NORTH BY NORTHEAST: Thessaloniki and Xanthi

10/6/18

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NORTH BY NORTHEAST: THESSALONIKI AND XANTHI

 

We left Athens in the rain on a train heading up the long coastal plain to Thessaloniki. I love the stately, almost 19th-century pace of traveling by rail. Countless Alfred Hitchcock movies flashed before my mind. But the beautiful Greek countryside was the real star of this show.

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Thessaloniki is often called “Geece’s Second City” but it really is a world on to itself. Athens is considered the heart of Ancient Greece. But this part of the country produced the Macedonian Empire and Alexander the Great. They conquered Athens and much of the known ancient world.  Thessaloniki today is a vibrant port city with a great cultural scene including world-class museums of contemporary art, cinema and photography. Lonely Planet is not exactly our Bible but it does help us locate interesting and quirky places to eat and stay, here and throughout Greece.

The next day we rented a car and headed east into the part of Greece called Thrace. Soon, looming just to the north were the massive Rhodopi Mountains and the border with Bulgaria. Kavala is bustling city with a massive old fort sitting atop the highest hill in the old town. History is never far from the landscape here. The Kavala Public Library is large but mostly empty when we visited. The very friendly staff were excited to see us and I make some nice images of researchers in the newspaper archive. As we were leaving a young man sprinted to catch up with us in a parking lot. He was a local journalist and we did an interesting interview on the spot on why we were there, libraries, refugees, politics, etc., etc.

We continued east through the mountainous, coastal Thracian landscape to our destination of Xanthi. This is one of Greece’s least visited places. It was once home to a powerful, non-Greek ancient civilization and is influenced by its neighbors Bulgaria and Turkey. The area contains unique Muslim minorities that settled here during the Ottoman times.

 

The old town of Xanthi (it means “blond” in Greek and I am guessing it’s because of the presence of people here from the north) is located snug up against the beautiful mountains. It contains timber-framed houses on narrow, winding streets and old mansions once inhabited by tobacco barons. Walking the main street around 7PM we are astonished at the number of families with children strolling past the high-end shops. In the crowd I saw several elegantly dressed Muslim women wearing scarfs. Xanthi is obviously a fascinating mixing zones of cultures.

We spent a good part of the next day at the wonderful Xanthi Public Library. It contains a Tech Lab run by Dimitris Giannakoukis. The Tech Lab is part of American Spaces which is sponsored by the US State Department. We first encountered these two years ago in Poland and Ukraine. They receive books and American technology that are a part of a “soft power” effort by the US government. Like the Fulbright, it is an effort to engage America, on a local level, with the world.

The library was started in the 1950s by a Greek writer who donated his personal library to the city. He survived WWII and he was a communist. But he felt that books were a way of healing his fractured country. While photographing his Greek language notebooks and journals I felt as if I almost got to know him as a person. It was interesting to see how one person could make such a huge, positive difference. We saw the same story earlier with the founder of the library in Veria.  The most vibrant libraries that we have encountered so far seem to have been founded by a generous, charismatic individual.

We came back to the library at 6 and I gave a lecture to a large crowd of mostly young people who seem fully engaged with my talk. I am always surprised and happy when this happens.

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The next morning we are undecided which of several places we should visit in the nearby area. I had been awakened at 7:00am by a marching band going by our window. When I later looked down on the street there was a police car parked in front of our hotel and our street was earily quiet. Images of the Greek military coup in the movie “Z” flashed before my mind. When we were about to check out we were told that we would have to wait because all the streets were blocked for a major parade. We decided that this was what we would do today and plunged into the gathering crowd. Ellen reminded me that the Fulbright had warned us not to participate in demonstrations but this seemed like a peaceful, even joyful group. After waiting a long time a group of generals with lots of medals and swords met a group of Orthodox priests on a reviewing stand and then the parade began.

 

It seemed that almost every child in Xanthi marched by us in school uniforms. There were all kinds of groups including Muslim girls in scarfs, people in traditional Greek costumes, a group of special needs kids and even a Tai Kwon Do club. The crowds were enthusiastic and everyone seemed to know someone in the parade. After that, a sizeable chunk of the Greek army marched by carrying machine guns and stepping smartly. We found out this was a celebration of when the Greek army kicked out the Bulgarian army in 1919. Apparently the Greek government makes a real effort to have a presence here because this area is considered an important frontier. After three hours we felt this was memorable way of getting to know this part of Greece. The sound of marching music filled my mind during the three-hour drive back to Thessaloniki.

