These may not the best photographs, but they show something quite unusual: a library of precious books drying in a giant warehouse. On November 6th, 1966 the Italian city of Florence experienced one of the worst flooding in its long history. The heart of the city disappeared under 3 meters of water. Among the buildings it entered were two important libraries: the Biblioteca del Gabinetto Vieusseux and the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale Firenze. Over 1.5 million books from these libraries were damaged by the water; hundreds of pages were found pasted to walls and ceilings when the water had disappeared.
Drying one book is hard enough, but what to do with complete libraries? First the soaked books were gathered (pic 2). Some were then placed in heated rooms (pic 3), but the majority was hung out to dry in giant storehouses (pic 1). Thousands and thousands of pages from precious books, including many from medieval manuscripts (pic 4), were placed on long drying lines by so-called Mud Angels, as the volunteers were called - not unlike drying spaghetti in a pasta factory. Remarkably, a government letter from 2007 warned that there were still thousands of books waiting in storage for their conservation treatment. Obviously, drying a library takes a long time.
More information on the flood in this Wikipedia page and this detailed and well-illustrated blog. This is an account of a book conserver who worked on the soaked books. A really great and unreal movie on the conservation of the books was made in 1968 (watch it on YouTube here). On the bright side, the tragedy produced new methods of book conservation (read about it here, via @john_overholt).
Balzac doesn’t discuss coffee much in either novella in this book but he must be considered a patron saint of the Classics and Coffee Club. In “The Pleasures and Pains of Coffee" he gives some advice:
I have discovered a horrible, rather brutal method [of consuming coffee] that I recommend only to men of excessive vigor, men with thick black hair and skin covered with liver spots, men with big square hands and legs shaped like bowling pins. It is a question of using finely pulverized, dense coffee, cold and anhydrous, consumed on an empty stomach. This coffee falls into your stomach, a sack whose velvety interior is lined with tapestries of suckers and papillae. The coffee finds nothing else in the sack, and so it attacks these delicate and voluptuous linings; it acts like a food and demands digestive juices; it wrings and twists the stomach for these juices, appealing as a pythoness appeals to her god; it brutalizes these beautiful stomach linings as a wagon master abuses ponies; the plexus becomes inflamed; sparks shoot all the way up to the brain. From that moment on, everything becomes agitated. Ideas quick-march into motion like battalions of a grand army to its legendary fighting ground, and the battle rages. Memories charge in, bright flags on high; the cavalry of metaphor deploys with a magnificent gallop; the artillery of logic rushes up with clattering wagons and cartridges; on imagination’s orders, sharpshooters sight and fire; forms and shapes and characters rear up; the paper is spread with ink - for the nightly labor begins and ends with torrents of this black water, as a battle opens and concludes with black powder.
(translated by Robert Onopa)
Read the rest of the essay to find out what happened when a friend of Balzac’s with fine, blond hair followed his advice.
Do you have a picture of one of our books with coffee or tea (finely pulverized and dense)? Send it to this address and we’ll post them here (making you an honorary member of the Classics and Coffee Club).
1964: Eight men, among them Nelson Mandela, with their fists raised in defiance through the barred windows of the prison car, leave the Palace of Justice in Pretoria, having been sentenced to life imprisonment for conspiracy, sabotage and treason (source)
Nelson Mandela’s statement from the dock at the opening of his trial on charges of sabotage, Supreme court of South Africa, Pretoria, April 20 1964 (source):
I am the first accused. I hold a bachelor’s degree in arts and practised as an attorney in Johannesburg for a number of years in partnership with Oliver Tambo. I am a convicted prisoner serving five years for leaving the country without a permit and for inciting people to go on strike at the end of May 1961. …
Some of the things so far told to the court are true and some are untrue. I do not, however, deny that I planned sabotage. I did not plan it in a spirit of recklessness, nor because I have any love of violence. I planned it as a result of a calm and sober assessment of the political situation that had arisen after many years of tyranny, exploitation, and oppression of my people by the whites.
I admit immediately that I was one of the persons who helped to form Umkhonto we Sizwe. … I, and the others who started the organisation, felt that without violence there would be no way open to the African people to succeed in their struggle against the principle of white supremacy. All lawful modes of expressing opposition to this principle had been closed by legislation, and we were placed in a position in which we had either to accept a permanent state of inferiority, or to defy the government. We chose to defy the law.
We first broke the law in a way which avoided any recourse to violence; when this form was legislated against, and then the government resorted to a show of force to crush opposition to its policies, only then did we decide to answer violence with violence. …
We of the ANC had always stood for a non-racial democracy, and we shrank from any action which might drive the races further apart. But the hard facts were that 50 years of non-violence had brought the African people nothing but more and more repressive legislation, and fewer and fewer rights. By this time violence had, in fact, become a feature of the South African political scene.
There had been violence in 1957 when the women of Zeerust were ordered to carry passes; there was violence in 1958 with the enforcement of cattle culling in Sekhukhuneland; there was violence in 1959 when the people of Cato Manor protested against pass raids; there was violence in 1960 when the government attempted to impose Bantu authorities in Pondoland. Each disturbance pointed to the inevitable growth among Africans of the belief that violence was the only way out - it showed that a government which uses force to maintain its rule teaches the oppressed to use force to oppose it.
I came to the conclusion that as violence in this country was inevitable, it would be unrealistic to continue preaching peace and non-violence. This conclusion was not easily arrived at. It was only when all else had failed, when all channels of peaceful protest had been barred to us, that the decision was made to embark on violent forms of political struggle. I can only say that I felt morally obliged to do what I did. …
Political division, based on colour, is entirely artificial and, when it disappears, so will the domination of one colour group by another. The ANC has spent half a century fighting against racialism. When it triumphs it will not change that policy.
This then is what the ANC is fighting. Their struggle is a truly national one. It is a struggle of the African people, inspired by their own suffering and their own experience. It is a struggle for the right to live. During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.