Thursday, November 12, 2009


I type in the words "sauvaget", "mosquee omeyyade" into the computer. The system is, I swear, DOS or something just after, perhaps programmed in the early 90s. Beside the computer is a binder with a listing of the different subjects and sections of the bibliothèque. Typed. On a typewriter that didn't use electricity but imprints by brute mechanical force.

I am at the Ifpo, L'Institut français du Proche-Orient. The security man at the front walks by the door behind me. I quickly turn on the French button in my brain.

- You have registered with the library now?
- No, I haven't. I was just searching for a couple of books here.
- By yourself? You know how to do this?
- It isn't very difficult.
- Well still you have to register. You must see the librarian.

I have just come from visiting the library at the Finnish Institute in Damascus. Where, although their collection is small and the idea of an electronic catalogue dawned on them just last week, it doesn't take much more than curiosity and a knowledge of how to turn on a light switch to be able to look at their books. They even photocopied a few sheets for me for free.

I humbly walk over to the Ifpo librarian's desk and ask to be a registered member.

- Very well. Are you a student here?
- No, unfortunately I am not.
- A researcher then? Are you working on a thesis at your university?
- No, I have finished my studies. I am an architect undertaking independent studies on the Omayyad Mosque.

This goes on. Focussed curiosity is not enough, and a loose association with the Danish Institute in Damascus just barely gets me over the line of legitimate existance. Exceptionellement, I am allowed to consult these books once. You see, it is a very small library and it is intended for students and researchers working on their projects. There is no room for additional people.

I look behind me. Two seats out of 20 are occupied.

Profusely thanking her, I let her know my gratitude, as otherwise I would probably need to undergo a worse fate in Paris to find these books. I let her know that, as it is late in the day, and that I am going to Jordan tomorrow, I will return one of these mornings in order to consult the material.

I hope to be a quiet and dusty book in my next life, in order to grow my appreciation for this system of information management.

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