A Journey Within An Odyssey: Northern Italy, Part 2 – Modena to Cassino


A Journey Within An Odyssey: Northern Italy, Part 2 –

Modena to Cassino 

Because the amount of work produced during this northern Italian trip was vast I decided to split this blog up into two parts. Here is the second part.

Because of time, we reluctantly decided to skip the library in medieval Parma and drove three hours strait east to Modena. There, we headed to the fascinating Bibliotca Estense. It was the family library of the Dukes of Este dating back to the 14th century. It grew during the Renaissance and is now one of the most important libraries in Italy with a collection of over 500,000 printed works and thousands of other items.

Codex De Sphaera-1469 Allegory

Biblioteca Estense, Modena

Biblioteca Estense, Modena

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The image of my being a kid in a candy store did occur to me. Adding to that was the great tour given us by the library’s warm staff. They made the collection come alive. Some of the highlights included the Codex De Sphaera-a 1469 Allegory of the Este family, a 1,200-page Bible of Borso d’Este with incredible illuminations on almost every page, and a quirky matchbox cover collection. It was endless and I could have spent months there. Perhaps we will again in the future. We spent the night in Modena at a very nice Best Western. After all of our months of travel and staying in Greek or Italian apartments or hotels it felt nice to be in an American style hotel. But only for one night.

The next morning we drove south to the small town of Maranello Modena. This was another starchitect-designed library that I learned about in ArchDaily. There is obviously some good work being done by architects these days in library design and this was certainly one of those examples. This small but active library was filled with light, students and interesting design. The downstairs gallery had an important show about stopping violence against women. The library also did a lot of work to help migrants and refugees.

Continuing south we came to the famous city of Siena.  It is nestled in the hills of this region which looked a lot like the foothills of the Sierra Nevada’s in California. The historic center of Siena has been declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site and we can see why. It is one of Italy’s most visited tourist attractions but we lucked out. The cold weather meant that we had much of the old city to ourselves. We had our Thanksgiving dinner (pasta!) in a nice café. I missed the turkey but we had a wonderful walk afterwards in the cold moonlight visiting the sites of this Gothic gem.

The next day we visited the Siena Cathedral. Begun in the 12th century this is considered a masterpiece of Italian Romanesque-Gothic architecture. It even included some wonderful book themed inlays on the floor.

One of the unexpected surprises was finding the Piccolomini Library in the Cathedral. This was when I was happy to have a good quality iPhone with me at all times.

The next night we continued south to the city of Spoleto. It is a strategically placed ancient city in the foothills of the Apennines. Our hotel room had a view of the famous Ponte delle Torri, a 14th century bridge over a steep ravine.

The main reason we came here was to visit our friend photographer JoAnn Verburg and her husband poet Jim Moore. They have lived in Spoleto part of the year for many years. They were unbelievably generous hosts and we got an inside view of Spoleto from these two talented Americans. I took a photo of them standing over some ancient Roman ruins inside the Spoleto Public Library.

All roads lead to Rome and eventually ours did too. From our earlier experiences on this trip we decided not to drive our little Fiat Panda into the urban core of Rome but, instead, find a cheaper place at the end of a good subway line on the outskirts. Thus, we arrived at the Urban Garden Hotel & Bar in the working-class neighborhood of Rebibbia, known as the home to one of Rome’s prisons. After spending so much time on this trip in very beautiful historic places it felt somehow refreshing to spend a little time living in another side of Italy. Fortunately, the subways in Rome are really good but, during rush hour, can be really crowded. It was usually an easy commute into the heart of the Eternal City and its libraries.


Roman libraries are an embarrassment of riches. The Biblioteca Casanatense was one of the great ones.  It was founded in 1701 by the Dominicans and became a State library in 1873 after the suppression of the religious orders. Our librarian/guide was delightful and patiently waited while I photographed during our long tour. I was especially impressed by the sign above the door by a Pope threatening excommunication from the church to anyone if one dared to steal a book from this library. Serious stuff!

Biblioteca Casanatense, Rome

Biblioteca Casanatense, Rome

Speaking of serious stuff, our next stop was the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. It is a landmark papal basilica founded in the 5th century and known for its Roman mosaics and gilded ceiling. Above one of the entrance doors was a bas-relief of “The Burning of the Heretical Books” which depicts book burning as a triumph of righteousness. Weird and serious stuff.


Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome

Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome

We lucked out getting access to the Biblioteca Vallicelliana. Established in 1565 it contains many documents from the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation. This large library was just about to undergo a major restoration and many books had already been packed in boxes. I gingerly stepped around the boxes to photograph this beautiful place. I was especially impressed by their fascinating collection of old globes.

That evening I reconnected with an old acquaintance from high school named Jeffery Blanchard. He now directs Cornell University’s Rome study program and has lived here forty years. We spent a fascinating evening together asking him about all things related to art, history and Rome. At the end of a great dinner we had barely scratched the surface. Not bad for someone I hadn’t seen in 50 years! Here is a photo that Jeffery took or us in his wonderful library.

EM+RD, Rome

Italy has three main National Libraries. One is in Naples, one in Florence and the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale in Rome. This one was such a contrast to the historic libraries we had recently seen. It was built in the 1970s and was spacious, filled with light and also filled with a wide range of people using the library. The exterior was Brutalist in design but the interior was quite comfortable. It felt very 1970s but seemed very humanistic. It included a wonderful section on writers and artists displaying personal stories, artifacts and even a recreation of one of their living rooms. Again, our librarian/guide made it all come alive.

Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Roma

Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Roma

Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Roma

Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Roma

Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Roma

Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Roma

Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Roma

Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Roma

Ellen had done some research on local branch libraries in Rome and we visited one called Biblioteca Villa Mercede. This popular library was housed in a renovated small building on the grounds of an old convent surrounded by a beautiful park. The park even included a small cat sanctuary and we saw some happy kitties lounging around this feline paradise.

