|Why yes, I did study Medieval Manuscripts in Graduate School|
“Blend in, adapt.” He says while kneading gnarled, woodworkers hands. "That is what we did when we moved here 30 years ago. We didn’t want to change things, we wanted to understand, to add our lives to whatever they were already doing here.”
The elderly couple before us seem as central to this small town as anybody we’ve met over the last few years of visiting, but he went on to describe the not so subtle warning spoken over the pulpit their first week in town “We don’t need nobody with college degrees coming to our town and tellin' us what to do!"
Our new friend was the former director of the Anasazi State Park in Boulder Utah and even though we had walked the packed gravel road to find a notary for some important mid-vacation legal work, we spent a good portion of that morning talking to the historian and his wife about Ancestral Puebloan funerary rites, uncovering ancient burial plots, the national woodworking conference from which he had just returned and their life in this small town. I couldn’t help but comparing their philosophy to that of those he spent his life studying. Adapt, study the local flora and fauna, expand on the strengths of your tribe and find a way to make your identity compliment your circumstances.
Last year, after returning from home leave I felt that familiar expat split: part of two worlds and not really sure of either. But as each year passes I’m getting better at integrating my experiences into something relevant and meaningful in the present. My past selves into one life, one identity.
Last week back in Muscat we fought the terrible traffic to little India and picked up a 100 year old book press My husband’s family unearthed in Salt Lake City a few years ago. Literally unearthed. It was hidden under the porch of the century old family home and covered in rust. I’ve packed this beast from DC to Morocco to Oman hoping that I could someday use it in my bookbinding studio. This year we found a metalworker who could grind off the dirt and rust, paint the turning wheel, lubricate the spindle and re-attach the press plate. Suresh, from Bangladesh, finally fixed our early 20th century cast iron book press once used by Max’s English Great Grandfather. With my new excitement over the press, I just started teaching a bookbinding class, a skill I first learned in college before studying with a bookbinder in Jerusalem.
A palimpsest is a manuscript that, as textual needs and circumstances change, has been prepared and written over again and again. Much of the previous text is altered or erased, but there is a still a trace of the preceding texts in the final product. Over the centuries a medieval manuscript could have acquired four, five, six different surface writings – all previous writings mostly hidden from view but still part of the integral makeup. In fact, the building up of the text surface can make the book stronger. Unusual, perhaps, but more able to receive the next text and maintain its usefulness and beauty.
I should be so lucky.