Library Love

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From the smallest neighbourhood library to the mega-libraries some cities have built, libraries are amazing places. They’re community hubs, bastions of knowledge (the librarians, as well as the books), respites from the chaos of everyday life, and as Doris Lessing said, “the most democratic of institutions.” There are people who argue that libraries are pointless in this digital age, a waste of resources for cash-strapped municipalities. Those people are wrong (I’m also willing to bet they haven’t been to a library in the last decade, and probably also brag they’re “too busy” to read).

For those of you who know the value of a library, I’m sharing a few of the standouts around the world (although there are many more out there)…

BIBLIOTHECA ALEXANDRINA

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If you cringe when you think about the destruction of the original Library of Alexandria, then you can take some comfort in knowing that Egypt has built a new library, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, with help from around the globe. Besides a massive (about 5 million volumes) book collection (including rare manuscripts), the Bibliotheca also hosts an international book fair, holds art exhibitions, and has four museums. Tours are offered in Arabic, English, French, and Spanish. Find out more.

AUSTRIAN NATIONAL LIBRARY

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This library in Vienna is a work of art on its own, featuring marble statues, columns, and frescoes. It boasts an impressive collection of archives, including a map department with 295,000 sheet maps, 700 globes, 100 reliefs and models of castles, and more. It also has its own museums, including the Papyrus Museum and the Esperanto Museum. Not surprisingly, they offer guided tours. Find out more.

REAL GABINETE PORTUGUÊS DE LEITURA

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Another stunning library, the Real Gabinete Português de Leitura in Rio was recently renovated and restored. The collection features Portuguese and Brazilian literature, but this library is worth a visit just to admire the beauty of the surroundings. Find out more (in Portuguese) here.

Toronto Reference Library

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Local pride insists that I can’t make a list of extraordinary libraries without including the Toronto Reference Library. There’s good reason to include it, though. The Reference Library not only offers an impressive collection of books in multiple languages, it also features a Canadian Literature Collection, Arthur Conan Doyle collection, a book printing service (indie authors take note), an art gallery, and even two electric pianos for all your practicing needs. Find out more.

BIBLIOTECA VASCONCELOS

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Described as a “city of books,” the Biblioteca Vasconcelos in Mexico City was designed to help you get lost among the stacks. The library is actually five libraries in one, with collections based on five famous Mexican intellectuals. Although the Biblioteca misses the mark in a major way by including only men as its five inspirations, the library itself is a book-lover’s dream. It also features art throughout, a music collection, guided tours, and 26,000 sq metres (6.4 acres) of gardens. Learn more here.

LIBRARY OF PARLIAMENT

The Library of Parliament

Canada’s Library of Parliament in Ottawa is a beautiful space with an amazing collection. Or so I’ve heard, since it’s open only to Parliamentarians. Not only is the library closed to the public, but they don’t even offer tours. I think it’s time that changed, don’t you? Read more here.

What do you love most about libraries? What’s your favourite library, or one you would love to visit? Share in the comments 🙂

A Library Under the Stairs

book lots on wooden shelf
Photo by Victoria Borodinova on Pexels.com

There are a lot of things you can do with that space under a staircase. like turning it into a design element, a closet or storage, a spot to do laundry, or a bedroom for an orphan (not recommended). But one of the best uses for that space is as a reading nook or small library. With that in mind, I thought I’d share some visual inspiration…

This one seems as though it would be easy to build or have built:

books under the stairs

 

Love the cozy feel here:

books under the stairs 4

 

Perfect reading nook:

books under the stairs 5

 

Nice spot for a few books:

books under the stairs 3

 

This one just looks fun:

books under the stairs 6

 

These are apparently is put together with Billy Bookcases from Ikea:

books under the stairs 7

 

Nice use of mouldings:

books under the stairs 8

 

An interesting take on under-stair bookcases:

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Good use of the space:

books under the stairs 2

What do you think–would you like bookshelves under your stairs? What do you have there now? Share in the comments…

-Aspasía S. Bissas

My Notre Dame

Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, 2016
Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas

By now you’ve likely heard about the devastating fire that gutted Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, collapsing the roof and spire and destroying much of the interior (but thankfully not killing anyone). If you haven’t, you can read about it here, here, or here.

Notre Dame Cathedral devastation
Photograph: François Guillot/AFP/Getty Images

Notre Dame is an icon of Paris, and as some locals described it “the heart of France.” It’s also an international icon, a place many people wished to see in their lifetime, and an unparalleled historic monument. What was lost in that fire is far more than just a building. We can take heart in the fact that the bell towers, the rose window, and even the rooster from the top of the spire were saved; that much of the artwork was removed in time; and that Notre Dame will be rebuilt. But it will never be the same.