Founded in 1875, the Library of Archeology and History of Art was unusual for being the only public state library specializing in archeology and art history at a national level. Over the years it has been enriched with the donation of many collections. The density and height of the book collection was impressive but suggested the ongoing problem of storage for large libraries in densely packed Rome.

Earlier In the morning we saw old photographs of the original location for the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale in Rome. Our last library of the day turned out to be that original location. The Library of Archeology and History of Art administers this library which is simply referred to as Ciociera or “the Cross” because of the original layout of the building. It was interesting to be standing in the midst of the library we had seen in the historic photographs this morning.

On our last day in Rome we scaled back our ambition and only photographed two libraries. The Library of the National and Language Academy of the Lincei and Corsinian was impressive both for its scale and history. It is part of the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei which included Galileo as one of its founding members. Its collection is made up of donated libraries from a number of people including the wealthy Corsini family, the inventor Marconi, Benito Mussolini, etc. We had a wonderful time being escorted throughout the collection by the librarian. We spent much of the time discussing his passion for Jimi Hendrix.

Biblioteca Corsiniana at the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Rome

Biblioteca Corsiniana at the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Rome

Biblioteca Corsiniana at the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Rome

Biblioteca Corsiniana at the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Rome

Biblioteca Corsiniana at the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Rome

Biblioteca Corsiniana at the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Rome

Biblioteca Corsiniana at the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Rome

Biblioteca Corsiniana at the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Rome

Biblioteca Corsiniana at the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Rome

Biblioteca Corsiniana at the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Rome

Because we had started late, we arrived late at our final destination – the State Archives of Italy. This was another Brutalist building that housed some of the greatest national archives of Italy. I was able to make a few photos just as they were closing but I know we will have to come back.

Rome is unlike any other city I have been to in my life. It contains the sophistication, density and craziness of New York but also contains layers of history stretching back over 28 centuries. It is one of the oldest continuously occupied sites in Europe. Ellen and I had both been here separately decades ago and had seen many of the famous sites then such as the Vatican. This time we concentrated on libraries and the lesser known parts of the city.  Throughout our four days in Rome I was continually fascinated by the place and could see coming back to stay here for a much longer period of time (Do I see a theme developing here?). Jeffery Blanchard said that he couldn’t see living any place else and I now understand the attraction. Of course, as a photographer I was visually overstimulated all the time. Here is a sampling of a few images from our wanderings of the streets of Rome.

I am of the generation whose parents lived and suffered during the Great Depression and WWII. Growing up on stories from that era I have a real interest in what that generation experienced. We ended our journey within an odyssey by visiting the small town of Cassino located between Rome and Naples. This was the site of one of the largest land battles in Italy during WWII when the town of Cassino was completely flattened. High on a hill above the town is the famous Montecassino Abbey. Founded around 529 it was sacked by the invading Lombards in 570. It was rebuilt and destroyed many times after that culminating in its destruction again by American bombers during WWII. Because of its importance it was quickly rebuilt and reopened in 1950s.

Before the destruction of the ancient abbey 1,400 irreplaceable manuscripts and other objects were sent to the abbey archives and eventually to safety in the Vatican in Rome. The rebuilt Abbey was spectacular and the views were unbelievable. Brother Don Giovanni took us through a selection of the vast archives of the library. His enthusiasm for the collection was infectious and we were overwhelmed by what had been saved from the destruction of war.

We spent the night in an Air B&B which was in a family’s home. The owner was very warm and we met his older parents as well. They had both lived through the war as children and the father vividly remembered the bombs landing on Montecassino during the battle. He even gave us a book of photographs from that time and his wife gave us a glass of her homemade lemoncello. The town was quickly rebuilt after the war and lacked the charm and beauty of other Italian hill towns. But meeting these warm and generous people reinforced my respect for some of the people who survive tragedy. Above one of the doors to Montecassino was a giant sign that simply said “PAX.” I think that says it all…

Biblioteca Statale del Monumento Nazionale di Montecassino

Biblioteca Statale del Monumento Nazionale di Montecassino













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A Journey Within An Odyssey: Northern Italy, Part 1 – Bologna to Torino



A Journey Within An Odyssey: Northern Italy, Part 1 –

Bologna to Torino


After our visit to Florence, we undertook an insanely ambitious trip of traveling by car for three weeks through much of northern Italy. We photographed libraries in 15 cities that ranged from new architectural marvels in small towns to famous ancient libraries in big cities. Along the way we learned much about the essential nature of northern Italian libraries and came away understanding a little more about Italy as well. Because this trip produced such a large amount of work, I decided to break up this blog into two parts. Part 1 will cover our journey from Bologna to Torino. Part 2 will cover the work from Modena to Cassino. Both parts include small and large cities, rich and poor areas and some very unique libraries. All of it was fascinating and I wake up every morning thanking Senator William J Fulbright and the Fulbright Foundation for making it all possible.

Our first lesson in the large Italian city of Bologna was that you don’t want a car in the urban core of big, old cities in Italy. As someone that was born and raised in California it is always a shock when I encounter a place with no parking. However, as environmentalists we both appreciated the human-centered nature of an urban historical core like Bologna’s without cars. The lesson was painful but influenced how we dealt with other Italian cities for the rest of the trip.

The Biblioteca Archiginnasio has been located inside a large, former Palace since 1838. It is one of the most important buildings in Bologna and one of the largest libraries in the region. The upper level of the building still houses the Anatomical Theatre which was built in 1636 and was used for anatomy lessons when this building was a school. It was important in the development of Western medicine.  It is shaped like an amphitheater and made of wood. It has several statues including two naked and skinless men. It was destroyed by Allied bombing during WWII and afterwards was completely reconstructed using surviving material from the rubble.

