Thursday, June 8, 2017

Sticks and Stones

My decision to set aside a period of time each day to read is going well.  I finished Jeffrey Tambor's autobiography the first day and yesterday finished Bill Bryson's "The Road to Little Dribbling," which I started maybe as long as a year ago.  I don't know why I stopped reading it, but I probably got distracted by something which looked more interesting.  I do that a lot.  My own BADD, as you were (Book Attention Deficit Disorder!).  I have so many books I've started and intended to get back to when something else came along.  The other book I'm trying to read is Sally Henderson's "Silent Footsteps," about a woman's years in Botswana observing elephants.  I don't have a "blood and guts" thriller in the lot at the moment, which is rare for me.

Bryson's book is kind of a follow-up to his "Notes from a Small Island," written in 1995.  At the time he had lived in England with his family for twenty years and was ready to re-locate back to the U.S. and wanted to make one last trip around the country, traveling only on public transportation or walking and reporting on the idiosyncrasies of British life.

Walt and I found the book in a book store in Cambridge when we were in the process of driving around many of the same places Bryson visited and reading the book in conjunction with driving to and being in many of those places just added another layer of enjoyment to the trip.

In "Road to Little Dribbling," Bryson makes the same trip 20 years later, this time by car, visiting many of the same places and some other places.  The author is older and grumpier and grumbles a lot about modernization of the quaint places he loved before, but it is still an enjoyable read (and does he ever find Little Dribbling again?)

But one of the things I love about reading Bryson's books is picking up little tidbits that are just fascinating.  Take Durham Cathedral, for example.

He toured this edifice with the in-house architect and I learned that these old buildings (this one was built between 1093 and 1133) all have in-house architects because they are in constant need of repair.  But I just loved learning about how they are constructed and in awe at the knowledge of the architects of the 11th century.  The walls of the building are constructed of two layers, one layer outside and another inside with a space between them, which is filled with mortar consisting of sticks, stones, and other rubble.  This is how Bryson explains it:
Durham Cathedral, like all great buildings of antiquity, is essentially just a giant pile of rubble held in place by two thin layers of dressed stone. But–-and here is the truly remarkable thing–-because that gloopy mortar was contained between two impermeable outer layers, air couldn’t get to it, so it took a very long time – 40 years to be precise – to dry out. As it dried, the whole structure gently settled, which meant that the cathedral masons had to build doorjambs, lintels, and the like at slightly acute angles so that they would ease over time into the correct alignments. And that’s exactly what happened. After 40 years of slow motion sagging the building settled into a position of impeccable horizontality, which it has maintained ever since.
I find that fascinating, that these  architects built these huge cathedrals knowing that there was a good chance they would never live to see the final product but knowing that it needed to be built in a manner that allowed for the building to settle into what it was designed to be.
I just love learning tidbits like that.

I had a call from Atria yesterday that my mother was out of something. I could not understand what word the woman was saying, but decided it must have been her Depends, which it was.  I bought two packages and restocked the larder.

My mother was in good spirits and told me that she and a friend had taken a long walk that morning, all the way downtown, and that she was tired when she got back.  I did not point out that she could not get out of the building and didn't know where "downtown" is.

When I left, she was trying to decide what she was going to cook for dinner.  Today I will not be going to Atria.  I suspect I will be watching MSNBC all day.

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