The first time I saw Notre Dame, I was in a cab heading from Charles de Gaulle airport to my hotel. We approached the Cathedral from the back, alongside the Seine, and as I caught my first glimpse I realized I was looking at Notre Dame. The Notre Dame. The next thing that went through my mind was “I thought I knew Gothic architecture. I had no idea what it was until now.” This wasn’t the neo-Gothic Victoriana I was used to seeing at home in Canada– this was a 900-year-old Gothic masterpiece. You know what else? Flying buttresses are awesome.

When I’d booked it, I didn’t realize my hotel was so close to Notre Dame–just around the corner. I ended up spending time in and around the Cathedral every day while I was there. When I left, I expected I would see it again one day (hopefully when the cherry trees were blooming this time). I’m not sure what will be waiting for me the next time I go, but in honour of what has been lost, I thought I’d share some of the pictures I took on the trip when I got to know Notre Dame.

Notre Dame Cathedral, front
Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas
Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris
Copper statues in front of the base of Notre Dame’s spire. The statues were removed before the fire as part of the restoration that was taking place. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Notre Dame gargoyle
Gargoyle, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Notre Dame gargoyles
Gargoyles at Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Side entrace, Notre Dame, Paris
Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris (side facing the Seine). Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Inside Notre Dame
Interior, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Stained glass, Notre Dame, Paris
My photos don’t do the windows justice. Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Stained glass, Notre Dame, Paris
Stained glass detail, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.

 

Inside Notre Dame, Paris
Interior, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Stained glass rose window, Notre Dame, Paris
Rose window, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Stained glass and woodwork, Notre Dame, Paris
Interior, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Inside Notre Dame, Paris
Interior, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. The fire extinguisher at the bottom right of the photo takes on new significance now. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Inside Notre Dame, Paris
Interior, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Painted column, Notre Dame, Paris
Beautiful painted column inside Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Stained glass, Notre Dame, Paris
Vivid colours, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Stained glass, Notre Dame, Paris
Stained glass, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Stained glass window, Notre Dame, Paris
Stained glass, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.

 

Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris
Notre Dame Cathedral taken from my hotel roof. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.

 

Did you get a chance to see Notre Dame? Do you have any special memories of it? Please share in the comments.

 

 

10 Stunning Writers’ Homes

I love old houses (old buildings in general, actually). While I can appreciate the practical benefits of a new house, they leave me, well, bored. Old houses have style. They have personality. They have soul. Throw in a resident writer and you’ve got a house worth living in (or at least visiting). Here are 10 writers’ houses that are worth checking out…

WH Thomas Hardy

Higher Bockhampton, Dorset, England: The cottage where Thomas Hardy was born. I love the thatched roof and garden.

WH Agatha Christie

Galmpton, Devon, England: Greenway Estate, home to Agatha Christie, was designated a World Heritage Site in 2004. Christie set several of her novels in the area.

WH Eugene Oneill

Danville, California, USA: Eugene O’Neill wrote The Iceman Cometh and Long Day’s Journey Into Night at Tao House.

WH Virginia Woolf

Rodmell, East Sussex, England: Not only is Monk’s House where Virginia Woolf worked on Mrs. Dalloway, it was also where she hosted the Bloomsbury Group.

WH Emily Dickinson

Amherst, Massachusetts, USA: With a house like this, I can understand why Emily Dickinson was a recluse. The poet didn’t spend her entire life at the Homestead, but she was born here, and after moving back as a young woman spent the rest of her life here.

WH Alphonse Daudet

Draveil (former village of Champrosay), France: Can I just go ahead and move into Alphonse Daudet’s home, located a few kilometres south of Paris? Daudet finished Letters from My Windmill here, and also held famous weekly gatherings of the luminaries of the French arts scene (Zola, Proust & Rodin were among the regulars).

WH George Sand

Nohant, Indre, France: More gorgeous French style at George Sand’s home. Sand wrote many of her books here, as well as hosting artists, musicians, and writers (Frédéric Chopin lived, and composed, here for several years). The house has been classified as a National Historic Monument of France.

WH Mark Twain

Hartford, Connecticut, USA: Mark Twain wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in this house’s billiards room, which also doubled as his study.

WH Edith Wharton

Lenox, Massachusetts, USA: Edith Wharton’s grand home, The Mount, was where she wrote most of her novels, and where she presumably implemented the advice from her first book (co-authored with Ogden Codman), The Decoration of Houses. 

WH Louisa May Alcott

Concord, Massachusetts, USA: Orchard House, where Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women.

What’s your favourite writer’s home? Share in the comments…

Further Reading:

Orchard House

The Mount

The Mark Twain House and Museum

George Sand House

Alphonse Daudet House

Emily Dickinson Museum

Monk’s House

Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site

Thomas Hardy Cottage

Architectural Digest

KQED Arts

New England Historical Society

Air France

Boston Globe