 years. It’s a beautiful set with designs ranging from simple to elegant to totally retro. And it’s inspired me to start my own collection. While I’m not going to start displaying them on my wall just yet, I think that years from now they’ll be interesting to look at as a memory of my travels.

What’s your favorite travel trinket to collect and how do you display your memories? Whether you collect matchbooks you store in a jar or or postcards you display on a wall, tell me about your favorite travel souvenirs in the comments below.

Geography lessons: Can you draw a map of the U.S. as well as Al Franken?

Watching Minnesota senator Al Franken draw a map of the United States reminded me of 7th grade. Back then at Olympia Jr. High in Columbia, South Carolina, I had one of those social studies teachers who handed out blank pieces of paper and had us draw a map with every new unit. Perhaps you, Gadling reader, learned geography in a similar fashion.

For example, if we were going to study Europe, we would open our books to the map of Europe and replicate it as best we could. Countries were to be drawn to scale, colored a different color than the ones they bordered, and include major mountain chains and bodies of water. By the end of the year, the world had become a grand kaleidoscope that I could picture with my eyes closed.

Even though I’ve traveled to many of the places I’ve drawn, I couldn’t replicate those maps from scratch–not without looking at a picture at the same time. Can you? Al Franken can.

Senator Franken can draw the United States like nobody’s business. He showed off this talent at the Minnesota State Fair this summer. I wonder who his social studies teacher was? I’m impressed. Watch to see what I mean. . .

A Canadian in Beijing: Shannon’s Wings

Today is the one-year anniversary of my friend’s death. One year ago today my friend committed suicide and I had never before lost a loved one to the concept of choice. It was shocking, to say the least, and I struggled hard to work through the meanings, the messages, the learning, the processing, the feelings. And, that work is never truly over.

She took to the sky and her wings were hers to exercise, I know. But, we all miss her. We only have the feathers she left behind and a lot of unanswered questions. The word of the year has been: acceptance.

Here I am in Beijing – so far from my little country town (where she died) and Montreal (where she lived) – and yet it feels like Shannon is just next door, living across the hall. As it happens with significant things in our lives, when the time of year comes around again that marks the passing of time since that event, everything seems to be a reminder of her as though she’s really close by. Thoughts themselves seem to manifest outside of my mind into the so-called randomness of life. That is how it has been for me these past few days. Shannon has been in everything my eyes have lingered on; she has been in every conversation that has sparked my interest; she’s even in my lessons at school.

We learned the word for suicide yesterday and it came up again today: Zi Sha 自杀 . Seeing as Bejing is twelve hours ahead of Montreal at the moment, I felt that was fitting. Both days full of reminders to mark one day back home.

I also had a great chat with an artist yesterday about the concept of breathing, cross-species communication, flight. All of these topics were in Shannon’s art and as I chatted with this artist in Chinese in a dimly lit café over cold beers, I felt as though I could have been chatting to her in English on a dimly lit country porch over red wine. Same vibe. Same style of conversation. Language, country, gender irrelevant.

This week began with a visit to a bird sanctuary, as well, which also symbolizes my friend. She loved birds and drew them regularly. She collected feathers and repeatedly photographed, carved and painted a dead sparrow that she found that had apparently frozen to death. It lay frozen in time and it captured her interest in a really special, poignant way. This image has now become symbolic of her life, her yearning for release, her curiosity about the other side.

The bird sanctuary was an accidental discovery. My friend and I stumbled on it while walking around and exploring the countryside. For just 6 kuai a person (with our student cards – less than $1 Canadian), we were able to stroll through the park and visit all the birds. But, nothing is an accident, really. The timing of this discovery was right in line with the significance of this time – a commemoration of my friend.

I took copious pictures of birds from all over the world, not just China. So many colours and shapes and sizes. I was amazed by the diversity of birds in this small sanctuary. Put a sparrow next to an ostrich and it seems uncanny that they’re both birds (Just look at those ostrich feet!) Put a turkey next to a flamingo and it’s hard to see how they’re from the same species! But, they’re all beautiful in their own way… (be nice to the turkeys, now!)

There were these super large birds whose Chinese name I have forgotten. (Does anyone know what they’re called in English?) They were the most interesting to me because they appear to be so animated with their large eyes, their slouched and hobbled walk. (The opening shot on this blog is of this bird and below is its full body.) It reminds me a kid’s cartoon whose name I have also forgotten, or the way judges in court are often depicted with their hunched shoulders, spectacled eyes and long gowns resembling black feathers. The fact that they’re so big also made it possible to read expression in their eyes, which is something you can’t normally do with birds. I told them (silently) that I was sorry that they were trapped in there. They looked at me with disgust. We were both helpless in that moment.

I walked away from their large cage feeling a rush of wanting to release them all – every bird in the park – and let them take to the sky. I know it’s not responsible. After all, look at the effect of starlings on North America just because of one man’s desire to have all the birds of England in Central Park? But, the urge to release a winged creature is something that just rushes up in me when I see a bird in a cage. I want to use my opposable thumbs to help them return to the wide open spaces above it all…

And, of course, along the exit pathway there was a full wall that showed birds that have already gone extinct and when. Many of these extinctions are a result of development, pollution, hunting, and of course a lack of human foresight that led to thoughtless decisions or loss of habitat. It struck me that perhaps it is possible that some of these birds simply went away. Maybe they just didn’t feel like staying in this world in the way that it was and has become. They left.

It’s possible. Anything’s possible.

Shannon’s date of extinction was June 12th, 2006. For me, her face was on that wall too. I miss her.

I miss you.