Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Monday night's alright for singing...

"Spoleto's winged chariot is hurrying near, and yonder all before us lie artistic and cultural events." 

Andrew Marvell never said it, but it's still true: May is next week, and that means it's Piccolo Spoleto time.  Of course, the Library Society will once again host the Piccolo Spoleto Literary Festival: full details here.

But that's not all!

But that's not all!

We've also got Circa 1748: Bridging Oral and Literary Traditions.  This Piccolo event will be a unique and engaging evening illustrating connections between written and oral art traditions.  We'll be using the written materials of the Library Society, and the vocal talents of the CSO's Spiritual Ensemble. Circa 1748 will be Saturday, 29th at 7:00 PM, at the Library Society.  Tickets are $20, available wherever Piccolo Spoleto tickets are sold.

And finally (because I'm announcing events in the reverse order they will occur), on Monday, May 17th, we're having a "warm-up for Spoleto", entitled "Dixie", Denim, and Drinks.  DDD is going to be a fun, light (about 50 minute) program, featuring musical glimpses of the American folk tradition from Dvorak, Jake Heggie, Libby Larsen, and Carlisle Floyd.  Laura Ball, Peter Kiral, Courtney Sharp, Edoardo Carpenedo, and Erica Carpenedo will be performing.  Tickets are $15, available through the Library Society, 843 723.9912.  As the title suggests, the dress code is informal, and there will be drinks.  Sounds like a good way to spend a Monday to me.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

"He turned to me as if to say, Hurry boy, It's waiting there for you."

Since there are no more events left at the Library Society this month (other than standing events like Toddler Tuesdays), your loyal blogger is going to make a book endorsement, preceeded by a brief story.  Because today, April 20th, is the 182nd anniversary of René Caillié's entrance into Timbuktu.

In the late 1700s, European soldiers left unemployed by the end of the Seven Years War, lined up in the search for the fabled lands of the African interior.  Legend held it to be the home of the great river Niger, which flowed into the Nile, and drained a valley filled with rich kingdoms and cities.  The greatest of these -and the rumour that kept European explorers awake at night- was a city of solid gold, known as Timbuktu.

A Scot named Mungo Park became the first white man to reach the Niger River (1795), but was forced by bandits and ill health to return home before reaching Timbuktu.  Soon after, another Scot, Alexander Gordon Laing, crossed the Sahara and became the first European to visit Timbuktu: he received twenty four wounds fighting with desert raiders on the way there, and lost his life shortly after leaving, leaving the "golden city" as distant and mysterious to Europeans as it ever was.

It took René Caillié to get there and get back.  Caillié was a sickly orphan, born in the west of France in 1799.  A voracious reader, the young Caillié's favourite book was Robinson Crusoe, and at age sixteen he set off for adventures that would impress even Defoe's fictional hero.  He worked in West Africa- even helping to resupply a failed British mission to Timbuktu- and became familiar with the string of elaborate expeditions that, one after another, could not manage the trip to Timbuktu.  Caillié decided that he, individually, could succeed where great collective effort had failed.

To do this Caillié went native.  He moved to Mauritania, living with Senegalese Moors, absorbing their language and culture.  Having done this, he moved down the coast to a British indigo plantation, where he worked to save up money for his trip.  One day he put on his best Moorish garb and declared he was an Arab from Egypt, abducted by the French on the way to Mecca, and joined a native caravan headed east.

Caillié blended in well enough.  His ostentatious show of Muslim prayer probably aroused more suspicion than it allayed, but was certainly received better than the bombastic shows of Christian religiosity performed by prior British travellers.  Largely he was ignored because he was too poor to steal from.  Arriving safely at Timbuktu, he spent a few weeks wandering the ancient city, noting that it was made not of gold, but "...a mass of ill-looking houses, built of earth."  While it was once an important city during the Mali and Songhai empires, its glory days were long gone.  He caught a caravan headed north, trekked across the Sahara, and arrived safely back in France.  He became a national hero: he was awarded many francs, the Légion d'honneur, and the state even underwrote the publishing of his book Travels through Central Africa to Timbuctoo; and across the Great Desert, to Morocco.

The other half of this story- and my endorsement- is what France later did in pursuit of Caillié's legacy: thirty years of failed expedition after failed expedition in an attempt to tame the Sahara and open a north-south route from Algiers to the Niger.  This (perhaps surprisingly) interesting story is covered in Douglas Porch's The Conquest of the Sahara.  It's at the Library Society... upstairs, to the right, fourth isle down, number F78 P82.  And don't forget, reading 300 pages describing the Sahara makes good preparation for the upcoming Charleston summer...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Celebrating Thomas Jefferson's birthday with a little paper chasin'...

Event news: Gordon Rhea will be here Thursday evening at 6:00 PM for a lecture on Charles Whilden, an unsung hero of the War Between the States, and about whom Rhea chronicled in Carrying the Flag. The lecture is free; copies of the book will be available for $17.

Non-"events" event news: the Library Society has recently received an anonymous pledge to match up to $25,000 worth of giving!

The aim of the gift is to both increase membership, and to increase the giving of existing membership levels. Any giving above the normal $75 Friend of the Library membership level counts towards the matching pledge. So, if you're currently a Friend of the Library, consider throwing in an extra $25 bucks and upgrading to the Beatrice Witte Ravenel Circle.

To better recognize and facilitate this giving, we've split the Beatrice Witte Ravenel Circle of giving (formerly $100-$499) and created the John Bennett Circle for gifts of $250-$499. Not only does this honor a great Charleston novelist and poet
, it's a great way to help the Library meet this challenge grant. Call with a credit card, stop by or mail in a check, or you can always donate via Paypal here. We hope you will consider helping the Library take full advantage of this $25,000 opportunity!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Jazz at the Library (and the Girl in the Curls!)

April 8th!  The anniversary of Roman Emperor and notorious bath-designer Caracalla's assassination (the jerk!); President of the United States and notorious balcony-designer Harry Truman's steel seizure (the jerk!); and Canadian starlet and notorious Douglas Fairbanks-designer Mary Pickford's 118th birthday (not a jerk, I suppose).

Rambling, pointless story time: Mary Pickford starred in Kiki with Reginald Denny, who (in addition to designing America's first UAV) starred in the 1966 film Batman, which of course starred Adam West and Burt Ward, who teamed up for the terrible early-2000s TV movie Return to the Batcave, which also starred a young Amy Acker, who played Whiskey/Dr. Saunders on the sadly-short-lived TV show DollhouseDollhouse starred Albanian-American megababe Eliza Dushku, whom your loyal blogger once sat behind at a Red Sox game (which thoroughly made my Summer of 2007).  So that, kids, is my Mary Pickford story...

And on the topic of the world of entertainments, a LIBRARY EVENT: we've got a brass quintet playing the Library Society this Friday night at 7 PM.  This event was originally scheduled through the CSO; and while the CSO has suspended operations, we are still hosting the same great musicians (including world-renowned jazz drummer Quentin Baxter), and ticket sales ($15) go directly to the musicians.  Tickets are available at the door, or call us at 843.723.9912.  To recap, IT'S NOT CANCELLED.  See you there!