MAKING A RUN FOR THE BORDERS
by Joseph and Lisa Major
"From time to time, however, a librarian remarks a solitary child, still of tender years, who wanders from the children's room . . . and at last deserts it entirely. Such a child eventually discovers, on some low but obscure shelf, The Book of Gold. You have never seen the book, and you will never see it, being past the age at which it is met."
"It must be very beautiful," I said.
"It is indeed. Unless my memory betrays me, the cover is of black buckram, considerably faded at the spine. Several of the signatures are coming out, and certain of the plates have been taken. But it is a remarkably lovely book. I wish that I might find it again, though all books are shut to me now.
"The child, as I said, in time discovers The Book of Gold. Then the librarians come like vampires, some say, but others say like the fairy godparents at a christening. They speak to the child, and the child joins them. Henceforth he is in the library wherever he may be, and soon his parents know him no more. . . ."
Gene Wolfe, The Shadow of the Torturer, p. 50
Or The Book of Gold might be a worn paperback, mostly white, with on the front cover a black image of a tilted sailing ship, caught in the ice, and a title in red letters: Shackleton's Valiant Voyage by Alfred Lansing. It is indeed very beautiful. Unlike Master Ultan, I found it again.
Visiting the Field Museum instead of the ChiCon Closing Ceremonies was something of a whim on our part, but there was so much that we wanted to have more time to see it all. For example, there was the Kremlin Gold special exhibition, coming in the fall. And the Shackleton special exhibition, coming in the fall.
At Lisa's urging, we began tossing our change into a pot in the living room. It's amazing how much can build up that way.
Our final decision came when Lisa's sister Norma turned out to be on call Thanksgiving; we rescheduled our trip to fill the gap. So we would go up to Chicago on Wednesday and return on Friday. The Field Museum, you see, is open every day in the year except Christmas and New Year's Day which, perforce, includes Thanksgiving.
To cap it all, I was talking to my younger brother about his forthcoming marriage (December 28) and he mentioned that he and his wife (to be), Charla, would be going to Michigan for Thanksgiving with her grandmother. Now David and Charla had come to Kentucky and met most of the rest of the immediate family back last spring, but we had not had the opportunity.
I asked "Will you be taking I-80?" and was told they would be. It seemed as if we could at least meet on the fly. About a week before Thanksgiving, David called me and asked for the address of the Red Roof Inn in Lansing, Michigan where we had stayed before ChiCon. I told him, and he said that they would stop off there and we could all have dinner Wednesday night.
This made our prospects for the trip very interesting.
Tuesday, November 21, I took off from work to make preparations. This involved counting the money from the pot, which came to $103, rolling it up, taking it to the bank and getting bills, mailing off the last of the copies of my family newsletter, and buying supplies for the trip. There is something distasteful about the Coke and Diet Coke available in Chicago. Lisa packed before going off to work at the library, dropping off the key to the house with her friend Kim, who would watch the cats and the house. I packed later and brought everything down to the living room, ready to go.
Lisa came in from work that night and we went to bed early to get rested for the trip.
Wednesday, November 22 was our fourth anniversary.
We were packed and away by 8:30, and got out of town without having to go back for anything. (Luckily you don't need birth certificates just to go to Chicago. Lisa) Traffic was light on I-65, and we slipped around Indianapolis and up to Lafayette without trouble. We had scouted out the area on the way to Worldcon, so had lunch in the same Cracker Barrel, and then filled up at the Meijer's across the road. I-80 made me glad we had left early, as it was pretty badly backed up. It took half an hour to go the ten miles or so from the intersection to the Torrence Boulevard exit, and we were greatly relieved to get off.
There weren't any rooms available quite as we had specified, so we ended up with a smoking room, but one right next to the office. We unloaded the car, then went off to the Borders Bookstore on 95th Street. I managed to get a combined edition of Odd John and Sirius, and Last and First Men, along with some non-Stapleton stuff, such as a DVD of Gladiator. At my signal, unleash hell.
