Like many devoted bibliophiles, I love to visit archives. I sigh contentedly while enacting the familiar rituals of shutting the locker door on all of my belongings except two mechanical pencils and a notebook. It’s such a feeling of curious hope to fill out the little slips of paper that send a librarian down an elevator into some vault beneath the earth so that she can return with, I don’t quite know what it will be. Sometimes I lift the lid and a map of the Mediterranean Sea appears. The librarian tells me the vellum is made of sheepskin, the ink is made of emeralds and other precious gems. No one, so far as she knows, can figure out how to interpret the red lines criss-crossing the sea. Other times she brings me a diary and I reach for the white gloves to protect this young girl’s ancient handwriting, but the librarian says no, the paper grows brittle with lack of oils, she’d prefer if I turned the pages carefully with my bare hands to give them a little more life. Sometimes I can convince the librarian to take me down in the elevator with her and I see then how generations of memories, that all appear so organized in the databases by their call numbers and key word tags, live in a chaos of newspaper stacks teetering beside strange alchemical equipment buttressed with glass boxes of dried plants the pharmacists used to collect from the greenhouses that were bulldozed from the campus decades ago. Somewhere over there, the librarian gestures into a dark cavern of shelves, is a hunk of ambergris vomited up by a whale three hundred years ago. The world above us seems filled with possibilities
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