This sky took on a different hue this morning as I drove to DC. Gray and tumultuous in places, it didn’t look like our normal rainy day sky. “Looks like snow”, I thought, but it wasn’t in the forecast. Yet as I slowed to stop a flake came down, then another, then a handful until, seconds later, I was driving through a frenzied flurry of flakes along Suitland Parkway and into town. A light yet constant swirl followed me as I walked to the Library of Congress where I’d hide out today doing research for the “grandma project.”
Though I’ve headed directly to periodicals of late, today began with a visit to the Geography and Maps room in the basement of Madison. A dull, institutional maze of hallways and doors, most passageways in this library vary only by the paint on the wall marking the corridor; however, a long brightly colored display of geological survey maps led the way, like breadcrumbs, to the reading room door where a Smart-car-sized globe sat outside. You don’t need neon signs if you have gargantuan globes.
In every reading room I’ve used until now, there’s a little form to fill out for requests. You’ll do some searching through card catalogs or computer search engines, then fill out a form, turn it in with your table number, and then in an hour or so your materials are delivered from where ever they are stored in the underbelly of this institution. It’s sort of magical to me. I’d love to poke around in those rooms of books and microfiche and boxes of uncataloged materials and just snoop. This place is an Aladdin’s cave of treasures.
So the map room isn’t like those others. Here, you simply talk to a research librarian. Simple. Direct. Friendly. I approached the desk with my question, waited while he saved his work, then proceeded with my request of two maps: one of pre-1940’s Shanghai and one of post-1940’s Shanghai. Why? Because in the early 1940’s (there’s a specific date in my notes somewhere) occupying Japanese changed most street names from the Anglicized names to more authentically Asian ones. I’d hoped to be able to use the two maps as references when coming across place names both before and after the change and get a visual of where places were in relation to each other as well as be able to trace the route my grandmother took from her home on Wayside Rd. to the Lyceum theater.
I waited at a board-room sized table just a few moments until Librarian (I really feel bad that I don’t know his name) returned outstretched arms carrying a rather large stack of three by four foot manila folders full of maps. Each was marked with a sticker showing its contents. Some had one map. Some had stacks. Problem: They were all in Japanese.
I don’t speak Japanese.
Perhaps it was the confused look on my face as I was taking these out one by one. I did try to make something of them. They were beautiful, old, and printed on rice paper. I really did want to understand, yet when he came back a minute later asking if I spoke Japanese (he probably should have asked this first), I was relieved when he turned to find a few more maps, perhaps in “British” this time.
Success. My inner geek really wanted to stay and gaze at these gorgeous maps forever. I even scanned my favorites a few extra times in different formats just to be sure I’d get a good copy. I now have scans of maps from 1931, 1955, and 1974. One is British and two are Chinese, but with English lettering on some larger street names. :)
The rest of my hours were spend, as usual, going cross-eyed scanning microfiche. Today I started on a reel of 1946 North China Daily Herald, which, by sheer coincidence, is the publisher of one of the maps I’d found. Nothing made me leap out of my chair today, but I did continue to make progress and that’s good enough.
Instead of the snow covered ground I’d hoped for after my wintery drive in, I found this pink rippled sky and took a few minutes to enjoy the sunset before heading to my car. Days like this are a blessing. And needed. I feel great about making progress on this project. It’s wonderful to walk outside. And… though I absolutely love the time with my girls, now that I’m homeschooling them, if feels absolutely wonderful to spend a day alone.