Friday, February 4, 2011

Connections

Alla and I spent the afternoon at the Belarus National Library today. We both like this place, and not just for the books. They have an excellent and inexpensive cafeteria, great views, comfortable reading tables, and even couches in some of the reading areas. We spent a lot of time there last year, but the first time we came back this year Alla forgot where to put her library card to release the entry gate and a new guard asked her if this were her first visit to the library. Oh no, said the other guard, she’s been here lots of times.


Today we started with lunch, and then Alla took me up to the new-books display room. Before people are allowed to check out a new book, it stays in this room for two weeks on open shelves. Everybody can read the books here, but we cannot check them out. This is great advertising, because curious people habitually come in to see what’s new. Alla had been in a few days earlier and wanted me to see some beautiful new picture books about historical places of Belarus.

When we came downstairs, Alla went to pick up the books she had checked out and I went to a different librarian to get the books I’d checked out. I was surprised to see a history book I hadn’t asked for. It turns out that Alla had requested that book previously, but had gone home before the book was delivered from the closed stacks. Alla didn’t have any books checked out at that moment, so the librarian didn’t have a place to put her unclaimed book. Knowing that Alla was my wife, she found my books and put Alla’s history book with my language books.

So, there we were, reading our books. After a while Alla remembered her scarf, which she’d worn into the cafeteria but had not seen since. Oops! She rushed back to the cafeteria and breathlessly asked about her scarf. "Oh," said the administrator, "it’s safe in my office."

As Alla returned past the security guard on her way back from the cafeteria, the guy said, “See, everything is alright. You had nothing to worry about.” Alla explained that she had worried because the scarf was from Scotland and would have been difficult to replace. “Oh,” the guard replied, “your North American blood is beginning to show through.”

Alla came back downstairs contemplating the database these guys must have, that he knew she lived in North America. I think it didn’t actually require anything so fancy. I’m pretty sure he noticed that we were married, and he surely knows that I’m an American. The minute I say a full sentence everybody seems to know that. But it’s really nice to be noticed. From the coat check room to the administration, we feel like we’re dealing with acquaintances who recognize us as individuals. It’s a great experience.

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