The next morning I photographed the Derveni Papyri at the Thessaloniki Archeological Museum. It is considered the oldest European “book” and is part of UNESCO’s Memory of the World program. Greece’s climate prevented any earlier papyri books from surviving. This one was completely burned in a 3rd Century BC funeral pyre. But in the ashes the text somehow was preserved. This is an example of “bibliocide” where the destruction of the book actually preserved it.

We then schelpped my camera gear over to the large Thessaloniki Main Library. It is in a striking building with a friendly staff and lots of people. However, I had tried multiple times since last June to get permission to photograph here and had not heard back a peep until this morning when permission finally came through. Better late than never!

We ended the day at the Ano Poli Branch Library. It is housed in an old, beautiful mansion built for an Ottoman Turk military officer. At one point it housed refugees, later was a school and is now a library.

We ended the evening having a late dinner with a fellow Fulbrighter Herman Adney, his wife Michelle and their adorable infant daughter Sophia. He is on a Greece-Turkey Fulbright and they will be spending six months in each country. The conversation ranged far and wide and we all agreed that the Greeks have a very special regard and treatment of children and a love for sharing good food and conversation.

 

The next day we hopped back on the train traveling along the plain without the rain to Athens and home.

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Refugees, Fulbright, National Library and Athens

9/30/18

 

REFUGEES, FULBRIGHT, NATIONAL LIBRARY AND ATHENS

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This was a week where the weather changed from hot to windy, cooler and rain. Even the Embassy sent out a weather alert. The project also shifted to finally include refugees in Greece and we spent a lot of time with various NGOs throughout Athens. Photographing refugees is always hard and I am especially sensitive to not photographing people that express any reluctance to my camera. Most people, however, are very accommodating. Much of what I photographed turned out to be symbolic of refugees such as child’s drawings, paintings, maps and posters. A child’s sketch of drowning people being rescued by a Greek ship was especially powerful.  We spent an afternoon photographing Afghan women doing hand work such as crochet and making jewelry which they later sell. The woman who volunteers for The Greek Forum of Refugees explained that much of the work is therapy from the trauma they have endured. We also went to a soup kitchen for a Catholic charity for refugees called Caritas where I photographed families and volunteers.

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During the middle of the week the Fulbright Foundation sponsored a reception for all the Fulbrighters in Greece (both teachers and researchers) and then a two-day orientation, lecture, briefing at the American Embassy and a cultural walking tour. It was all quite fascinating, especially meeting the other Fulbrighters both young and older (like us!). It was also a chance to meet the exceptional staff of the Greek Fulbright. For 70 years this program has tried to use people to people diplomacy between Americans and Greeks to help create a mutual understanding between cultures. We are proud to be a part of that tradition.

We also spent a few days back at the National Library of Greece looking at their digital labs and manuscript departments. There was a great show by a Greek photographer on homeless in Athens inside the library. They have an amazing space which made us think that we should have an exhibit of my library work there someday.

Between the work and the rain we did have time for some fun in Athens. What is most interesting are the everyday things we encounter on the street. Like the changing of the guards at the Greek Parliament as they were walking down the street. Or Ellen standing in the pouring rain next to the ancient Tower of the Wind with the lit-up Acropolis in the background. These are the unexpected, magic moments that help define our time here. We spent yesterday dealing with my wallet being stolen and celebrating one month in Greece. Never a dull moment. Onward!

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WAY UP NORTH: Veria & Kozani, Corfu and Meteora

9/23/18

 

WAY UP NORTH: VERIA & KOZANI, CORFU AND METEORA

 

This was the week that we split from Athens and headed out into Greece. Like New York City, I imagined Athens to be the most and least typical part of Greece. The Greek mountains are everywhere, the coast is rugged and the country is beautiful. It reminded me of parts of southern California – with ancient ruins.

 

After a 5 ½ hour drive on an excellent Greek highway (lots of tolls!) we arrived at the delightful town of Veria. It is in the heart of the Macedonian empire and near the birthplace of Alexander the Great (yeah, that guy). Veria’s old Jewish quarter (the Germans wiped out most of Greece’s Jewish population during WWII) is fascinating and right near the fabulous Veria Public Library. Ellen scored big-time by booking us for three nights at the Agroktima Kapsali. It was a challenge to find it as the light was fading, what signs we saw were all in Greek, and it was half an hour drive out of town into the ­­­­­­­­­­mountains. But when we finally got there we felt like we had landed in paradise. After the Manhattan-like density of Athens we had arrived at a Greek farm! The mountain lodge is a family run business that was built by hand by the father and run by the mother and daughter. The food was mostly from what they grew and was delicious.