Biblioteca Archiginnasio, BolognaBiblioteca Archiginnasio, Bologna

The Biblioteca Salaborsa is the main public library of Bologna. It is located over ancient ruins that are visible through the floor. The librarian gave us a tour through the ruins beneath the library. The 19th century building used to be the old Bologna stock exchange and feels very open and spacious. They do a lot of work with refugees through native language books, music and film collections.

The librarian also mentioned another library in Bologna called the Italian Women’s Library housed in an old convent. This very well-known library was fascinating and spoke to the progressive political traditions of Bologna. Housed in the same old convent was the beautiful Federico Zeri Art Library which is part of the University of Bologna.

In addition to good politics, Bologna also offers wonderful food. Between photographing these four libraries I indulged in a to-die-for chocolate drink that was so think I had to eat it with a spoon. Oh, my!

Chocolate drink, Bologna

The next day I photographed the Public Library in the small town of Imola. This too was housed in an old convent from the 13th century. The volunteer guide explained that when Napoleon invaded this part of Italy, he de-commissioned all the religious institutions. The books they held were scattered far and wide but many of them came to be housed in public libraries like this one. The library has slowly been uncovering parts of the old convent. It also housed an extraordinary collection of books and manuscripts including these illustrated ones.

Public Library, ImolaPublic Library, Imola

Text in Imola LibraryText 2, Imola

After photographing in Imola we hurried on to photograph what may be one of the most important libraries of this whole project. Housed in the small town of Cesena is the incomparable Malatestiana Library. Opened in 1454 it is the oldest civic library in Europe. It is also on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register. It started as a joint-venture between the people of Cesena and the nobility. The librarian showed us that even today you need two keys (one for the people, one for the nobles) to enter the ancient library. Books are still chained to the tables and I felt I was in a trance photographing this wonderful and significant place. We were also given a tour of the modern library which turned out to be fascinating as explained by our two wonderful librarian/guides. It doesn’t get much better than this.


Malatestiana Library, Cesena

The Biblioteca Classense in Ravenna is another grand old library in a beautiful town. In 1803 this former monastery became the place to harbor the books from the Napoleonic suppression of monasteries in the region. Its’ incredibly rich archive was expanded to include several other collections over the years. The library is also famous for having three cats and a turtle. We were happy to be granted an audience with one of the famous kitties. The local writer Dante is also celebrated here and his tomb is not far from the library.

The Biblioteca Civica di Padova is a public library established in 1839 in a beautiful building. We went to see it because it is more of a typical civic library and less of the historical or grand libraries that we have seen so far. It was full of young people studying and had a surprisingly good historical collection.

We took a short break from libraries to visit the Scrovegni Chapel in a small church, adjacent to an Augustinian monastery in Padova. The restored Giotto frescos inside the Capella degli Scrovegni were completed around 1305 and are considered to be an important masterpiece of Western art. This place is an art historian and art conservationist’s dream and I was greatly moved by the place and the art.

We next visited the beautiful library in the Praglia Abby outside of Padova. This Benedictine monastery was established in 1080. The Library contained large paintings and was established in the 16th century. It is now a National Monument Library and contains over 129,000 volumes. The monastery does a great deal of work on book restoration and conservation. Black robed Brother Timothy silently took us through the library and seemed to effortlessly glide up and down the stairs. It felt a world apart and was refreshingly peaceful after the intensity of some of the cities we have recently been in.

Our next stop was, indeed, a world apart. Venice is unique in the world. There is no other place like it. It can drive you crazy but everyone should see it at least once. I was last here in 1980 in the summer when it was beastly hot and swarming with tourists. It was far better to visit it now in the winter even though parts of it are still swarming with tourists.

Our first appointment was at the Marciana Library in the Piazza San Marco at 7:30 AM. We had to leave our hotel at 6:30 for the hour long walk through the dark and deserted streets, canals and bridges to the library. This was one of the great moments of my life. I wished I didn’t have to be so focused on finding our way so that I could really savor the unique experience of that early hour. Arriving at San Marcos at sunrise was a thrill and we didn’t have a minute to spare before going in to the library. I was given a half an hour to photograph before the janitors came in. We went back out to San Marcos to chill for an hour and watch the gathering cruise ship-tourist hoards.

We were then allowed back in to the old part of the library where an exhibition was being set up. Unusually, we weren’t escorted during the time in the library and I was given ample time to work. It was really an extraordinary experience.


After we were done at the library, our walk back to our hotel was very different than our pre-dawn walk. We enjoyed the unique world of Venice but I also spotted a number of anti-cruise ship, anti-consumerism graffiti along the way. I was beginning to see what life must be like for the local people of Venice.

After a very long morning, Ellen and I decided to take a much deserved, brief nap and enjoy our movie-themed hotel NH. It even included a huge photo of a Bolex camera in the shower and movie stars everywhere. If you are ever in Venice I would recommend it.

We then hopped on a boat and headed out to this year’s Venice Biennale on architecture. It was very interesting including pavilions from different countries. The most interesting was from Switzerland which was simply an all-white structure with many rooms of different sizes and no written text. I felt so lucky to be here, to be on this Fulbright Fellowship and to be with the love of my life Ellen Manchester. I am a very lucky guy!

We also enjoyed a Vivaldi concert in an old church and had some fabulous dinners with some interesting characters in Venice. We will have to come back.

