Sunday, August 28, 2016

Manchester Diary, Day 1: No peer pressure!

“Because that’s what Hermione does,” said Ron, shrugging. “When in doubt, go to the library.”
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Summer is prime conference season. Up until June, I was penciled in for 3 conflicting conferences scheduled for the end of summer – should I go to Korea, Spain or India? Then got a curve ball and found out in mid-July that I had to go to Manchester, UK instead.  Cool. At least, I didn’t have to worry about the language! So, four days after coming back from a conference in Philly, I find myself back on the plane Europe-bound. 

Would you have chosen the library too?
When thinking of must-see in Manchester, one would likely think “Manchester United” – naturally. Sad to break my football-loving friends’ hearts, but that was not exactly top priority for me - naturally.  My plane arrived on time; I zipped through customs to my hotel early and a few hours before the conference was scheduled to start. I honestly had little time to prepare for this trip, let alone borrow or buy a travel book, so thank G-d for Google pointing me to my must-see in Manchester!  My destination - The late-Victorian, gothic building on Deansgate in Manchester, England: The John Rylands Library.

The John Rylands Library is not your ordinary library. Not only does it have an impressive book collection, but its gothic architecture is nothing I’ve ever seen in a library. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, this could very well be part of Hogwarts. And it certainly wouldn't have been far-fetched if a choir of seruphim started singing in that room!

Borrowed online since my pictures inside didn't come out well

Now, don’t judge as I’m admitting to full-on nerd here – I confess that what brought my feet to this library is one of the featured themes - science. The library is celebrating the 250th anniversary John Dalton’s birth by displaying Dalton’s personal letters. If you’re a chemist, you’d know how big this is. Yes, it is the Dalton who pioneered the theory of atomic weights, the Dalton of Dalton’s law of partial pressure (the pressure exerted by each gas in a mixture is independent of the pressure exerted by the other gases, and the total pressure is the sum of the pressures of each gas.)
PTotal = P1 + P2 + P3...
Dalton's handwriting was impeccable!  My nerdy heart just fainted a little. Unfortunately, taking photos of the letters were not allowed. You can imagine how fragile these are. Some of the manuscripts were charred by fire at the Literature & Philosophy Society that housed them, apparently during an air raid in 1940. Still, I’m hoping I can request the images from the library, so stay tuned! 

Perhaps less known, but just as key to Chemistry is Sir Humphry Davy, who discovered Chlorine and Iodine. The library gallery/museum also featured some of his notebooks. He’s Dalton contemporary, but got overshadowed, maybe? What I found amusing that I didn’t know before is that Davy is also a poet. He wrote poems alongside his scientific data!

Such a small gallery, but so much wealth! There were two other exhibits I enjoyed. First, as part of the 400 year death anniversary of the bard, the library featured the collection of Shakespeare’s tragedies, his first folio containing all his plays which was printed 7 years after he died and was put together by 2 of his friends.  They also had the Sonnets 1899 reproduction.
“To the onlie begetter of these ensuing sonnets. Mr. W. H. all happinesse and that eternitie promised by our ever-living poet wisheth the well-wishing adventures in setting forth.”

I honestly did not quite follow that and had to write it down to decipher later. Maybe ask hubby to help.  

Lastly, I saw the exhibit featuring History of the Bible, which showcased small pieces of papyrus containing text from the old and new testaments.  It’s meant to make us think of where it’s been produced and how was it come to us now? Parts were from Deuteronomy from the earliest fragments of Greek translation of the Hebrew bible used by Egyptian Jews.  Other fragments were from the gospel of John. There was also a manuscript of the Amidah for the festival of Rosh Hoshanah written on rice paper that was supposedly used by Chinese Jews in Hunan. Wow. Didn’t I say this library is a gem! And this was all just on one floor. 

Found Balzac's burial in Paris, and now his life's work.

The 3rd level of the library was even more impressive.  It’s a functional reading room with cases upon cases of priceless copies of books you won't easily find elsewhere.  This is bookworm heaven.  And there were folks who were studying there!  HOW?? This place is so amazing, I’m not even sure I would have been able to focus.

It struck me how in visiting this new place (Manchester), I found an old gold mine in the Rylands library. Juxtaposed, whenever you go to a library, it's bound to bring you to a new world. Huh.   

Alas, it was time for me to leave this intellectual sanctuary and head to work – tired, but inspired.

I ended the day following the theme. Found a fitting restaurant in The Alchemist. 

Period table of cocktails

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