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The Veria Public Library is considered one of the best in Greece. It received a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant and seemed filled with state-of-the-art everything. The head of the library took us on a long tour of the library and then took us out to a long lunch. As a result, I didn’t have a lot of time to photograph. I finished just before I gave my lecture at the Veria Tech Lab in the library. I am always amazed when I get a large audience for my talks on American public libraries. It turned out this audience was a very interested local photo club that has also done some great work of their own.

After a full day in Veria I couldn’t imagine that Kozani could be as interesting. How wrong I was! The small town of Kozani has a massive new library (two weeks old!). As the Veria Library was compact and cozy, the Kozani Library was large, sleek and beautiful. Everything smelled new. The most unique experience was in the archive with the smell of old books mixing with the smell of the building.

Both towns are on the edge of beautiful mountains and are connected by an unbelievable highway and massive series of tunnels funded by the European Union. Billions of Euros must have been spent over many years to build this world-class engineering marvel. The politics of this must have been mind-boggling. I have never seen anything like it on this scale.

 

The next day we took this same amazing road through huge mountains for 4 hours eventually arriving at the Ionian Sea on Greece’s northwest coast. We hopped on a ferry with no time to spare and headed to the enchanted Island of Corfu. This is one of the few parts of Greece that wasn’t conquered by the Ottoman Turks and, as a result, feels very unique. It does seem that it was invaded by everyone else including the Venetians and British. Now it has been invaded again by massive amounts of tourists and cruise ships. The smell of burning white skin was everywhere as lobster-red northern Europeans and Russians in sunglasses and shorts shopped for tee shirts and Gucci everything. The saving grace was Corfu Town itself. It looks like Venice and was built, in part by Venetians. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. It was worth wading through the tourist scene just to experience it.

The Public Central and Historic Library of Corfu was amazing. It is one of the oldest public libraries in Greece and was housed in an old British barracks in an old Fortress. Like much of Greece’s long, tragic history the original library and all of its contents were completely destroyed by German bombers during WWII. The librarian gave us a PowerPoint slide show about the library in Greek with an English translation. We then walked through the crowds to our next destination of the old Corfu Reading Society. It was established in 1836 and is housed in a charming old mansion near the sea. It is the oldest cultural institution in northern Greece and seems like out of another world from long ago. We spent the rest of the day in Corfu Town. After the heat of the day was over we strolled back to the old Fort, watched the sun set, had a beer in a café by the wine-dark sea, wandered through the old town again, had dinner and then collapsed back in our room, utterly exhausted and full of great experiences.

The next day we took the ferry back to the mainland and drove again through the extraordinary Pindos Mountains to an incredible little place called Meteora. The name comes from the same root work in Greek as meteor which means “suspended in air.” When you see the many monasteries perched atop impossibly tall rock columns you can understand why. They were built there as far back as the 11th century to protect the monks from the invading Ottoman Turks. Some are still used today as monasteries. Some still have remnant ladders that were pulled up at night for protection. Magical is a word that just hints at the special power of this place.  At night I photographed the local public library against the lights on the cliffs. Meteora is the second-most popular tourist attraction in Greece after the Acropolis. But it didn’t feel like the craziness of Corfu because it is so spread out and there are no cruise ships here.

Kalambaka Library, Greece

We drove back to Athens on Sunday with what we thought would be a little side trip to a library in Fásala. This was one of our son Walker’s picks from his internet research. It is a library shaped like a tall, thin castle in a small farming town in the middle of Greek farm country. Strange but true. Hours later after we dropped our car off we walked through the now, somewhat-familiar streets of Athens. We strolled by the Sanctuary of the Olympian Zeus at sunset and we once again fell in love this sublime, crazy and fascinating city.

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DIGGING DEEPER

9/15/2018

 

DIGGING DEEPER

 

One of the great luxuries of this Fulbright Fellowship is the ability to dig deeper into our subject than a normal traveler breezing through a new culture. Of course, we are trying to understand the concept of what is a library. What should be in a library and why? What are the roles of different types of libraries? Why do we have this need to preserve memory?

 

In Greece there is the added dimension of time. Greek history is everywhere and goes back thousands of years. We were told that if you dig anywhere in Athens you will find artifacts dating back to Classical times. We went to one of the great Museums of Athens – the National Archeological Museum to see this rich history. The Greek cuneiform tablets were not as old as those from Babylonia but they show the beginning of the Greek language as it evolved from Phoenician and Mycenean languages. Greek is the second oldest continuously used language after Chinese. An exhibit on the concept of beauty was fascinating as were the archeological discoveries on display.

