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9.09.2011

Week 3 - Library time in London

***WARNING: I reference a very bad word twice during this post. My apologies!***

London! Many of the Abroaders had been anxiously awaiting our time in London, but I hadn’t thought much of it until we arrived on Saturday, Sept 3rd. As we walked to the British Library, I felt an immediate repulsion to my surroundings, although not to London in particular – more to city life in general. After a day or two, I felt more acclimated, but I’m definitely not a city girl…

We got Oyster cards to use on buses and the tube (the underground) during our time in London, and we had fun getting comfortable navigating our way around. I had a slightly terrifying moment at the tube station one night this week. I was in a line of Prin people to swipe my Oyster card when I realized it wasn’t immediately accessible.  I moved to the end of the line so I could retrieve it without holding anyone up. I thought to myself, “It must be in here somewhere; this is a tiny purse… No?  Perhaps my fleece pockets… No… Rain jacket pockets?... Nope… Jean pockets… No… Purse again… pockets again…” and within thirty seconds I realized that the Prin group had marched out of sight, and I was suddenly alone at night in a London tube station without an Oyster card. I choked back my panic and searched my purse once more – why, of course, it was simply pushed to one narrow end of the tiny purse! Blasted thing. I swiped it and rushed down the stairs, grateful to see that the group was still waiting for the next train. I walked up to a friend and allowed myself three or four tears of relief before joyfully boarding the tube home. (Side note: earlier this week at a clothing store I saw some Oyster cardholders that said things like “Keep Calm and Carry On,” etc.; I laughed aloud at the one that said, “WHERE’S MY F***ING CARD?” – without the asterisks. Although I would NEVER purchase something like that, my experiences with the tube recalled that cardholder to mind more than once!)

Working at the British Library was a gorgeous experience.  Once you go through the intense process of applying for a yearlong membership card as an official “Reader,” you can order books to be retrieved at a particular “Reading Room” within 70 minutes or 48 hours, depending on where the book is stored.  The Rare Books and Music Reading Room where we worked had perhaps three hundred people working in near silence. Every day, you lock your stuff in a locker and enter the room with your computer, paper, and a pencil in a clear plastic bag.  After you pick a (numbered) desk, you wait in line to check out up to six books at a time (ten per day maximum), which are registered to your seat number.  The process was slightly nerve-racking the first day, but became quite routine by the end. 

Working with the texts was so rewarding, especially for an English literature major. Gently turning the pages of a four hundred year old book is quite thrilling. I spent the first day researching midwifery around Shakespeare’s time, as I will be a midwife in Pericles when we perform it in November. As you may know, the letter “s” used to be typed as a sort of “f” in most old texts, which was quite unfortunate in sentences like “Many children dye whilest they are sucking the breasts” and “They are commonly sucked by their own Mothers.”  I had to work hard not to cringe or laugh!

On my second day at the library, I realized I had been given a book that I hadn’t ordered.  When I took it back up to the desk, we discovered that it had been ordered by an “SA MOSER” rather than “H MOSER.”  I said something clever like, “Oh, I guess my relatives are in town!” and went back to my seat.  The next morning I had reached the front of the checkout line when I overheard a patron at the counter say, “Those aren’t my books.” Sure enough, they were mine! I indicated as much, and the woman turned excitedly to me and said “Oh, are you the other Moser?” “Yes I am! We actually pronounce it ‘Moser,’ although we’re probably wrong.” She laughed and told me she was an archeology professor at University of Southampton. We briefly discussed my abroad program, and she asked whether I’d ever been to Austria.  Apparently “our surname is EVERYWHERE there!”  She was going to buy a piece of Moser glass there but didn’t because “it was quite expensive and, frankly, quite boring!” Her books arrived, and she said, “Best of luck!” with as much loving enthusiasm as I would have given someone after a few days of joyful companionship. Definitely a highlight!

Most importantly, the library cafe had the most delicious chocolate banana cake and chicken Caesar salad sandwiches I've ever had. The British Library: Come for the books, stay for the food!

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