Posts filed under ‘Books’

Monday with Moussa

Yesterday evening we went to Libraria Baïbars to catch the opening of Moussa ag Assarid’s photo exhibit of the children of the Sahara. As I explained before, Moussa is a Touareg, a nomad Berber tribe that roams the Sahara desert. Possessed of a keen curiosity about the world around him, Moussa went to school and eventually won a scholarship to study in France. He has since written a book about his experiences in France, and has dedicated himself to raising awareness to the plight of the nomadic peoples of the desert, promoting Touareg culture, and raising support for a school for Touareg children. The stop in Barcelona was part of his Caravan of the Heart, a journey towards his home country going from Paris to Tombouctu, crossing five countries.

The place was packed as everybody waited for the members of the caravan to arrive.


Moussa gave a little talk about his book, answered questions and then signed books. The book-signing wasn’t planned, someone asked and he graciously accepted. I lined up with the rest and watched as he signed the books – he actually took the time to write a different message on each book he signed! He was very kind and I exchanged a few words with him when my turn came. I told him I would bring his words to Canada and he immediately sounded interested “vous habitez là-bas?” he asked. I said I did and he asked where. Toronto & before that Montreal. I’m originally from Brazil. He smiled and said “vous êtes partout le monde.” I said yes, I’m a citizen of the world. He asked what I did and I answered I study history. “Ça, c’est très important”. I smiled, he finished signing my book, and we shook hands. It was a really nice moment. Meeting people like Moussa and having a chance to exchange a few words is good for the soul.
Moussa & I

Here’s what he wrote:


Moussa in the news here (in Catalan)

February 7, 2007 at 1:15 am 3 comments

Harry Potter

The new Harry Potter comes out July 21! I was all set to pre-order it on when Alan asked me where am I going to have it delivered. Right. We don’t know yet where we will be living then. Bummer. I guess I have to wait until May before I can order it… I’m not good with waiting. I hope I don’t have to chase the mailman again this year

Harry & I

February 6, 2007 at 12:34 am 6 comments

Researching at the archives

As some of you know, the whole purpose of spending the year in Barcelona is to undertake research for my PhD thesis. Friends back in Toronto, however, reading this blog, ask me whether I do anything else here than going out to eat, travelling, blogging and taking photos. So I decided to take a little time and write a bit more about the work I’m doing here.

First, let me tell you a little bit about the object of my research and my sources. I study Christian-Jewish interaction in the late 14th-century Catalonia and Aragon. While in general, medieval scholars tend to work with a scarce documentary basis, I’m lucky that the Crown of Aragon (the area comprised of the Valencia, Catalonia, Aragon & the balearics) holds one of the richest archival collections for the Middle Ages. The public institutions of the Crown of Aragon were very prolific in their writing and hundreds of thousands of documents survive, regulating all aspects of medieval life. So my problem is not that I don’t have enough documents, but that I have too many! So I had to choose a narrow period of time and one main body of sources. I chose to look at the royal chancery registers from the years 1380-1391. These registers contain letters issued by the king in response to requests sent to him. Since the Jews were under the direct jurisdiction of the king, most problems they had appear in the royal courts and thus in these registers.

In the past 8 months, I’ve combed through dozens of registers (each about 500 pages long) and so far have collected over 2,000 documents. I’ve also kept an eye for other documents and have collected a few court cases, job contracts, and have a list of stuff to get at the Municipal archive and the church archives at Girona.

And what’s your conclusion, people ask me. I have no conclusions yet. Nor could I have. The work is pretty mechanical at this point. All I do is collect the documents – I enter some basic info in a database, make a photocopy or a digital copy of the page(s) and move on. The analysis will come later, when I get back to Toronto. Hopefully, I’ll be able to make some sense of all these puzzle pieces. I still don’t know how I’ll do it but I was able to squeeze stuff out of much drier sources in the past (like when I wrote my honours’ thesis) so that keeps me hopeful. I also know that the thesis is more of an exercise than my ultimate piece of work. That also helps. I had that perspective when I wrote my honours thesis and it really helped. If only I can keep it up through the writing process, things will work out….

Here’s a picture of a piece of one of my documents….

MS scrap

And here’s where the archives used to be located, now a place for public visitation. I should be doing research there!!! But who said the world is fair?…

Palau del Lloctinent

And here’s the new building, where I go everyday. Not quite as glamorous but the wonderful personel more than make up for the coolness of the building:


And here is for the Archives of the Crown of Aragon on the news today: El Periodico

January 19, 2007 at 4:44 pm 2 comments

To travel…

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. Mark Twain

The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see. Gilbert K. Chesterton

To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries. Aldous Huxley

I’ve just finished reading Javier Reverte’s Vagabundo en África, a mix of travel notes, history of Africa and reflections on the state of Africa at the time Reverte spent two months criss-crossing through that great continent. Highly recommended. It made me wish I was brave enough to travel as he does.

His conclusion on travelling at the closing of his journey through the heart of Africa:

“Viajar prolonga tu vida, la llena de rostros y paisajes. Conoces hombres cobardes que deben vivir una vida valiente, y hombres valientes obligados a vivir como cobardes. “Viajar – escribió Aldoux Huxley – es descubrir que todo el mundo se equivoca. Cuando uno viaja, tus convicciones caen con tanta facilidad como las gafas; sólo que es más difícil volver a ponerlas en su sitio”.

Un largo viaje es también una suspensión en el vacío, por eso crea en ti una sensación de eternidad. Observas, como un “voyeur” impúdico, cuanto sucede a tu alrededor, y a la vez te implicas, te asombras, te estremeces, sientes la ternura de los hombres y también el temor a lo imprevisto. Te observas mientras miras fuera de ti.

Y viajar es también una forma de crear, porque retienes cuanto ves y cuanto oyes, en la memoria y en la retina, para intentar más tarde interpretarlo, como si fueras un artista, un pintor frente a los colores, frente a los rostros y las formas; un músico abierto a los sonidos, a las voces y los ritmos, o quizá y al fín, un poeta. El viaje nos convierte en seres libres; hace posible que nos veamos detenidos en el tiempo mientras el mundo corre a nuestro lado.

Y viajar es bailar, como bien dicen los Chichewas, sordo a todo aquello que no sea el son de una canción ignorada.

Elsewhere he says:

Hay veces, cuando viajas o emprendes una tarea creativa,, en las que te preguntas si el destino existe. Es una cuestión boba que no está de moda en estos tiempos de realidades matemáticas y de hombres seguros de su ciencia. Pero yo creo que existe. Y que es uno quien lo propicia.

October 28, 2006 at 4:10 pm 2 comments

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