Thursday, 5 June 2008

Were it To Illumine...

It began with a book. It was a large and heavy book, bound in Spanish leather and stamped in gold. The finest book Dylan Zimmerman had ever bound. The pages themselves however were another matter. They made his binding seem inadequate. He had received the manuscript, a book of knowledge, from an Italian artist and penman, Ludovico degli Arrighi. The borders were ornately decorated in flowers and mythical beasts. A small panel on every page showed the finest pictures in various colours and bordered with gold.

Dylan Zimmerman did not have the most beautiful hands. They were rough and worn with his bookbinding work. Yet, he felt a deep abiding pleasure in handling a fine book that he could not explain. The greatest irony perhaps was that he did not know Italian, the language of this book. He spoke the words, reading them from the page with pleasure and no understanding of them. At the bottom of the title page he read,

"Ludovico Vicentin scribebat
Rome anno domini

Dylan sighed with pleasure and placed the book into its velvet wrapping. He awaited the arrival of the buyer and continued to work on other books. No other book had quite as fabulous a manuscript as that one book. No other book in his workshop was as beautifully illustrated as that one. Still, he considered the other books he bound as just as special, for he loved them all. The great weighty Bible, the elegant Torah, even the book called Qu'ran that had been in need of rebinding and was in a script utterly alien to him. All these he loved. His daughter, now a young woman had bound the Qu'ran in silk embroidered with flowers and the script the buyer had written very precisely. Dylan had agreed with his daughter Judith that they would not say who had bound the book. She was his partner in the work and his nearest family since the death of his wife some years ago.

The buyer of the fabulous book came in to the workshop just after lunch. Dylan greeted him and handed over the book, wrapped in its fine velvet.

"I would recommend sir that you have a box made for this book," Dylan told him, "For few books are as beautiful as this one."

The buyer frowned.

"You read the book?" he asked.

"I cannot read the language of the book, sadly. But, I did look at the pages, yes," Dylan answered.

"A bookbinder who cannot read Italian?" the buyer questioned with a raised eyebrow.

"Not even Latin, sir. I have some French and my mother English, even a tiny bit of German, but no Latin or Italian," Dylan told him.

He did not mention his Yiddish, it did not feel safe to do so.

The buyer considered for a moment, then shrugged his shoulders and paid for the work. He left in a hurry, but seeing rainclouds gathering, Dylan thought nothing of this. Another buyer in the shop waited until the first had gone and approached Dylan.

"You know who that was?" he asked.

Dylan said he did not, just that the man had ordered the manuscript bound and would pick it up a week later to pay for it.

"That is the Bishop of Sidelong," the buyer whispered loudly; "He is reputed to be an adept of the magical arts."

Dylan shrugged his shoulders and said no more. He thought it best not to mention that Judith was also an adept at magic. Witchcraft was a bit of a sensitive topic and he did not want Judith being burned at the stake. But that night he asked her if she had read the manuscript. She smiled and said she had only read the title page and that was enough. Dylan was not sure if that was a good or a bad thing, but he found out the following morning when the Bishop returned in a fury.

"You lied to me, sir!" he exclaimed.

"You didn't tell me you were the Bishop of Sidelong either," said Dylan philosophically.

"You-you... you told me you had not read the book! But you must have! You must have!" the Bishop answered accusingly.

At that point, before Dylan could answer, the Bishop noticed Judith. Magic is nothing compared to Love, tho' often Love is said to be magical. Almost instantly, the Bishop fell in love with Judith. The calm way she had about her, her dark soft eyes, her sweet smile and the gentle tones of her voice - all these bewitched him as only Love can. But she was Jewish and he was a Christian - it could not be. Torn by the conflict of his emotions, the Bishop flew out of the shop in a whirl.

From that point on, all seemed to go wrong for Dylan. All his customers seemed to desert him. Only the Arabic buyer still commissioned him to bind his books. One day, he asked Dylan if all was well. Judith had been arrested and imprisoned as a witch, his customers were too few and the Bishop of Sidelong had told him that his daughter - his only daughter was to be tried by the Inquisition. The Arab buyer frowned and asked Dylan why this should be. Dylan told him about the book and the Arab asked him if he recalled the title. Dylan did recall how to say it, tho' he could not understand the words. When he told the Arab, the man smiled and bowed.

"Mr Zimmerman, I will make a deal with you. If you will go to Venice with your daughter and bind books there, I shall ensure all will be well with you," he said kindly.

Dylan sighed but agreed. That evening, six of the Arab's servants came and helped Dylan to pack everything. They took him on board a fine ship and placed him in a cabin furnished with the finest silks and velvets. Wine was given to him and he drank it, finding it good.

In the Palace of the Inquisition, Judith was brought before the Grand Inquisitor and forced to kneel. She was accused of witchcraft and asked how she pleaded.

"Ask the Bishop of Sidelong - everybody knows that he is a magician," she answered.

An inquisitor took a whip and lashed her brutally, but Judith did not flinch. Finally, she staggered to her feet and answered them, "If you will insist that I am a witch, then I would rather that than be you. The sun will dawn soon. Were it to illumine your eyes, you would still be blind to the truth of your own viciousness. If I die now, I shall be free of you, but you will never be free of your consciences."

She was about to collapse when a bolt of lightning struck the palace windows shattering them and melting the glass. A huge rumble of thunder growled and a rushing as of a thousand winds was heard. Papers flew up, the robes of the inquisitors were flung about them. The Bishop of Sidelong dashed towards Judith with a dagger.

