Monday, November 29, 2010

Irony on the news

Wikileaks is on the news again and I can't help admiring the irony of the Internet being used to betray its own creator.

Monday, November 22, 2010

In Thanksgiving mood

Next Thursday Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, one holiday I did like when I lived in Minnesota, so I'm in the mood for thankfulness.

Blogger stats indicate someone in Ukraine visits this blog often. I'm not surprised that someone from that faraway land with an exotic name starting in U reads my blog, though I'm a little surprised by it happening so regularly. Surprised, and a bit pleased too.

To my readership in Ukraine, whoever you are and whyever you come here... thank you.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The wealth of books

More than once in the past few years, I've been hired to make an inventory of a personal library with views to sell it. What I had to do was to write down the information of the book (title, author, and a note of its state), and then did some research in order to find out how much could be its asking price.

Going through those books (thousands, actually) gave me the eerie feeling of having a conversation with their original owners.

One of the libraries belonged to the late husband of a relative, a man who after so many years I've come to the conclusion he was just very shy, and though I had been close to those books all my life I had never, not once, perused their spine, let alone open them. My relative wanted to do some renovating in her house, and 20 years after the passing of her husband thought it was time to let them go. He was an historian of architecture and the books were, fittingly, on history of architecture.

What impressed me, aside the fabulous prices asked for the same volumes in specialized internet bookstores, was how well curated that collection was. There were four or five subjects, and only a few books strayed from them. Most of the books had been bound in similar style, with leather and hardcover, and gilded letters, sometimes with some ornamental little designs too. The man I knew couldn't have been the first owner of many of the books, because most of them had been published in the 19th century (he wasn't THAT old, you know?), but they were in prime condition - for books that age, anyways.

My relative's husband was a very quiet man, and consistent with his style the annotations on the pages were illegible. Almost imperceptible too, because they were made in pencil. That was an intimate muttering that, as when he was alive, wasn't for me to decipher. Marga couldn't read them either, but they brought memories of him she hadn't revisited in a long time, and that was when I heard how she had fallen in love and married her former teacher and then boss... a great story that must have earned the reprieve of more than one genteel, back in 1955.

I got that same feeling of a conversation with another library, that belonged to a lawyer who had passed away only a year before. The widow wanted to move and she didn't want to move that huge library with her (a wise decision if you ask me), so they hired me. There weren't any law books in this collection - those had already been removed, and I saw mostly literature, philosophy, history and political science books. Some of the books had been read and reread, but most had the musty smell of a dead book, unopened since the day it was first brought. I saw many bestsellers - the man wanted to read what was hot, and those had clear annotations in ink, which made me think that he liked to have his voice heard. There were a few gems in that library too, obviously he wasn't superficial and knew what he was buying, but that library wasn't made out of love, not completely at least. There were a few duplicates (a book shopaholic, maybe?), and during the wrapping up of my task I couldn't shake that feeling of showing off.

I really don't know how many of those books were finally sold, and how much money they got from them. What I do know is that they were a second burial and a second mourning for someone long gone. Pointlessly painful, I thought. So, if you find yourselves in that situation, act quickly.


Monday, November 8, 2010

On house hunting and soul searching

We've spent most of the ending year in active house hunting. With a new member of the family on the way - and new roles to that, our studio kitchen, one bedroom, 36 sq mt (380 sq ft) apartment doesn't fit the bill anymore.

So we started our search. We had the help of real estate agents, but we conducted our independent searching too. We thought we knew what we wanted in terms of budget, total area and neighborhood, but soon we realized that it was just a little part of it.

With regards to a possible mortgage, we needed to ask ourselves about our professional prospective for the next two decades. Are we so sure we'll be able to spare the money for the payment every month of every year, from now to the next ten or twenty years? What if's? Is it worth the effort?

We thought it would be worth it only if we knew, which we don't, how many people are going to be in our family and what are going to be their needs. If we're going to have more children and if they're going to be more girls or there are going to be boys too. Should our needs change dramatically, we'd be facing the difficulties of selling with a mortgage, which as we're finding out is definitely something to avoid as much as possible.

We visited newer buildings (from 1975 on), designed in the logic of modern life - smaller bedrooms and baths, larger common areas, but the ratio price / total area is ridiculously high. And far too often they are made of poor building materials, so we left feeling a little depressed.

We visited older buildings (from 1900 on), designed in the logic of needs past - with a service bedroom and bath which shows that slavery might have crept well into 20th century in this country, despite what history says. In spite of the attractive details (great ratio price / area, oak and cedar doors, gypsum moldings, high ceilings) far too often those apartments are in a state of derelict that ask for courage to tackle a full renovation, guts on. Are we renovating kind of people, either the DIY or the phone the contractor type? Not really. Not that we know, at least.

While we were in our search the economic tide changed and the bigger banks started offering mortgage loans. Lots of them. Very appealing. So the prices soared, much to our dismay. But we held our ground and our offer was always "money today" and not contingent to bank approval. We know how to be appealing too.

Those questions involving family planning, job prospective, renovation enthusiasm and more, are in fact deep questions that go to the core of our beliefs and foundation of our lifestyle. We found that we held different opinions and points of view that we had to negotiate, not always willingly, not always courteously. But in spite of those exchanges, where we frequently got to learn more about ourselves than the other, or maybe thanks to them, we found something we both liked and made an offer.

Now let's hope that we get the wisdom AND the home.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Current addictions

I can't imagine life these days without any of them.