The Library of the Hellenic Parliament was a rich source of contemporary Greek culture and history. After going through a pretty rigorous security- check we were escorted by a whole range of highly-educated people that expanded that history and deepened what it means to be Greek today. We left with a 20-pound gift bag of their exquisitely produced exhibition catalogues.

The Lilian Voudouri Music Library at the Athens Concert Hall was another surprise. I had no idea what to expect as we entered a library about music. Byzantine musical script was something I had never seen before. How music could be produced from that was mind-boggling. The pages of newspaper clippings about Mikis Theodorakis, the man who wrote the music for Zorba the Greek and Z, gave us an insight into contemporary Greek musical culture.

Like San Francisco, Athens is a very hilly town. As we walked home from the Music Library we decided to go to the top of Mt. Lycabettus where we were rewarded with spectacular views looking down on our densely crowded neighborhood of Exarhia. Off in the distance, like a beaconing jewel was the Acropolis and the Aegean.

Much of this Fulbright trip will be exploring things we don’t know. I did a massive amount of research on the internet about each of the libraries we hope to see. But I am always hoping for the unexpected. The American Library at the Hellenic American Union was housed in a private college that was accredited through the State of New Hampshire. It has a long-running American Spaces that was started years ago by the US State Department. It was interesting to see a book on the Harvard Medical School in Greek with a poster of National Parks in Maine in the background—examples of American “soft power”.

Like all of Greece the Central Municipal Library of Athens has gone through hard times for many years. In some ways, it reminded me of the library in Stockton, CA where Ellen and I have worked for the last four years. It has struggled against all odds and yet maintains the essential ingredients of an important part of the community. These photos show some of its old books, research and a children’s library.

As we walk the streets of Athens I am stuck by the vibrant street life and the political graffiti. We can learn from what these are saying as we try to understand what it means to be Greek today. The image of the exterior of the old National Library of Greece is a reminder of how deeply rooted the past is in this moment of struggle for Greece.

Front of old National Library of Greece, Athens

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1st Week and a Tale of Two Greek Libraries

9/8/18

 

1ST WEEK AND A TALE OF TWO GREEK LIBRARIES

 

We spent our first work day this week at the dazzling new National Library of Greece in the Stavros Niachos Foundation Cultural Center. OMG, what a place! We spent our second day at the old 19th century National Library that it has replaced in some ways. Ionian columns surrounded the Reading Room like pioneer wagons defending the sacred space from the crazy, commercial world outside. I was shocked by the difference between these two competing visions of what it means to be a library. In my mind, both are good. And both speak about the times in which they were created. The old library still houses their vast newspaper collection and is, fortunately, still part of the National Library. I spent one hot day in a section of the library that reminded me of the movie Matrix. It is a vast three-dimensional space that once housed the archived memory of Greece in books. I felt like I was walking around inside a brain. The five storey metal structure had no AC. It also reminded me of the metal box the British officer was put in to be tortured in Bridge On the River Kwai. After several hours I emerged from the heat of this space drenched in sweat.

The new National Library is a bold experiment in what the future of libraries may become. Books are a part of that future as seen by the welcoming entrance way  and the “Book Castle”. The fresh air and sweeping panoramic views from the roof of Athens and the Aegean are also a part of it. The public spaces and programming are designed to bring people in to engage them in the culture of this place. But through the telescopes one can also catch a glimpse of the Acropolis -a reminder of the past as we enter the future.

One special person we met at the new Library was Gregory Chrysostomidis. He had visited 150 libraries throughout Greece. He has the same affliction we have of trying to understand the nature of libraries on a big scale. He took us on a quick tour of libraries in Athens and then drove us an hour out of town to north Athens to visit a small, struggling library that was having an open house to celebrate the end of their children’s summer programs. The children all spoke perfect English and were astonished that we had come all the way from America to photograph their library. One group showed us their perfect murder mystery video they had just completed. It included a live performance by their teacher acting out her part. We also heard a boy telling us about the student’s sculptures based on a famous Greek artist whose work was inspired by the student uprisings during the Greek junta.

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Our neighborhood is a fascinating mix of the trendy and the anarchist parts of Athens. We see the signs of this everywhere we walk. One of the highlights of this trip so far was having dinner with Yannis Zervos, founder of the Athens Center and former board member of the Greek Fulbright Commission. I found out about him while talking to his son at a coffee shop in San Francisco. Small world. It was a magical evening and hopefully someone will write a book about Yannis and his cultured and eloquent world.

