3.00 FYI France: Ejournal and archive

by Jack Kessler, kessler@well.sf.ca.us

November 15, 2004 issue. This file presents an archive copy of the issue of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which was distributed via email on November 15, 2004.

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Versions of the following have appeared online regularly, since 1992, as a feature of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which is distributed for free via email every month except August. Ejournal subscriptions may be obtained via email request to: kessler@well.sf.ca.us

Here this file is one of a number made available -- hopefully attractively, all in one place, and relevant to libraries and online digital information work in France and Europe -- as part of FYI France (sm)(tm), an online service to which anyone can subscribe for 12 months by postal mailing a check for US $45, payable to Jack Kessler, to PO Box 460668, San Francisco, California, USA 94146 (site licenses also are available): please write your email address on the front of your check. Please email suggestions for improvements to me at kessler@well.sf.ca.us


Mont St. Michel, the digital library


The library of the venerable Mont St. Michel, "going digital"...

Across the bay, at Avranches, the bibliothèque municipale there has assembled the excellent ancient manuscripts formerly housed on the Mont: restoring them, preserving them, and now describing them -- for the first time in the long history of the Mont -- to readers everywhere, including those not able to make the long flight to France, and the trek out on the causeway at low tide, and the narrow passage up the steep hill to the "Merveille".

Avranches now displays, proudly, and on behalf of all of France:

Une bibliothèque patrimoniale rénovée et climatisée
La bibliothèque patrimoniale


-- and they explain, that, (tr. JK)

The premises housing and presenting this recently were renovated: Avranches carefully, and proudly, warns summer visitors to be prepared for a little unexpected coolness inside -- "un peu de fraîcheur (autour de 20°C et 55% d'humidité relative)" -- in this new "belle 'cathédrale' de livres anciens."

Consider what the old medieval monks might have thought, about this, "autour de 20°C et 55% d'humidité relative"...

If there is a library site anywhere in Europe which embodies the grim discipline, and devotion, which the monastic communities of the Middle Ages gave to their precious books, it must be the Mont St. Michel. As anyone who has visited the place in the wintertime can tell you... "un peu de fraîcheur"... what some of those old monks would have given, to have been able to have enjoyed that, while they read... in any season, parked in their drafty perch up there high above La Manche... think "frozen fingers"...

The surprizes, for the monks, would not end with the modern air conditioning, though. For also now, at the Avranches website, are online Internet exhibits of the treasures of their old books:





I first saw the Mont, myself, in 1967: courtesy of a French cousin, who treated us to the wonderful omelettes at "La Mère Poularde", and then bought us trinkets as we wound our way up the hill to the summit and the gloriously-warm summertime view. That was the tourist's usual "Mont St. Michel", and it is a version of same well worth experiencing, and remembering.

But my second trip to the Mont was made on a very cold and wet day -- motorcycling, so I was really cold -- a couple of years later. By then I knew a little more of the history, having been inspired by that initial visit to read a bit about old Bishop Aubert and his monks, and the "Merveille", and the reasons why medieval abbeys had to be "fortified".

The wind was fierce, and at the top of the mountain that wind literally howled, and there was no way of using a mere rain poncho and Levi jacket to keep the wet out. So I got a pretty good idea, that day, of what "life on the Mont" might have been like, for the monks who lived there year-round, year after year after year: penance, I thought...

And on the way back down the hill I tried to read a book, sitting in the little restaurant, with the wind howling outside and everything everywhere really wet and really cold: first priority always is the fingers, in "northern" winters, and blowing on them just makes them damp, and stiff -- and turning the fragile pages of precious manuscripts, in such conditions, becomes a tenuous and dangerous process, spilling not only the moisture of the rain but also the hot drink being used for hand-warming -- and just try doing all of that by constantly-flickering candlelight.

True devotion, that was, on the part of those old monks. And we are indeed very lucky to have what few exemplaires of the monastic "book" life have survived, currently at Avranches.

Here's hoping, then, that Avranches now can do even more to share the treasures with us. How nice it would be, to be able to see those wonderful images, already installed online, in higher resolution and more readable online formats... And how hopeful we might be, to see complete texts and images there someday: so that we might read them as the monks once did on the Mont, turning the pages and savoring the beauty of what those old monks have left to us. The Mont St. Michel "digital library" can bring us that.

Without the cold, and the wet, and the wind, though... but nor the omelettes... nor the "Merveille"... nor the snug if sometimes chilly new air-conditioning of the renovated bibliothèque municipale at Avranches... For all of these, and really to understand these manuscripts and their histories, we all still need to go to / get to go to, France.






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M. Eiffel

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Document maintained by: Jack Kessler, kessler@well.sf.ca.us
Last update: November 15, 2004