The next day we drove from Italy’s eastern shore on the Adriatic almost all the way across the country to Italy’s second largest city of Milano. This is a city of commerce, fashion and design, finance and is the wealthiest among European non-capital cities. We headed straight to the Biblioteca Ambrosiana which was established in 1609 and is the second oldest public library in Europe. One innovation was that the books were housed in cases ranged along the walls, rather than chained to reading tables. The building consists of a library, archive and museum/gallery. Its 16th century maps were destroyed during allied bombing during WWII. As we entered the dark library we came upon a fascinating exhibit of work by Leonardo da Vinci on the Codex Atlanticus.

The library is home to several of his paintings as well as ones by Caravaggio and Raphael. We also saw an interesting exhibit on what was described as “primitive art” which consisted of simple religious paintings.

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Milan is a lively, fascinating city which unfortunately we only saw a small part of during our one-night stay.

The next morning we drove to the farthest northern part of our trip to the small mountain town of Nembro. It contained a gorgeous new library connected to the renovation of a 19th century building. The outside walls consist of rotating red “books”. During my internet research last summer I found this library on the excellent web site called ArchDaily. It contains stories on new, innovative libraries throughout the world and was a good source of information for this project.

Nembro Public Library, Nembro Bergamo

Our next destination was the beautiful city of Torino. It is located right next to the snow-covered Alps which dominate the horizon. The architecture is beautiful and part of the historical center has been inscribed in the World Heritage List. It is a city of some of Italy’s best universities and great museums. It is home to much of Italy’s automotive industry and also hosted the 2006 Winter Olympics.


We started our day early at the Italo Calvino Civic Library. It is housed in a beautifully renovated building right next to the Dora River. It used to be an old tannery reflecting the industrial, working-class nature of the neighborhood. It did a lot to reach out to refugees and had many foreign-language books and language classes.

Italio Calvino Civic Library, Turino

The real surprise of this day was the National Library of the Italian Alpine Club. It was established in 1863 and specializes in mountaineering. It is located in an old monastery (part of which is still being used by the monks) on a hill with a sweeping view of the nearby Alps. Besides the spectacular setting, what was surprising was the great vision and depth of their collection. It contained many items including old Sierra Club Bulletins, photographs of Lake Tahoe, music, posters, etc. It also had a very helpful staff that made our time there a delight.IMG_4558

Although it was getting late, we reluctantly left the Alpine Club Library and headed off to the Mario Gromo International Library of Cinema and Photography. This is a real international documentation center that is part of the very important National Museum of Cinema. This collection also had a surprising depth that included original film scripts, storyboard drawings, early film publications, notes, etc. We were lucky again to have such an enthusiastic staff showing us around.

The next morning we went to the Mausoleum and Library of the Bela Rosin. It is an exact copy of the Pantheon of Rome and was built as a family tomb. It has had a long, complicated and sometimes weird history (including UFOs!) but now includes a small public library and reading garden. On warm nights it must be delightful here but the freezing morning and the pressure of our schedule kept our visit short.

Mausoleum and Library of the Bela Rosin, Torino

Mausoleum and Library of the Bela Rosin, Torino

The first half of our journey was surprising and often delightful. I tried to select a wide range of libraries that reflected what I considered the essential character of libraries in this part of Italy. I was happy to find things that I didn’t expect or already know. The second half of this journey within an odyssey took us to more small towns and eventually to the Eternal City of Rome. I will post that blog in a few weeks after I carve out some time to write about it.

Until then, enjoy…

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Tempo Forte: From Greece to the Renaissance





On one of our last nights in Athens I spotted a poster for an exhibit about Greece and Italy. It was called Tempo Forte which as a musical term roughly means to “step it up.” Somehow that seemed an appropriate title for our move from Greece to Italy. After an all-day plane ride via Frankfurt we arrived in Naples. Coming from Athens, this city seemed to be just as crowded, chaotic and exciting. On our first night there we learned how late at night the Napolitanos eat dinner and what Italian kids wear for Halloween.


Our neighborhood was really hilly with lots of steps and funicolares. The sidewalks were better than Athens but the traffic was just as crazy. Everyone still smokes. As I wrote to our son Walker “We had good pizza last night at 7:30 and we were the only ones in the café. Most places don’t even open until 8PM but we had been up since 3AM and were desperate to find something to eat and then collapse. We had waited the hour before at an outdoor wine bar watching the trick-or-treaters and chatting with our neighbors. Ellen almost got run over by a car trying to squeeze by her on the narrow alley sidewalk as we sipped our wine. The drunk woman at the next table said “Ah, Napoli!”

Naples is a great city for walking and the next afternoon and evening we wandered up and down, far and wide. We turned a corner at one point and found ourselves staring at massive Mt. Vesuvius across the bay.

One great neighborhood was the old Spanish district “Quartieri Spagnoli”and the jammed shopping street call Via Toledo. The area has tiny little streets and great shops tucked away. We stumbled upon a great café/bar with an astonishing selection of beers and bar food. I fell in love with Naples right there.

Part of coming to a new country is trying to figure out how to use your cell phone and how to navigate the subway. After we accomplished that we made our way to the National Archeological Museum. What a treasure! Like the one in Athens, this was filled with the best of the national archeological treasures including much of what had been discovered over almost 200 years in nearby Pompeii. It was breath taking and I stared in amazement at the recovered papyri from the House of the Papyri in Pompeii. This was the only complete library recovered from the ancient world. Like in Thessaloniki, it only survived by being destroyed under a huge layer of volcanic ash during the famous eruption of Vesuvius. These charred ruined pieces of the papyrus rolls have slowly been recovered over the last two centuries. It was also amazing to look into the faces of the ancients in the paintings and sculptures recovered from Pompeii. They even had busts of famous writers and philosophers that had been placed next to the papyrus rolls that they had written. Imagine that!