"If you cannot be mine, none shall have you!" he hissed.

But another bolt of lightning struck the dagger's point and the Bishop disappeared in a short scream. Then Judith found herself being carried up through the air as if she were a leaf in an autumnal storm. High up she was lifted, feeling gentle arms about her until she was conscious of descending towards a ship in the harbour. The ship slipped its moorings and began to sail out to sea, but she was placed gently on the deck. She found that her torn and filthy dress was transformed into a dress fit for an Empress, the chains about her wrists and ankles were gone. She rushed into the cabin to find her father and they embraced.

When they arrived in Venice, the Arab's servants removed all Dylan's goods to a fine new workshop with a house behind it and a garden. He was given enough money to begin again also. He asked the servants to give their master thanks and said that he would bind the buyer's books for free, so grateful was he for his daughter's safety. The servants bowed and said they would. Judith smiled at them and said,

"Please thank the Grand Genie Ibn al Hussain for rescuing me."

The servants smiled and bowed. They never returned and neither did the mysterious buyer. Dylan never knew what a genie was nor did he ask. He made a good life in Venice and learned Italian, but tho' the book was returned to him by the Grand Genie, he never read it again. Were it to illumine his mind, he was afraid it might drive him quite mad.


madameshawshank said...

Griffin..can you rustle up a 2008 Dylan Zimmerman?...I've an old French/English dictionary that wouldn't mind some Spanish leather binding...

Dylan funny funny storyman you G!

there are times I imagine a gathering of your imagined ones..the whole batch...somehow or other at table ..sharing aglow with the ages of the ages..

this taken at Olympic the base of the giant ladder to the sky:-):

This 25-metre tall sculpture symbolises not only the fundamental principles of Olympism, but also the noblest of human endeavours. According to the artist "the giant ladder as a symbol of ascession has an obvious meaning in the context of sport and the Olympics-it suggests the desire to ascend, to scale heights, to climb up, to improve, to achieve to transcend one's limitations.

Each of the six rungs of The Attractor bear a word from the lowest rung upwards, sensus, imaginatio, ratio, intellectus, intelligentia, verbum.

Sensus - percieve, feeling
Imaginatio - imagination
Ratio - account, reckoning, reason
Intellectus - understand, realise, meaning
Intelligentia - intelligence
Verbum - word, proverb
The Attractor was inspired by an illustration in a book by seventeenth century metaphysicist Robert Fludd.

Griffin said...

Well to begin with I was trying to write a story with Dylan lyrics in it. That got complicated so I wrote this one, but I couldn't leave out the Dylan reference - especially as I've been listening to him a lot lately.

I was also inspired by the novel 'Dora Damage' by Belinda Starling (a name for a character in a novel herself). Dora Damage is a bookbinder herself.

Then I also recalled Gothic-Romantic novels like The Monk and Melmoth the Wanderer - also the film Ladyhawke.

I remember that ladder!! :)

Rosemary in Utah said...

Nice to see little Bobby Forever in your story even if he doesn't get to sing. His brave and sweet-sounding daughter could be J. Baez, too! (Joan K. also brave to sing soprano in publico!)
Back to story--I wonder how it is that books need to be rebound--wouldn't the pages wear out long before strong leather? Oh--I guess the bond between the cover and pages is what loosens, not the components.
I wish Mr. Zimmerman had been a little more intellectually curious--we might know what that book was called, and what the hell was in it!
Here's some info about a (real) man named Aaron Lansky:

"After graduating from Hampshire College in 1977 with a B.A. in modern Jewish history, Lansky enrolled in a graduate program in East European Jewish studies at McGill University in Montreal. There he discovered that large numbers of Yiddish books were being destroyed – not by anti-Semites, but by Jews who could not read the language of their own parents and grandparents. Convinced that someone had to save those books, Lansky, ignoring the cautions of experts who considered the task impossible, left McGill and started what he then called the National Yiddish Book Exchange. He set up shop in an old factory in Northampton, Massachusetts, where he shared space with "a weaver, a potter, and a woman who sold goat’s milk."

In 1980, when Aaron Lansky issued his first public appeal for old Yiddish books, it was estimated that only 70,000 Yiddish volumes were extant and recoverable. He rescued that many within six months. Today the National Yiddish Book Center’s collection totals over 1.5 million volumes. Esquire Magazine, in 1984, included Lansky in its list of "The Best of the New Generation: Men and Women Under 40 Who Are Changing America." He has since received numerous awards and recognitions, including a National Jewish Book Award, honorary doctorates from Amherst College and the State University of New York, and a 1989 "Genius Grant" from the MacArthur Foundation. He lives with his wife Gail, their two daughters, Sasha and Chava, and a dog named Lily."
He wrote a book, "Outwitting History" about this booksaving.

Griffin said...


The technical explanation is this:

Firstly that the leather is only a covering over cardboard the 'boards' of the binding.

Secondly, you would be right about many books today as many of them are made with wood pulp paper which has acids in it that over time turn the paper to dust.

But older books, such as those from the 17th and 18th century were from paper made with cotton rags. These are much less acidic if not actually acid-free so they last a long time. I have a few 18th (and one 17th) century books and they are still in good condition in spite of being over 2-3 hundred years old.

Books before cotton rag paper were often written on vellum or calfskin which lasts and lasts so long as it's cared for.

Good for Lansky! Books are a sustainable design. They don't need electricity or any other energy source and can be carried anywhere. I adore books... can you tell?! :)