Saturday, March 8, 2008

Leiden University Library

I've spent the last few days looking at manuscripts in Leiden University Library. This is my first time in Holland and it's been good. I flew into Amsterdam and I'm staying with Diana in The Hague. A lot of the Netherlands still has the feeling of the early modern period, when so much of the country was developed.

Getting around so easily, getting access to the manuscripts with so little hassle, drinking coffee with real pastries, having good bread with my breakfast, everything about being here makes it obvious that I'm not in Japan anymore.

I've never been to Holland before, but I feel much more at home here than I ever do in Japan - this may not be my country, but it is still my culture. I don't know the language, but I can still read all the signs and I can guess what half of them mean.

Strangely, some of my favorite food has been the most comforting thing about being back in the West - Fresh squeezed orange juice, real bread made out of real grain, fresh fruit with breakfast, good cheese everywhere.

For the last three days, I've gotten up early, taken the train to Leiden and walked down the brick streets by the canals to the library. I spent all day in the library examining medieval manuscripts a few of which I knew from microfilms but most of which I had never seen before.

It a bit unreal. I would just hand them a piece of paper with my request and a few minutes later the librarian would bring the document to my station in the reading room. Some of the texts I looked at were as old as the 13th century. I looked at 15 to 20 a day. (Below is a detail of the oldest Arabic translation of Ptolemy's Almagest. It's the part where he uses iteration to approximate the relative size of the orbit of Mars.)

I also had a chance to go into Amsterdam a bit and wander around, but I've been pretty tired from jet lag, so I haven't had too much time for much besides work.

1 comment:

MindOverMatter said...

How amazing to have such easy access to 13th century manuscripts - and to have them there - right before you!