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The Biblioteca Nazionale Vittorio Emanuele III is our host library in Italy. It is housed in an old palace in Naples and feels very different from the brand-new National Library in Greece. It is a big, sprawling complex filled with books and treasures. Our private tour took many hours and I realized that I would be spending a lot of time photographing in this massive place. Some of the treasures include many more papyri from Pompeii, ancient globes and other items from the royalty that formerly lived here. It even included an incredible room filled with hunting trophies from a safari taken by one of the princesses.


After several days in Naples we took a train up to the north-central part of Italy to the magical city of Florence. The trains are efficient and practical and the three-hour ride through the Tuscan landscape was beautiful. This is considered one of the birthplaces of the Renaissance and it feels like it. The area around the Duomo is uncomfortably swarming with tourists but the history is astonishing and I felt very close to it. There was even a plaque at our feet showing the spot where the Inquisitionist Savonarola burned books and other items in the famous “bonfire of the vanities” and who was later executed here as well.

The next day we got up early and spent the morning at the Uffizi Gallery before the crowds showed up. This was Florence at its best and the amount of great art work there was staggering.

One of the most amazing libraries we have seen so far is the Biblioteca Laurenziana. The library was completed in 1534. The entrance was designed by Michelangelo and was dark and mysterious. The interior was spacious and had many wooden carvings of antelope skulls reminiscent of American Western iconography. We later went to a contemporary exhibition of “Voices of Women” curated from the library’s vast archives.

Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Florence, Italy

Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Florence, Italy

The next day we went to the Harold Acton Library at the British Institute in Florence. It is a cultural institution founded in 1917 promoting Anglo-Italian culture and contains a library of English books. It is the oldest overseas British cultural institute in the world and wonderfully reflected English culture.

We also visited the German Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz which is a part of the Max Planck Institut. Like the Acton Library this is a form of “soft power” in Italy. Established in 1897 it is one of the oldest research institutions dedicated to the history of art and architecture in Italy. This was more of a true research center while the Acton Library was more of a reading room and social gathering spot.

Finally, we visited the National Central Library in Florence. This is one of three National Libraries in Italy (the other two are Rome and Naples) and is the largest in Italy and most important in Europe. In 1966 a major flood damaged or destroyed nearly 1/3 of its holdings. The Restoration Laboratory is housed in an old convent, and we were given an extensive three-hour tour of the lab and the library. The Library was completely unprepared for the flood and what they learned from their emergency response efforts has shaped the modern field of book conservation and preservation throughout the world. They are still working all these years later to repair the damage to their collection, and to anticipate the next flood!

On our last day in Florence we took the day off and just wandered. We discovered many unexpected beautiful things including a 1,000 year old church with an astonishing cemetery. We also saw the quiet beauty of this place away from the tourist insanity and would love to come back asap.



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The Aegean, Lectures, Refugees and the Acropolis


The Aegean, Lectures, Refugees and the Acropolis

Sadly, we left Greece today and flew to Naples. Our last week and a half had been varied and typical of our action-packed time in Greece. The last places we travelled to in Greece outside of Athens were the Aegean Islands of Chios and Samos.

After flying into Chios we headed straight towards the famous Koraes Library in the old part of Chios Town. This is one of the oldest libraries in Greece. It had been destroyed once by the massacre of Chios by the Ottoman Turks in the early 19th century and again by a tremendous earthquake in the late 19th century. Each time it was rebuilt and made better by local philanthropists and the people of Greece. It has a rich archive including a 14-volume set of illustrated albums of Egypt given by Napoleon to Adamantios Koraes in the early 1800s. The Library’s conservationist was very proud to show us the work he was doing to help preserve these priceless books.

We spent the next day touring the island. This including taking a quick dip in the warm waters of the Aegean, visiting the fabulous Mastic Museum (look up the incredible story of mastic), and visiting the traditional town of Pyrgi (where Christopher Columbus hung out – he liked mastic a lot).

The next morning we watched the sun rise over nearby Turkey (only a few miles away).


We took the two-hour ferry to Samos and came to a very different place. Chios is larger, dryer and beautiful but has a dark history. Samos is lush, has great beaches, fantastic mountains, and excellent wine. We walked along a deserted beach near our hotel and marveled at the beauty of it all. I kept seeing bits and pieces of things washed up along the shore. As we came around a corner on the beach we saw a large, brightly colored pile of life vests clumped together. We found out later that there had recently been another landing of refugees on this beach and these were things they had discarded. Because the secluded beach was less than a mile from Turkey there were still refugees landing frequently on Samos.

That night I gave a lecture at the University of the Aegean campus in Karlovasi. It was a good crowd that asked a lot of challenging, questions. We were told that Greece started a series of University campuses about 30 years ago on these outer Greek islands next to Turkey. The idea was to have a bigger population to solidify Greece’s claim that these islands belong to Greece, and to strengthen the national identity. My lecture began at 8:00pm, so by the time they took us out to dinner it was getting close to midnight. Ah, Greece! The next morning I photographed the library at the University (which is housed in an old school) and later in the afternoon the Public Central Historic Library in Samos Town. Then we took an evening flight back to Athens just before the rain.

I gave another lecture Wednesday night at the wonderful Athens Centre. It was founded and directed by the remarkable Yannis Zervos whom we had dinner with at the beginning of our stay in Athens. My slide talk included some images from my American Public Library work but mostly was an overview and summary of the work we had done in Greece over the last two months. It was good for me to be forced to make sense of this experience and to put the images together to tell the story of our Fulbright in Greece.


During our last week in Greece we voted on our laptops (watch out Republicans!) and continued our pursuit of literary Greece.

We went back to the Books & Play center/library for refugees and homeless to attend a Farsi reading session for refugee children and their dad. We also met again the dynamic founder of “We Need Books” and of this center, Ioanna Nissiriou and her co-founder Nadir Noori who left Afghanistan at the age of 12 as an unaccompanied minor. All are inspirational volunteers doing the right thing.