There was a used bookstore not too far down 95th, so we went there next. It was run by Anne W. Leonard, a kindly lady with a couple of pretty cats, one black and one white, and both friendly. She was having a buy-two-get-one-free holiday sale, so I got two Bill Mauldin books (Up Front and its postwar sequel Back Home) and one by Dan Gallery, while Lisa got a bunch of stuff by Thomas Merton. (And also Indian Paint, a story about an Indian boy and his pony by Glenn Balch which I had read and loved many years ago, as well as Fury of the Broken Wheel Ranch. Lisa)
We went back to the motel by good fortune I-94 wasn't packed and found out that David and Charla were still on the road. I took the opportunity to call my cousin Jean Swift Chism, whose anniversary is also November 22, and ended up talking to her husband Tim.
David and Charla got in about an hour later and we all went off to dinner at a nearby Chili's Restaurant. Evidently Oskaloosa is not big enough to have a decent selection of restaurants, and they moved out of Stillwater just as the restaurants were getting in. Afterwards we came back to our room David and Charla were at the almost exact opposite corner of the place and I told Charla some more about the family she was marrying into. She did not flee screaming into the night, so perhaps things will work out.
And so to bed.
Thursday, November 23 we had breakfast together at the International House of Pancakes just up the road, discussing "As the Stomach Turns", the ongoing political entertainment. Then David and Charla went off to her grandmother's, while we went off on our museum tour.
Torrance Boulevard runs through some industrial neighborhoods, including the one where the Ford Chicago Automobile Plant is located. While 95th Street (US-20) is mostly shops, before becoming Lakeshore Drive, US-41 runs through middle-class neighborhoods. We did not go near the worst part.
The Field Museum was less crowded this time, as I might have guessed from the fact that we parked in the lot next to the museum instead of the one south of Soldier Field. Getting inside proved it.
The Kremlin Gold: 1000 Years of Russian Gems and Jewels exhibit was our first stop, since they were letting people in right away. It had Russian-made gold and silver ornamentation dating from the twelfth century all the way to 1990. The really early stuff was the best, I thought, when the belief was sincere. Though the latest stuff was also pretty good, as with for example the Fabergé egg commemorating the opening of the Trans-Siberian Railroad, which contained a Fabergé model train about as large as a pencil and actually working. They abandoned the over-ornate ornamentation that had come into favor after Peter the Great. For example, a gold water dipper was a common present from the Tsar (or Tsarina); the original dipper was just the same thing the serfs used, done in gold instead of wood or tinplate, but by the time of Catherine the Great such a present had intricately-chased handles and a double-headed eagle in the bottom, looking overwhelmingly rococo.
The last item was a ceremonial crown made to celebrate the five-hundredth anniversary of the Moscow Cathedral of the Assumption; a gorgeous thing of platinum that looked as if it were a silvery fireworks display. A suitable ending.
Afterwards we checked our coats (we hadn't seen the checkroom at first) and toured the Indian exhibit. The first thing we saw were the Kachina dolls; the Field has had several collections donated to it. The Hopi have not been closed to outside influences in these. The original dolls were very simple, but some of those on exhibit were powerfully naturalistic and yet supernatural. Then there were the Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesTM kachina dolls.
From there we went into the part that covered the northwestern Indian and Inuit area. This was the Pacific Northwest so often seen in SF, complete with humongous totem poles, potlach (they never mentioned the popular theory that potlach was a means of equalizing property differences myself, I had always thought it was a way of paying the workers), salmon runs, and so on. The Inuit were of course the western ones, not the Greenlanders who number among them descendents of Henson and Peary.
Which, by the way, brings me to The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition exhibit. Martin Morse Wooster is still one up on me, as they took the James Caird (the boat in which Shackleton went for help) back to Dulwich College. What it has now are short films explaining the background and Frank Hurley's wonderful pictures. Everyone who saw them was impressed.
Martin sent me an issue of The New Yorker (April 12, 1999) with an article on the exhibit by Anthony Lane which had some striking insights. Lane said about reading South, Shackleton's own history of the expedition (though one can get the same feeling by reading Lansing's Endurance or Caroline Alexander's book of the exhibition, The Endurance):
These stories would be impossible to believe, did we not know of their truth.
(I was surprised to discover what a complex man Shackleton had been and the discovery gave me a better understanding of why Arctic and Antarctic expeditions are so interesting to Joe. I'll have to put some books on my reading list. Lisa.)
