I found a new museum. If you saw it in the right light (early evening, not too much light) it might look magnificent and impressive, a building standing alone, four stories high, all white, and with six enormous Corinthian columns rising up from the second-story porch. Seeing it up close, however, the building is shockingly decrepit, with plants growing out of the walls, badly in need of paint, and with a broken window on the ground floor. Nevertheless, it functions, and it was a fabulous thing to find.
The museum is the Karpeles Manuscript Museum (or Library—they had two different signs), and the one I visited, in Charleston, South Carolina, is one of 14 locations around the United States that display original historical manuscripts, or facsimiles in some cases if the original is too fragile to display. I went today with great anticipation after someone told me only last night that they were currently showing Russian documents.
One of the things I especially liked about looking at the old documents was seeing how both the language and the alphabet were different from modern Russian. I couldn’t easily read the documents, but in most cases that was because I couldn’t make out the handwriting, especially Vladimir Lenin (seriously, the father of the proletariat wasn’t exactly Mr. Penmanship). I also especially enjoyed seeing a document from Peter the Great and realizing that a secretary certainly wrote it out, given how meticulously neat every letter was. The most touching thing was a note from Princess Anastasia, daughter of the last tsar, when she was a little girl. In a somewhat childish handwriting, she wrote to someone “How is your health and how is the health of Mama and Papa?” It was hard to realize that this little girl would eventually be gunned down in a basement by the brutal savages who cursed the earth by giving it the Soviet Union.
I went to the Karpeles museum because I’m now in Charleston for several days to go to the Spoleto performing arts festival, and it was from talking to someone at a concert that I learned about the museum. I want to finish out this blog entry by mentioning several phrases that have struck me over the last couple of days.
- “Let me fall out of a window with confetti in my hair”—This was a line in a song sung by Madeleine Peyroux the night I got here. Just that line inspires me to want to write a poem, but not a poem about anything or anyone. What I want is to write a poem that evokes the sort of feeling I got from that line. Whatever that feeling was, exactly. I don’t know what the chances are of writing such a poem.
- “Sonic landscape”—This phrase was used by the emcee (and lead violinist, apparently) for the chamber music concert I went to this afternoon. He was describing a change in feeling of the music from baroque to the twentieth century. I thought it was an interesting metaphor, to conceive of sound as a “place” with a certain shape or look, and in different centuries the shape of that sound “place” looks different.
- “Where our buns are always sticky”—How can you not love a phrase like that? I mean, I don’t know how you take it, but I think it refers to rounded pastries with melted sugar. Mostly. After I went to the Karpeles Manuscript Museum this afternoon, I went down the unlikely street (it’s not really a tourist area) and found the Wildflour pastry shop, where I had coffee and a lemon-coconut tart, and where—cross my heart, I did this—I sat and worked on a poem about Italy. While sitting there, I looked up and saw their slogan on the wall.
- “We have everything fried”—And finally, as I was having dinner downtown tonight at Jestine’s restaurant, after I had read over their very Southern menu, my waitress told me about the specials, so that I asked her (using my smartass mode) “Do you have anything fried?” She didn’t miss a beat, and replied with that phrase. They did do mighty good fried oysters, which came with either French fries or fried okra.
So one more day here, and then back to…you know, goddamnit, real life. Until next week, I’ll wish you fried sticky buns and confetti in your hair.