We had a lunch with our new friends at the National Library of Greece. They have been the most amazing “hosts” during our stay and we can never thank them enough. They are from left to right: Director General Dr. Filippos Tsimpoglou, administrative staff Evi Stefani  and Gregory Chrysostomidis. We couldn’t have done this project without them!

Throughout our stay in Athens we felt like we were circling around the world-famous Acropolis. It comes from the Greek words meaning “high” and “city” and you see it from all over Athens. We finally visited it two days before we left Greece. This was partly to avoid the tourists and the heat. It was also because we have just been too darn busy to go. We got close the evening before when we visited the world-class Acropolis Museum and its fabulous rooftop café, with an “up close and personal” view of the Parthenon. The next morning we arrived at the Acropolis just after they opened at 8:30. It is unlike anything I have seen before and I highly recommend that everyone experience it at some point in their life.

We ended our stay in Greece by visiting a refugee camp in Athens. I photographed their library/classroom with a group of kids taking a language lesson. Their shoes outside the door reminded me of what we had seen washed up on the shores of Samos. We finished by photographing a room containing an Ideas Box which was leased by a group called Libraries Without Borders. Hopefully, we will meet up with this group again during the next leg of our odyssey in Italy. I was fascinated by the creative thinking that went into producing this traveling library and resource center. The Ideas Boxes had just come from Jordan and, after Athens, it will travel on to another place of need. The symbolism of the signs on the walls of this room only suggest some of the struggles endured in this place of refuge.

Ideas Box, Eleonas Refugee Camp, Athens


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One thing required for a trip like this is a lot of office time to plan for what’s next. I literally spent all of last summer preparing for this trip, especially for the Greek part of it. I spent much of this week on my computer in our apartment in Athens getting ready for the next two weeks and also the next two months in Italy. Ellen continued her heroic effort of tying down the logistics of everything. This is really a team effort! In between office hours we continued to photograph.

One day was spent at the remarkable state-of-the-art Conservation Lab at the National Library of Greece. I love places like this because there is so much physical stuff to photograph.

We also had two evenings with remarkable groups that are dealing with Athens’ homeless and refugee populations. The first was a mobile library staffed by a group of women volunteers. We met them in a dilapidated “artists squat” that they shared with a van providing a free mobile laundry for the people living on the street. One woman said that Athens has a big drug problem and we saw a street full of junkies shooting up as we drove away in their van at night.

The next night we went to an opening for a new library/center for refugees and homeless sponsored by a group called We Need Books. The Mayor’s Office helped with this project and we got to meet the Mayor before he gave a little speech to the large crowd. The DJ blasting tunes gave a feel of an art opening in the Mission District in San Francisco. It was a stark contrast with the rough neighborhood we were in.

We also met with three remarkable people this week: Artemis Zenetou – the head of the Greek Fulbright in Athens, Ioannis Trohopoulos – former head of the Veria Library and also the former head of the Niarcos Foundation Cultural Center, and Ioanna Nissiriou – the head of We Need Books. We are lucky to know these amazing Greeks.

Finally, we photographed the beautiful Gennadius Library. It was established in 1926 with funding from the Carnegie Foundation (yes, that Carnegie). It contained a remarkable exhibit by a contemporary Greek artist Antonious, about the 19th century German archeologist, Heinrich Schliemann, who discovered Troy and made major discoveries at Myceane. He spoke 19 languages and this exhibit was using his words as art. It felt very appropriate for this historic library to show this exhibit re-interpreting words from the past.

Our next week was back on the road again. The Peloponnese is steeped in history and contains several really great libraries. Corinth was where St. Paul unsuccessfully tried to convert the natives to Christianity. Ancient Corinth was master of this part of the world in the 6th Century BC and today the site called “Ancient Corinth” is spectacular.


The modern Corinth library is very active. We watched a short video made about the library that included the librarian’s son playing really good guitar. After they served us delicious Greek coffee we had fallen in love with this library. As always, it is the quality of the people working there that make this place special.

After a brief stop at the historically famous Corinth Canal we headed on to the city of Argos. Sadly, the library was closed and the outside looked like it had seen better days. We will have to find out why. We ended the day at the pretty coastal city of Nafplio. We stayed in a pension in the old town with attractive narrow streets, elegant Venetian houses and an interesting library. It reminded me of a smaller version of Corfu Town without the tourists.

The Nafplion Library is another example of a generous benefactor endowing the city with his collection of books. In this case, to begin the first high school in Greece in the 1830’s. The books are now in the library and this seems like a well- loved place.

For the rest of the day we went back several thousand years to visit two ancient sites: Ancient Mycaene and Ancient Epidavros which consists of the spectacular Theatre and the Sancturary of Asclepius. Mycenae has many tourists, especially near the famous Lions Gate. But it is so spread out that we find ourselves being able to contemplate in solitude the vast distance of time that separates us from this place and culture. The underground cistern is especially interesting. It’s all about water!

The Theatre of Ancient Epidavros is the best-preserved structure of this scale from the ancient world. Literally, one can drop a coin on the stage and you can clearly hear it at the top seats of the 14,000-seat theater. The Sanctuary is also impressive and is considered one of the birthplaces of Western medicine and healing. Travel is a great teacher and all these sites today were a revelation.