After that we went to the museum store. I bought Lisa a book on Russian ikons, and myself a book on Shackleton's leadership Leading at the Edge: Leadership Lessons from the Extraordinary Saga of Shackleton's Antarctic Expedition by Dennis N. T. Perkins with Margaret P. Holtman, Paul R. Kessler, and Catherine McCarthy (American Management Association; 2000; ISBN 0-8144-0543-6; $24.95) from which I learned that Vilhjalmur Stefansson was a self-centered dweeb and Bob Bartlett a weirdo. Stef had been commander of the Karluk expedition, which sailed north about the time that the Endurance sailed south, and got crushed in the Arctic ice. Steffenson took off to go hunting, and Bartlett let the party break apart, with eleven dead as a result. Talk about negative examples.
Having shopped, we did lunch and I called my cousin J. W. Major, in Christian County, for his birthday. He was born on November 25, and so has become adjusted to having birthday cake with his Thanksgiving turkey.
Then we went to the Egyptian exhibit. Besides the usual mummies, the Field has a reconstructed Egyptian tomb. Somehow the logic escapes me: "Here is our god-king, who needs an entire household in the next world, and it all has to be made of gold and silver with turquoise and lapis-lazuli in abundance so as to be worthy of him. How shall we defend this from the impious, who might break in and steal? Hey, I know! Let's put it under the biggest damn building we can build!"
The bottom floor of the tomb exited on to a display of daily life in ancient Egypt. Which seems to have been not much different from daily life in the modern world, except they would do some really nasty things to people who hurt cats. The large marmalade fiend blocking the heating vent down by my feet would probably agree with that concept, and his dark gray and lynx-pointed colleagues would meow agreement.
They had a "see how you would look in Egypt" exhibit, with busts of Egyptians (one male and one female) behind glass. You could see your reflection on the glass and once you lined up your face with the bust's, see how you would look, though I doubt any Egyptians wore eyeglasses as thick as mine. (It's a universal of life; the young Inuit women learning their ancestral chants and the Maori dedicators we would soon see both wore eyeglasses.) Looking at the resulting image, I concluded that I would probably want to get a better wig. (I found this particular exhibit eerie and unsettling. The image in the glass was me and it wasn't me. Very strange and haunting. Lisa)
Going back up to the main floor (and passing the "Star Wars: The Magic of Myth" exhibit we had seen last time) we went over to the Africa exhibit. Being greeted by a poster of Leopold Senghor slightly unnerved me. (Like most leaders of newly independent Africa, he set up a cult of personality.) I was expecting Oggy Nkabele, Black Africa's most distinguished thirties pulp scientifiction writer (unfortunately, he was writing in the seventies) to pop up, saying, "Have you read my wonderful new story 'Star Slugs Want Our Women!'?"
The exhibit displayed the more peaceful side of West African culture (a welcome reminder to those of us burnt out from news of how many women and children the technicals cut to pieces with pangas today), highlighting family ties, hospitality, and the like. It showed the history of traditional African monarchies in the west.
The next section discussed the wildlife of the African Great Rift. I expected to run into Mike Resnick and Roger Sims discussing their $1700 dinner of last night. Some of the wildlife was cichlids, as Dale Speirs would certainly be aware, and this particular exhibit was accompanied by a digression on the deleterious qualities of adventitious fauna in this case, lake trout that ate most of the cichlids, then began starving themselves.
The next section showed life in the Sahara, which does not quite go with the remainder of the exhibit, but what the hell. This was followed by some more on the booming commercial markets of Nigeria (excluding the booming con man sector). (I really liked the nomad exhibit, but then I have been a sucker for such things since reading Michener's Caravans. Lisa)
This was followed by a quite different form of commerce, namely an excursion on the slave trade. The exhibit designer borrowed a technique from the Holocaust Memorial Museum; the viewer walks through a slave cell, up a passageway, turns the corner, and confronts a group of toubob (them's honkies, you mo'fo) there to buy some prime slaves.
This is accompanied by material on slave life, slave revolts, slave culture, and so on. I wish the people who are so lachrymose about "African-Americans" would take more notice of the American part the slaves, thrown together from diverse African cultures, developed a culture that was not of any one culture from their homeland, but was indigenous to where they (unwillingly) lived; it was a truly American culture. Well, at least one exhibit showed how the descendants of slaves had contributed to American society.
