Passover, Notre-Dame and the Book Thing

“Golden Haggadah” from medieval Spain

The idea that Notre-Dame might be reduced to a hole in the ground, a collection of rubble terrified me.  When I lived in Paris, or before that, or after, the Cathedral lodged itself deeply in my being. A friend mentioned he just loved the smell – the stone-cellar and incense smell, the millennial smell.  To those who lob the charge that a church is just a building, I’d answer that it embodies a reach towards beauty and a divine; the anonymous artists were launching a message in a bottle to us in the future.  If someone got spacey and was questioning reality, they only had check that  massive stone exemplar of material culture – touch feel it, know its place on earth in the now.

I’m thinking, now of the book I’m going to be reading tonight, the Passover Haggadah.  As a material object, it’s generally minor, though I do love the book as object.  This ritual book collects up narrative of escape, the road, liberation, impermanence made continuous through telling.  Wandering Jews cherish our books which contain worlds.  They’re portable and tell of things that couldn’t be saved, couldn’t be etched or carried or kept in stone. Stone is irrelevant.

Material culture is dissolving into a haze.  We’ll be doing a lot more of the wandering exile narrative thing, it seems. Forests and species will be translated into words by writer, poets, narrators. We’ll be telling each other about glaciers, extinct frogs and birds in books.  We’ll be carrying them with us in our bags, on our backs, taking and transmitting evidence of a world of constant change.

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