Monday, 7 March 2011

A lazy day in Leiden

Adventure Saturday took Mr E and I to Leiden this weekend. Under quite a dull and dismal looking sky we wandered about the streets and took in the sights.
Mr E took these photos on his iphone and they look much nicer than mine.
There was a Saturday market lining the canals.We had a fairly lazy day, meandering about without much sense of direction of purpose. Leiden is a pretty little city, with canals and windmills aplenty.
Rather nice signage on the back of this building.
And some wonderful art nouveau tiled sign next to a doorway, bit hard to get a good angle, so excuse the wonky shots.
We didn't find that much that was special, though, until about an hour before we left as we were heading to the train station. What our little find was is the bookstore De Slegte. Now, for the Dutchies you'll all be saying 'Geez, what's so special about boring old Slegte?', this is because it's just an ordinary bookstore chain. However, De Slegte have a second hand section, which is fabulous. Not only do they have recent publications at discount prices, but also books in English! Woo hoo! When I asked for a title I was told they don't keep a digital catalog of all these books so it's just a matter of first in, best dressed and having a keen eye. I put the quantity of English language books in part down to the fact that there is an American accredited university there, Websters University, which draws English speaks from near and far, and leaves a pile of second hand books in their wake. All the better for me.
First find: I picked up this book in the 'Australia' section, the main section being a mix of languages. This is a great book of an English woman, Jeanne Heal, who went to Australia to find out what all the fuss was about with these Aussies! Not to mention the beautiful cover design of the book.
The book's introductory blurb says "Jeanne Heal wanted to find out what was so special about Australians–why why men and women from Brisbane and Perth, Hobart and Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide, out-back farm and city office, shared the same qualities of confident walk, keen gaze and straight speech, the unmistakable individually of Australians. Now she has returned from a comprehensive journey of exploration in the course of which she met and made friends with pear-fisherman, lord mayors, fashion models and bankers, and tasted the infinitely exciting variety of Australia. Visiting amongst pineapple and sheep farms, salmon fisheries, and gold mines, lonely radio stations and great modern cities, Jeanne Heal has recorded her vivid and entertaining impressions of this country of boundless promise. 'Just two days' flying time apart,' she says, 'and between us we have everything.'" So there you go, how good does that sound? Written in 1959, I'm very curious to read about these 1001 countrymen of mine.
But wait, there's more. Upstairs you'll find even more books, novels mostly, and in many different languages. I headed straight for the 'S' section. I'm always on the hunt for novels by Nevil Shute. If you don't know Shute, he's the author of A Town Like Alice, which is quite famous and of which a movie was made. They're always wonderful character studies mixed with a slice of real history. They're fabulous. The intro blurbs that follow are for, Ruined City published in 1938. "Here is a gripping story of a successful, respected banker who risks his fortune and reputation to bring health and employment once more to a dead city whose inhabitants are the starving victims of depression. As in all his novels, Nevil Shute weaves skillfully the tenderness of romance with the excitement of a great man who stakes everything in a gamble to help others–who loses and goes to prison–only to emerge and find all the risks were justified. The story moves at a breathtaking pace, and the details of high finance are told so simply, yet so convincingly, that one feels personally the ghastly risks taken by Henry Warren to bring about the one thing he feels to be really worthwhile." Wonderful! Can't wait.
Next up, An Old Captivity: "A distinctly original novel. It has it's central romantic tale of a man coming to love a girl whom at first he dislikes, and finding that their love story is a kind of reincarnation; but it has a setting that is a story of its own–an account of Arctic exploration by air; it makes strange technicalities and places not merely intelligible but absorbing and thrilling." Awesome. First published 1940.
The books have a beautiful embossed monogram on the cover.
Last, but not least, Trustee from the Toolroom, the last book that Nevil ever wrote, he died in January 1960 and the book was published later that year. "The plot of the novel hinges on the actions of a technical journalist, Keith Stewart, whose life has been focused on the design and engineering of scale-model machinery. Stewart writes serial articles about how to create scale models in a magazine called the Miniature Mechanic, which are extremely well regarded in the modelling community—as is he. He is called upon to hide a metal box in his sister's and brother in law's boat just before they plan to leave in it to emigrate to Canada. Until they are settled in British Columbia, their daughter, Keith's niece, is to remain with Keith and his wife. His in-laws are lost at sea in French Polynesia. After the deaths are confirmed, Keith is told, by his in-laws' solicitor, that there is almost no money in the estate, but there is evidence that Keith's brother-in-law has converted his wealth into diamonds to take with him abroad, to evade export and currency restrictions intended to prevent capital leaving Britain. Keith's guardianship of his niece is now permanent, and he becomes her trustee (hence the title), but where is her money?"
And that's it! I'll let you know how I get on with all these Shute's when I finally get around to reading them, currently making my way through The Shadow of the Wind, by Catalan writer Carlos Ruiz Zafon...it's rather long.

De Slegte: Breestraat 73, Leiden.

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