Though there were some interesting remainders, as in the case of the sociologist recording speakers of Gullah who found an old woman singing a funeral song she could not quite understand. The sociologist recognized the song, recorded it, played it for speakers of that language in Africa, and amazed them that someone would have remembered that song all the way across the water.
After that we went upstairs to see the Pacific exhibition. As I mentioned earlier, they had recorded a visit by a Maori delegation to dedicate something, a Maori meeting house that had been bought by a German, passed through a couple of other owners, and finally bought by the Museum, to be rededicated by the Maoris from the town where the meeting house had been built a couple of hundred years ago. The speakers explained how they considered the meeting house a person, a member of the clan as it were. The building is a labor of love and I am surprised the Maoris let it stay up in Chicago. (One of the Maoris at the dedication reminded me strongly of my Samoan uncle. Lisa)
Other Pacific exhibits included such diverse items as a brasserie in Tahiti, ceremonial canoe paddles, New Guinean slit drums, and a memorial tribute to the soldiers who fought in the Pacific islands. Lisa added her father's story to it. Perhaps I should have added my father's (he was an AAF intelligence officer) or J.W.'s (he worked in a PT boat base organization). Oh well.
There is outside of the Pacific collection the geological collection, including a couple of meteorites that hit property, together with the damage they inflicted. Ordinary rocks can be interesting, but some are more interesting than others.
Across the way was the Tibetan collection. (The Sue Store was closed for the holidays.) Other sources I had read indicated that much of the reason for dragging the Tibetans into the Twentieth Century (and after all you can't make omelets without breaking a few eggs) was spurious; there was, for example, no distinct feudal class. In any case, Tibetan culture, however etiolated at home, is preserved, after its fashion, in the Field Museum. The exhibition is the usual cultural sampling and the viewer can see that the Tibetan people, far from being ultra-mystics, faced living on the top of the world with skill and ingenuity and managed to get a little fun out of life on the way.
At the north end of the second floor are the Hall of Jades and the Hall of Jewels. The Field Museum has a nice little jade collection. Here the later stuff is the better. While the earlier pieces tend to run to simple though elegant ritual knife blades, the Ming and Manchu (Ch'ing/Qing) dynasty pieces are unimaginably gorgeous; skill did accumulate and get passed on. From those plain ritual knives of the early days to some of the intricate sculpture is quite a distance. (I saw a jade fish rather like the ones I inherited from my grandmother. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Lisa)
Between the jades and the jewels are some exhibits of ancient jewelry. It's pretty stuff, but what makes it worthwhile is the age. Roman necklaces, Tokugawa-era sword ornaments, and the like make comments on skill and standards of beauty.
The jewel collection, while well done and representative, is not very distinguished. About the most striking piece is the 5500+ carat crystal displayed before the entrance.
By this time it was almost closing time, so we picked up our coats and went to the restrooms to prepare to leave. It was getting dark, and so we exited the building and went to our car with some haste. Fortunately the route to I-94 was well marked, and the road was clear, so we got back to Lansing without trouble. Out of curiosity I drove down through Lansing and over to its neighboring town Highland, Indiana; we got to see the more commercial side of town, albeit at night, without the commercial rush.
Dinner was at the Denny's the motel clerk had told us would be open, and we retired afterwards to our room to rest up. I called my cousins Tat and Henry, both in Chicago, but both were out. With all the walking that day I felt pretty tired and wanted to sleep.
And so to bed.
Friday, November 24 we counted our purchases and decided not to go to the Orthodox church nearby (comparatively) since it would be far out of the way and probably not even open. Instead, we packed, checked out, had breakfast at IHoP, and set out south for the Borders' on Indianapolis Boulevard in Highland, Indiana, where I got The Venona Secrets by Romerstein and Breindel. (I acquired a copy of the Philokalia, a Xena magazine, and a CD of Russian choral music. Maybe next time I will plan better and actually meet the bishop in charge of Assumption Orthodox here in Louisville. Lisa)
It took us until early evening to get to Louisville. As a result, we crossed the Ohio after sunset, and so saw for the first time the rehabilitated waterfront. The county bought up the land west of the bridge along the river, cleared it, and built a park there. It was lit up for the season and looked astonishingly beautiful. We were impressed. We got home about six-thirty, greeted our furry masters, and set about storing away the physical products of this interesting trip. It rained that night, so it was probably just as well we got back when we did.