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1 DAY DONE, 239 TO GO

9/4/18 

1 DAY DONE, 239 TO GO

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Greetings from Athens! Ellen and I are at the start of our Fulbright Library Road Trip odyssey. It seems appropriate that we start in Greece which invented the term “odyssey”. For those of you that have done international travel taking the big flight to Greece is a little like running a marathon (another Greek work). Exhausted and brain-dead when we arrived I was struck how much the setting for Athens reminded me of southern California. I was also impressed at how hot, polluted, crowded and fascinating this city is.

1st night dinner, Athens

We are staying in the Koloanki neighborhood on the edge of an anarchist neighborhood. The streets are filled with political graffiti. It’s all just edgy enough to be very exciting.  Our street is literally full of bookstores and coffee shops which are two things I love. We feel right at home! I am also aware of the deep history that is part of contemporary Athens. We stroll by ancient ruins and 700 year-old olive trees. The old National Library of Greece is very close to where we are staying. It is surrounded by buildings from the last 150 years that refer back to classical Greek history.Grafitti, Athens

700 year-old olive tree, Athens

Old National Library, Athens

We spend our first day of work at the new National Library of Greece at the breathtaking Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center. This is our host library for this part of the Fulbright and we are graciously given a tour by Librarian Evgenia Vasilakaki. Designed by architect Renzo Piano, SNFCC is a world-class cultural, learning and recreational urban complex that includes the new National Library and the Greek National Opera. It is surrounded by one of the largest green spaces in Athens which is sorely needed in this crowded city. It also offers spectacular views of Athens and the sea. In the first year that it opened in 2017 over 3 million people visited SNFCC. Like everything else, the Library is amazing and by the time we meet the Director Dr. Filippos Tsimpoglou we knew our experience here will be a rich one.

Book Castle and hallway, National Library of Greece

After the first day here in Athens I realized that one day was gone but we had two hundred and thirty-nine days to go on our Fulbright Library Road Trip. This will be a journey where we can get beneath the surface and deeply explore what is the meaning of a library. Rather than a sprint we have started a marathon. Thanks for joining us on this occasional blog. Please send us any questions or comments.

 

 

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The Library Road Trip continues!

2016-2018  San Francisco, CA

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8/12/18 – It has been a long two years since I last posted on this Library Road Trip site. A lot of water under the bridge, so to speak. Ellen and I have continued to work on our project on libraries and literacy in Stockton called On Reading in the San Joaquin. A few weeks ago we photographed California’s Poet Laureate Dana Gioia giving a reading at The Write Space in Stockton.

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Also, we completed our commissioned project on the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC and published a book from that project called Photographing Shakespeare The Folger Shakespeare Library. We did a book launch at the Folger Library in June.

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We are now coming back to our Global Library Project which took a little vacation after our last blog in 2016 from Moscow. The good news is that I received a Fulbright Global Scholar Fellowship this Spring which will allow Ellen and I to photograph the interaction between libraries and refugees in Greece, Italy and Israel for the next six months. After that we hope to extend the work for two more months in Jordan, Egypt, Turkey and Bosnia. I call it our Fulbright odyssey and we start September 1st. The Library Road Trip continues!

For those of you that have been following this blog I wanted to let you know that we will be starting it again after we recover from jet-lag in Athens in September. For those of you that are new to the blog I wanted to extend a welcome and look forward to communicating with you over the next eight months. Please contact us if you have any questions, comments or suggestions. Besides being the longest, this may be one of the most interesting road trips we have ever done. Can’t wait to start!

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8/2-8/7/16 Moscow, Russia

8/2/16 – We flew from Kiev to Minsk, Belarus to Moscow on Belavia Airlines. I wondered whether or not the national airlines of Belarus would be up to snuff. But it turned out to be fine and it gave me faith that the global airlines business must operate under pretty high standards, even under the longest running dictatorship and most corrupt regime in Europe. img_0901Moscow amazed us and it fulfilled one of my lifelong dreams to come here. Our funky apartment was three blocks from Red Square and located in a very fancy, upscale shopping area. We went to Red Square in the evening and got caught in torrential downpour. It only added to the surreal specialness of being there. This will be a fond, life-long memory.