The next morning after a several-hour drive we enter the beautiful and steep Arcadian Mountains. Our goal was a library in the tiny mountain town of Andritsena. After a gazillion hairpin turns on a tiny mountain road we came to the Public Historic Library of Andritsena. This one is a gem. Established in 1840, it is one of the most important historic and richest libraries in the country. It is housed in a neo-classical building built in 1879. A Greek ex-pat of staggering intelligence and no money living in Paris somehow gathered together one of the largest privately held libraries at the time. He donated his collection of books to his father’s home town. He planned to move there with his library but while cleaning the books he got a paper cut and later died from infection. The books eventually arrived in Naplion but sat there for decades because of unpaid bills. Years later they finally arrived in this tiny mountain village. We are met by the President of the Board and his wife. After a wonderful overview of this romantic place I have just a few hours to photograph this amazing library. The library even contained replicas of carvings stolen by the British in the 19th Century from a nearby ancient Greek temple. As we head to our apartment I am amazed that such a really small town could have such a really great library.

So as to not waste any time we rush off again on even smaller mountain roads to the very remote ancient site of the Temple of the Epicurean Apollo at Vasses. This is another extraordinary place and we are the only people there! High in the Arcadian Mountains I feel like we are the edge of the world. This UNESCO World Heritage temple was completely covered and was in the process of being stabilized and restored. The tenting and an artist’s soundtrack playing in the background added greatly to the surreal experience of photographing this crazy interesting place. I had 20 minutes to photograph before they closed and I was exhilarated when I finished. Some places are just very special and this was one of them.

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As we drove back at dusk we saw incredible vistas and a shepherd and many goats and dogs on the spaghetti-like road. We head back to Andritsena and go to dinner. As I was driving down the one street in town we spot a tiny café and a woman who comes out and invites us in. It is where the locals eat (not the tourists) and we thoroughly enjoy our meal. The TV news is on and when Trump’s face appears on the screen I instinctively cover my face. When I look up at the Greeks in the café they are all smiling and nodding at me in approval. This is a moment of cross-cultural connection. At breakfast the next morning I spotted a large black and white photograph of a shepherd girl spinning wool in front of the Temple of Epicurean Apollo that we had just visited. The owner of the café explained that the girl in the photo is her mother. She had fond memories of playing in the rubble of the Temple before it was turned into a World Heritage site. I gain a small insight into the transformation of this small community. It also represents something of the larger transformation of Greece today and its relation to its near and ancient past.



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NORTH BY NORTHEAST: Thessaloniki and Xanthi





We left Athens in the rain on a train heading up the long coastal plain to Thessaloniki. I love the stately, almost 19th-century pace of traveling by rail. Countless Alfred Hitchcock movies flashed before my mind. But the beautiful Greek countryside was the real star of this show.


Thessaloniki is often called “Geece’s Second City” but it really is a world on to itself. Athens is considered the heart of Ancient Greece. But this part of the country produced the Macedonian Empire and Alexander the Great. They conquered Athens and much of the known ancient world.  Thessaloniki today is a vibrant port city with a great cultural scene including world-class museums of contemporary art, cinema and photography. Lonely Planet is not exactly our Bible but it does help us locate interesting and quirky places to eat and stay, here and throughout Greece.

The next day we rented a car and headed east into the part of Greece called Thrace. Soon, looming just to the north were the massive Rhodopi Mountains and the border with Bulgaria. Kavala is bustling city with a massive old fort sitting atop the highest hill in the old town. History is never far from the landscape here. The Kavala Public Library is large but mostly empty when we visited. The very friendly staff were excited to see us and I make some nice images of researchers in the newspaper archive. As we were leaving a young man sprinted to catch up with us in a parking lot. He was a local journalist and we did an interesting interview on the spot on why we were there, libraries, refugees, politics, etc., etc.

We continued east through the mountainous, coastal Thracian landscape to our destination of Xanthi. This is one of Greece’s least visited places. It was once home to a powerful, non-Greek ancient civilization and is influenced by its neighbors Bulgaria and Turkey. The area contains unique Muslim minorities that settled here during the Ottoman times.


The old town of Xanthi (it means “blond” in Greek and I am guessing it’s because of the presence of people here from the north) is located snug up against the beautiful mountains. It contains timber-framed houses on narrow, winding streets and old mansions once inhabited by tobacco barons. Walking the main street around 7PM we are astonished at the number of families with children strolling past the high-end shops. In the crowd I saw several elegantly dressed Muslim women wearing scarfs. Xanthi is obviously a fascinating mixing zones of cultures.

We spent a good part of the next day at the wonderful Xanthi Public Library. It contains a Tech Lab run by Dimitris Giannakoukis. The Tech Lab is part of American Spaces which is sponsored by the US State Department. We first encountered these two years ago in Poland and Ukraine. They receive books and American technology that are a part of a “soft power” effort by the US government. Like the Fulbright, it is an effort to engage America, on a local level, with the world.

The library was started in the 1950s by a Greek writer who donated his personal library to the city. He survived WWII and he was a communist. But he felt that books were a way of healing his fractured country. While photographing his Greek language notebooks and journals I felt as if I almost got to know him as a person. It was interesting to see how one person could make such a huge, positive difference. We saw the same story earlier with the founder of the library in Veria.  The most vibrant libraries that we have encountered so far seem to have been founded by a generous, charismatic individual.

We came back to the library at 6 and I gave a lecture to a large crowd of mostly young people who seem fully engaged with my talk. I am always surprised and happy when this happens.


The next morning we are undecided which of several places we should visit in the nearby area. I had been awakened at 7:00am by a marching band going by our window. When I later looked down on the street there was a police car parked in front of our hotel and our street was earily quiet. Images of the Greek military coup in the movie “Z” flashed before my mind. When we were about to check out we were told that we would have to wait because all the streets were blocked for a major parade. We decided that this was what we would do today and plunged into the gathering crowd. Ellen reminded me that the Fulbright had warned us not to participate in demonstrations but this seemed like a peaceful, even joyful group. After waiting a long time a group of generals with lots of medals and swords met a group of Orthodox priests on a reviewing stand and then the parade began.


