Ancient Libraries

Episode Three Hundred Twenty Nine: Ancient Libraries.
In which we slice.

1 comment:

  1. The History Boys (2006, dir. Nicholas Hytner), written by Alan Bennett. This film was a favorite of my father, who had a soft spot for the romance of academia, and particularly for Ivy-league stone. It was a curious warmth given his conflicted relationship with his alma mater, Yale, which he was never quite cut out for, and grew to resent, eventually viewing suspiciously from the underside of the power structure. Still, the camaraderie of young men truggling with Big Ideas and puberty was something that always warmed his heart. He had a similar fondness for Chariots of Fire (Hudson, 1981).

    This little snippet. These two prep-school professors enjoy a lunch break, and we learn a little of their shortcomings. Not Oxford, but Cambridge, and ancient libraries at that. Is that to be honored? It feels like an admission of defeat. Certainly, and this is kind of the point of the entire film, he would be thought of as a dinosaur. The professors here who teach a love of learning for learning's sake, as opposed to teaching a practical 'how to pass the exam,' are at odds with the administration, who want to see solid placement for their pupils. When I was a junior in high school, I suggested I was planning on taking a gap year after graduating. My guidance counselor instantly reprimanded me, suggesting I would be ruining the high school's standing. It really was that naked.

    And so Griffith's character, here, admits that he found that learning was about interacting with growing young minds (as well as, as it turned out, bulging young crotches), and not revering dusty shelves of rolled parchment. Frances de la Tour's character, for her part, reveals this tiny bit of character making: her University experience included pizza. And other things, too. But it was the pizza that was memorable.

    The 'other things', of course, speak volumes, but for Bennett, pizza seems significant. In his self-performed Talking Head monologue, 'A Chip In The Sugar' (1987), Bennett's Graham relates that his elderly mother, on forgetting herself by suggesting she is an adventurous eater, had eaten a pizza, once, and he had spent the night holding her as she vomited it up.

    Pizza is so commonplace in the U.S. that it's odd for me to think of it as exotic. And yet in Douglas Adam's "The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul" (1988), one of the main characters struggles with the inability to get pizza delivered in the U.K, a conundrum that has long since been rectified by that backward culture so that the plot-point in the novel now seems quaint.

    This is notable to me, because I distinctly remember discovering the joy of ordering pizza for delivery when I was about ten years old, at a friend’s house, in the late 70's, from a restaurant in Evanston, Illinois. There was an ad for it in the Yellow Pages, under Pizza, and they were not the only restaurant doing so. This was a paradigm shift for me, and I triumphantly brought the news home to my parents. My mother, for her part, was not on board with this extravagant scheme, claiming that Pizza was a new invention, and not something that she was ready to have in her home. She claimed not to have heard of it until the mid-70's.

    I remembered this conversation years later, as my father repeatedly took the detour to New Haven, driving from Vermont to D.C., as we were to do a couple of times a year. He would point out Yale, and all the places he nearly failed, and all the people with unearned privilege. The destination, however, was always Pepe's Pizza, his sanctuary from the humiliations of his student years, back in the 50's. It took me a decade or so to put it together, but my mother knew him, and must have been falling in love with him, around that time, and so there was no way, by my calculations, that his enthusiasm for Pepe's would have escaped her attention.

    And so. Pizza as exotic becomes yet another white lie parents choose to tell their children. And Pizza as the better-than-sex takeaway lesson from our University days was a theme that echoed throughout my own family, as it apparently did for Alan Bennett.



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