8/3/16 – The Russian State/Lenin Library is the main library in Moscow and the national library of Russia. In the morning we walked over to it and I photographed the severe, Soviet-era exterior. While I was doing that Ellen wandered into the library and basically charmed her way into getting us an appointment to photograph inside the library this Friday. Amazing! Lightroom (DSC_9556.NEF and 3 others)We then met our friend Acia who I’ve been in touch with for several months. She is the sister of one of my Stanford students and I met her last Spring at Stanford. I told her we were coming to Moscow in the Summer and she did a huge amount of work arranging visits to some of the libraries of Moscow. We all went to the Russian State Youth Library which was housed in the Nosov Mansion. It is a music library and I made a great photo of a young guy practicing on an electric piano. dsc_9620dsc_9635dsc_9673dsc_9663We ended the day at the Chekov Library which is well run but struggles on its very tight budget. Chekov used to live in this building and I make my last image of the day of a room filled with books and a very large photograph of Chekov.dsc_9725

8/4/16 – We met the librarian Maria at the Nekrasov Library at noon. We spent the next few hours going on a tour of this new and attractive library. One of their collections included an amazing display of graphic arts labels, especially for chocolate bars and calendars. It included ones from pre-Soviet and Soviet times and was a fascinating history of early 20th century fantasies. dsc_9733Lightroom (DSC_9744.NEF and 2 others)dsc_9747dsc_9762dsc_9778dsc_9770At noon I gave a lecture again on my American Public Library project to a small group of librarians while Maria translated. Maria then guided us by street and subway to the American Embassy. I gave my last lecture of the trip there to another room full of mostly young Russians. It was one of the highlights of the trip and one of the great honors of my life. Before the lecture, our American Embassy contact Magia impressed us with her sharp analysis of Russian-American relations and also her great fear of a Donald Trump presidency. Like Ukraine, this is one of the front lines of a new Cold War between Russia and the West. Interestingly (and somewhat weirdly) my lecture felt like a small part of a “soft power” effort in that conflict.img_1012img_1021

8/5/16 – We spent several hours being escorted around the Russian State/Lenin Library by a young librarian named Dacia. We spent a good amount of time in the Book Museum which consisted of the highlights of their collections. It was a truly remarkable collection and I made the most of every minute I had there. We also photographed several large reading rooms. The grandest one by far was the main reading room which was not being used because it was under construction. It was a magnificent room and being empty gave it an ethereal quality that made for what I hope are some great photos. Looking down on the empty room was a giant mural painting of Lenin which also added to the strange quality. The librarian said they don’t know when the construction will be done because they have run out of funds. I finished by photographing the Grand Staircase and several of the guards. Thus concluded the photography for the 2016 Library Road Trip to Europe. A quick count showed I had photographed about 82 libraries throughout the trip.dsc_9827dsc_9830dsc_9841dsc_9912dsc_9926Lightroom (DSC_9949.NEF and 2 others)Lightroom (DSC_9976.NEF and 2 others)

8/6/16 – We had a farewell coffee with our friend Dacia and gave her a copy of The Public Library book. img_4640Walker and I played a quick game of ping pong under a statue of Lenin. img_1111Then we had a sad farewell to Walker as he took off for Finland , Belgium, Ireland and finally the US. img_4649Ellen and I collapsed into a short lived nap in our apartment which was interrupted by a loud rock concert outside our window and incessant construction noise. Later we had a wonderful dinner in an outdoor cafe on our street. img_4657We then did our final preparations for the big trip home. We will miss Moscow!

8/7/16 – We never slept this night. At midnight we took an hour long taxi ride to the airport. We tried to sleep a little at the airport but at 3:30 began the check-in and boarding process. img_4661After a 5 1/2 hour flight we were in Lisbon. We waited another 5 1/2 hours in a semi-conscience state in the Lisbon airport. img_4663Finally, after a 7 hour flight we arrive in Boston and I want to kiss the first American flag I see. We’re so glad to be home!img_4665

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7/29-8/1/16 Kiev, Ukraine

7/29/16 – This was the busiest day of the trip. It started at 8:30 AM meeting our guide Tatiana from the library. She is a unique character and she quickly became our friend through her charm, grace and intelligence. Ellen described her as being like a pixy. She took us to the great Medical Library and introduced us to Madam Raisa who founded the library in this old mansion in the 1960s. Like in Dnipro, we observed the ritual of tea, food and conversation before beginning our tour and photography of this fascinating old place. Lightroom (DSC_8839.NEF and 2 others)

Tatiana then shuffled us along like a mother hen to the Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine. Here again we observed the rituals before being taken on an astonishing tour of one of the largest libraries in the world. Every department had laid out extensive displays of their collections. All the department heads gave well done presentations to us, some of them reading from typed pages. Ten people followed us including our translator, the head of the library and two photographers. This National Library lacked funds to provide air conditioning and humidity control which was obvious on this hot and humid day. But the staff that we met were overwhelmingly enthusiastic, very smart and proud to show us their incredible collection. The collections ranged from rare books and manuscripts; old rare newspapers; reading rooms; art library; rare wax audio recordings of early 20th century Jewish musicians, singers, poets and writers; and the music library. We even were given a short piano concert on a historically important piano.