It seemed that almost every child in Xanthi marched by us in school uniforms. There were all kinds of groups including Muslim girls in scarfs, people in traditional Greek costumes, a group of special needs kids and even a Tai Kwon Do club. The crowds were enthusiastic and everyone seemed to know someone in the parade. After that, a sizeable chunk of the Greek army marched by carrying machine guns and stepping smartly. We found out this was a celebration of when the Greek army kicked out the Bulgarian army in 1919. Apparently the Greek government makes a real effort to have a presence here because this area is considered an important frontier. After three hours we felt this was memorable way of getting to know this part of Greece. The sound of marching music filled my mind during the three-hour drive back to Thessaloniki.

The next morning I photographed the Derveni Papyri at the Thessaloniki Archeological Museum. It is considered the oldest European “book” and is part of UNESCO’s Memory of the World program. Greece’s climate prevented any earlier papyri books from surviving. This one was completely burned in a 3rd Century BC funeral pyre. But in the ashes the text somehow was preserved. This is an example of “bibliocide” where the destruction of the book actually preserved it.

We then schelpped my camera gear over to the large Thessaloniki Main Library. It is in a striking building with a friendly staff and lots of people. However, I had tried multiple times since last June to get permission to photograph here and had not heard back a peep until this morning when permission finally came through. Better late than never!

We ended the day at the Ano Poli Branch Library. It is housed in an old, beautiful mansion built for an Ottoman Turk military officer. At one point it housed refugees, later was a school and is now a library.

We ended the evening having a late dinner with a fellow Fulbrighter Herman Adney, his wife Michelle and their adorable infant daughter Sophia. He is on a Greece-Turkey Fulbright and they will be spending six months in each country. The conversation ranged far and wide and we all agreed that the Greeks have a very special regard and treatment of children and a love for sharing good food and conversation.


The next day we hopped back on the train traveling along the plain without the rain to Athens and home.

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Refugees, Fulbright, National Library and Athens





This was a week where the weather changed from hot to windy, cooler and rain. Even the Embassy sent out a weather alert. The project also shifted to finally include refugees in Greece and we spent a lot of time with various NGOs throughout Athens. Photographing refugees is always hard and I am especially sensitive to not photographing people that express any reluctance to my camera. Most people, however, are very accommodating. Much of what I photographed turned out to be symbolic of refugees such as child’s drawings, paintings, maps and posters. A child’s sketch of drowning people being rescued by a Greek ship was especially powerful.  We spent an afternoon photographing Afghan women doing hand work such as crochet and making jewelry which they later sell. The woman who volunteers for The Greek Forum of Refugees explained that much of the work is therapy from the trauma they have endured. We also went to a soup kitchen for a Catholic charity for refugees called Caritas where I photographed families and volunteers.


During the middle of the week the Fulbright Foundation sponsored a reception for all the Fulbrighters in Greece (both teachers and researchers) and then a two-day orientation, lecture, briefing at the American Embassy and a cultural walking tour. It was all quite fascinating, especially meeting the other Fulbrighters both young and older (like us!). It was also a chance to meet the exceptional staff of the Greek Fulbright. For 70 years this program has tried to use people to people diplomacy between Americans and Greeks to help create a mutual understanding between cultures. We are proud to be a part of that tradition.

We also spent a few days back at the National Library of Greece looking at their digital labs and manuscript departments. There was a great show by a Greek photographer on homeless in Athens inside the library. They have an amazing space which made us think that we should have an exhibit of my library work there someday.

Between the work and the rain we did have time for some fun in Athens. What is most interesting are the everyday things we encounter on the street. Like the changing of the guards at the Greek Parliament as they were walking down the street. Or Ellen standing in the pouring rain next to the ancient Tower of the Wind with the lit-up Acropolis in the background. These are the unexpected, magic moments that help define our time here. We spent yesterday dealing with my wallet being stolen and celebrating one month in Greece. Never a dull moment. Onward!




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WAY UP NORTH: Veria & Kozani, Corfu and Meteora





This was the week that we split from Athens and headed out into Greece. Like New York City, I imagined Athens to be the most and least typical part of Greece. The Greek mountains are everywhere, the coast is rugged and the country is beautiful. It reminded me of parts of southern California – with ancient ruins.


After a 5 ½ hour drive on an excellent Greek highway (lots of tolls!) we arrived at the delightful town of Veria. It is in the heart of the Macedonian empire and near the birthplace of Alexander the Great (yeah, that guy). Veria’s old Jewish quarter (the Germans wiped out most of Greece’s Jewish population during WWII) is fascinating and right near the fabulous Veria Public Library. Ellen scored big-time by booking us for three nights at the Agroktima Kapsali. It was a challenge to find it as the light was fading, what signs we saw were all in Greek, and it was half an hour drive out of town into the ­­­­­­­­­­mountains. But when we finally got there we felt like we had landed in paradise. After the Manhattan-like density of Athens we had arrived at a Greek farm! The mountain lodge is a family run business that was built by hand by the father and run by the mother and daughter. The food was mostly from what they grew and was delicious.


The Veria Public Library is considered one of the best in Greece. It received a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant and seemed filled with state-of-the-art everything. The head of the library took us on a long tour of the library and then took us out to a long lunch. As a result, I didn’t have a lot of time to photograph. I finished just before I gave my lecture at the Veria Tech Lab in the library. I am always amazed when I get a large audience for my talks on American public libraries. It turned out this audience was a very interested local photo club that has also done some great work of their own.

After a full day in Veria I couldn’t imagine that Kozani could be as interesting. How wrong I was! The small town of Kozani has a massive new library (two weeks old!). As the Veria Library was compact and cozy, the Kozani Library was large, sleek and beautiful. Everything smelled new. The most unique experience was in the archive with the smell of old books mixing with the smell of the building.