I am not a real German, I never really had long periods of living in a flat shared with other students and hence having to share a kitchen. And now I am old for that kind of things, turning 38 in a week. Or so I thought. Indeed, there seems to be a way to get past the awkwardness of being old in a common kitchen. Coming into the kitchen shared by the research fellows and the interns at the German Historical Institute in Paris to have dinner, I found a table covered with errands – vegetables, pasta, you name it -, a gourmet menu being prepared by cook Marius, a great slideshow on the old books of the institute’s library being prepared by Tammy, and the answer to my question: What will I blog about? I did not even expect an answer to it, it was more a question to myself, but that’s the beauty of shared kitchens at 8 p.m. on a rainy Saturday, I suppose.
I will blog – so I was told by general wisdom slicing carrots – about the institute’s library. I am all the more happy to do as the alternatives would have been my grant application (actually at a rate of 10 hours/day) or conference organization (at a rate of 15 emails/day but the poster and the flyer look perfect now) or Paris being cold and expensive (and that would even be almost 24/7).
The library of the German Historical Institute in Paris will soon be presented online in a nice slideshow which I had the honor to look at in its beta version last week (on the very same kitchen table, that was a lunch). It has more books than you might think at first and when ordered, you get them delivered to you within ten minutes. Some are really old medieval prints, but as I said, there will soon be a great slideshow online displaying some highlights.
As a work place, it is great. The seats are comfortable, you have room on your table, the internet works fine. There is light, but not too much. The walls are high, but only enough to leave room for books up to the ceiling on the sides that have no big window panes. The look from the library is on an interior court separated from the outside world by a closed iron gate through which you can guess the playground opposite and the tourists envying you for having managed to get “in”. Being able to go in and out of the library feels like being a privileged noblewoman of an earlier century. Also, the fabulous management of the library is borrowing to the readers valuable transparent shoulder bags that are perfectly suited for walking around with all of your important belongings, even your laptop.(Note that said bags should in no way be seen outside the library. Walking around in the institute’s courtyard with your library bag exposes you to reinforced surveillance.)
In fact, it is so much of a likable work place that it had attracted even more students than there were seats to sit on last week (this is what comes from short vacations before exams). I went back to my room to work. But among the privileges of the local nobility, one (and not the worst one) is that research fellows are authorized to take library books to their rooms. It has been a delight of my afternoons to sit in my room between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. with my window open, listening to npr jazz, reading and getting inspiration for my research.
But whether you take books to your room or not, the library comes to you anyway. Some books are to be found on each room’s shelves, some of them highly educational. They might not be the most useful for my research, but they certainly contribute to the very special flavor of these days of intense commitment to getting ready to write my book.