I felt that we had just been given the richest and most amazing crash course in Ukrainian history and culture. The generosity of the people we met here so far knows no bounds. After a very short break I was escorted into a very hot and airless room to give my slide discussion on the American Public Library project to a packed house. Again, there were great questions and a real interest in American libraries. I think I was falling in love with Ukraine at this point. We then scrambled out the door and headed across town to my next lecture at the America House. This place is a part of the American Embassy and is used to show Ukrainians a positive side of American culture. It is now also in the center of the new Cold War between Putin’s Russia and the West. There were large images and quotes by Maya Angelou and Steve Jobs on the walls. Laptops were loaned out, books were available and all kinds of classes were taught including English language lessons. It was a very hip and inviting place. I again gave my slide lecture on American public libraries to a packed audience of interested Ukrainians. The lecture as simultaneously translated and then podcast to over 80 Ukrainian libraries throughout the country. I was exhausted but very happy after this very long and rewarding day.img_0657img_0662

 

7/30/16 – We came back to the America House in the morning so I could conduct a two-hour workshop/slide show on some historical but mostly contemporary American photographers. I had another good sized audience with occasional good questions. The workshop was followed by a reception for an exhibit of my American Public Library project. I had earlier sent them large digital files which they printed up (nicely), mounted them and hung them in their small galley. We made plans to travel the show throughout Ukraine.

I was really exhausted at this point but rallied enough to go out to dinner with a LensCulture photographer Misha and his fiancé. He had been doing a lot of photography in the war in eastern Ukraine. He spoke of how he was like a crazy child when he came back from the fighting and his fiancé agreed.img_4324

 

7/31/16 – This was our one day of rest in Kiev so, of course, we couldn’t just sit around our air conditioned apartment. We visited the ancient Kiev Pechersk Lavra monastery which is the center of the Kiev Rus people. Kiev was founded here and the Kievians like to point out that Moscow wasn’t founded until 500 years later. We found out later that this was also the center of the pro-separatists, pro-Russian people in Kiev. We visited the underground tunnels and tombs of the ancient monks as well as the fantastic cathedrals of the Orthodox Church.

Nearby is the huge Museum to the Ukrainian and Soviet part of WW II. Although massive in scale and impressive in detail it began to take on a predictable message. Both the monastery and Museum were important to see and helped explained the culture we are in. img_4413img_4428In the early evening Ellen and I walked from our apartment to a small branch library several blocks away that Walker had seen earlier. I only took the digital camera because,of the distance. It turned out to be an old, Soviet-era library with giant new apartments being built by oligarchs rising in the background. The light was perfect and the little details of monkeys and cosmonauts floating in space were enchanting.dsc_9160dsc_9237

 

8/1/16 – Tatiana was not through with us yet and today she took us back to a different building of the Vernadsky National Library. Here we saw massive a Soviet-era mural, an Iranian room, reading rooms and an impressive modern tapestry of Ukrainian history. One of the most interesting rooms was the map collection. The young librarian kept showing us endless amounts of priceless old maps and atlases. Again I felt like a kid in a candy store. During WW II the 80,000 items in this collection were shipped out of Kiev by train just before the Nazis invaded the city. It was taken to Kazakhstan and shipped back after the war. We were taken to a room full of gifts given to Ukrainian leaders from other world leaders, some of them very kitchy.

The most thoughtful gift of the entire trip was when Tatiana had us issued library cards from the Vernadsky National Library. In a trip filled with remarkable people Tatiana was one of the best. It was a sad farewell when we left. img_0850img_0898I decided to go back to our neighborhood branch library that I had photographed yesterday with my digital camera. I had brought both digital and film cameras as a experiment. It turned out that it was difficult to shoot both, especially on the second half of the trip. Many times we were rushed, or librarians were breathing down our necks, or the lighting was bad. Often, it was just easier and faster to only shoot digital. I was determined to go back to this fascinating neighborhood library and use some of the large amount of film that still had left. As I was happily photographing this same library in the same beautiful light a young, drunk Ukrainian guy came up to my face and started talking to me in an insistent way. I had two cameras, a large backpack and my tripod strapped around my shoulders while I was changing film and felt pretty vulnerable. When I backed up he followed closely in my face. He was missing one eye and his face was full of scars and scratches. I guessed he might have been a veteran from the war but he seemed pretty whacked out and dangerous now. I noticed a middle aged guy carrying groceries walking by so I jumped in back of him and he proceeded to have some kind of serious talk with this nutter in Ukrainian. We all eventually went our separate ways but I noticed the crazy guy putting the moves on other hapless people walking by the library. I was happy to get out of there in one piece.

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7/26-7/28/16 Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine

7/26/16 – We flew from Warsaw to Ukraine and entered a new world. It took me most of this Spring to learn how to pronounce the name of our new destination – Dnipropetrovsk. About a month ago this large eastern Ukrainian city changed its name to Dnipro to remove the Communist part of the name. During the Cold War this manufacturing city was a “secret city” that produced munitions and rockets for the wars in Korea and Vietnam. It is still a manufacturing city today with a large factory owned by an oligarch spewing a choking cloud of pollution that permeates the whole area.

It is a Russian speaking city that now heavily supports Ukraine in its war with the separatists in the far eastern province of Donbas. Dnipro is about a three hour drive to the front and we feel the presence of the war here. Walker’s contact named Dasha picked us up at the small Dnipro airport. She works for the on-line photography group LensCulture that Walker works for as well. Although she lives in the US now she is back here visiting her parents. img_0445After we settle into our strange hotel we eventually make our way over to the Soviet era Central City Library. I gave a lecture here to an airless, warm room that is packed with mostly young people. They seemed genuinely interested in American public libraries and ask lots of good questions at the end. One guy even gave me a bullet which he says is a “souvenir from the Donbas front”.

I was exhausted but went out to dinner in an American style, upscale shopping mall. This is the first time a shopping mall looked pretty good to me.

 

7/27/16 – Today is another busy day. We photographed four libraries starting with The Children’s Library. We were overwhelmed by the generosity of the people working here. We expected to spend only a short hour quickly photographing this place. The cultural differences started immediately with a long “tea time” where we were introduced to all the staff. We were given small gifts and lots of food and we quickly realized we needed to readjust our schedule. We were shown every aspect of this library by the enthusiastic staff. At the end Ellen was given a large collection of hand-made Ukrainian dolls produced by some of the librarians. We also saw the bottle cap donation bins to raise money for the veterans of the war. And, of course, before we left we had to take lots and lots of group portraits. dsc_8570dsc_8590dsc_8623dsc_8645We then did a short visit to the Science Library and then on to the New Library which was 30 years old. Inside was a young man giving a computer lesson to three older women. He was what is called an “internally displaced person” coming from war zone in the East. He taught himself English from computer games and Facebook. This neighborhood is a poor part of Dnirpo and contains many families displaced by the war or the Russian take over of the Crimea. It is also where many veterans and their families live.

After a long walk over rough streets in the heat and pollution we take a short break having lunch in an “authentic Ukrainian” restaurant. Our next stop is Dnipro’s Central City Library. We spend a long time talking with a young woman who is a psychologist for war veterans and their families. She is deeply grateful to the library because it is the only place in town available for free. dsc_8692The wonderful head of the library is Magda and she was a force of nature. She proceeds to take us on a tour of every aspect of this large four story library. This includes the art therapy area for returning and wounded vets from the war, art therapy area for children affected by the war, local arts and crafts, the music library, an IDPs photo exhibit, and a historical display on a famous Ukrainian woman writer who collaborated with the Nazis during WW II and wrote anti-Semitic articles.

We finished the day by Dasha taking us taking us to a cool, hipster restaurant and having one of the best meals of the trip.img_0512

 

7/29/16 – We basically spent most of the day getting organized and having Dasha drive us to the airport. On the way we stopped at a beautiful island/park overlooking the Dniper River. We visited an old Orthodox Church situated on top of an artificial waterfall. We also visited a large Soviet era monument. Dnipro will always be one of the most interesting places on this trip. It is rough and not beautiful. But in its grittiness it possesses a deep character that reminds me of places like Bakersfield, CA or Midland, TX.

We end the day in the very different city of Kiev, Ukraine. Here at the famous Maidan Square we see reminders of the war and making fun of Putin. img_4307img_4298img_4297

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