Psychology and the Cosmos

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I found this book on my grandparents’ bookshelf. I never read it as a child and I don’ t remember its cover, probably it used to be in the back rows of the shelves. It was written by Iuri Gagarin and Vladimir Lebedev (a medical doctor and a specialist in space psychology, as it is written on the back cover). A note from the translator tells us that Gagarin finished this book on the 25th of March 1968, a day before his death.

I read this book hoping it will contain all the wonder and hope that was associated with space travel in my childhood. The chapters go through all the things that used to make me daydream: the immensity and silence of the Cosmos, imponderability, time perception, the friendship and trust among the crew that goes out in space, the shining stars that  seem closer from up there.

But also the book is a long stream of anecdotes, some historical, about explorers of other unknown and lonely territories like Antarctica, some contemporary about their friends and colleagues, other cosmonauts, these stories being by far more interesting. A long stream of these stories, scientific facts explained very simply, quotes from Kant and Lenin, speculations about the future of time travel, description of the soviet man written in empty propaganda language. A lot of talk about “manliness” that is necessary for conquering the outer space, for winning the ” duel with nature”. A lot of really disheartening and so so sad references to experiments on animals, but I didn’t’ read those passages and pages. One wildly rude mention of some unnamed tribes in Africa and one “Indian” ( was it someone from India? from America?) who irrationally believe in the reality of dreams.

Among all these, the smiling faces of the first cosmonauts, photos of the crafts they made in the isolated rooms where they were practicing the silence and loneliness of Cosmos, pages about imponderability that I used to obsess about as a child, being sure that I will experience it myself someday. And by far the  most interesting thing in the book, accounts of cosmonauts who have first seen the blue and violet haze at the curb of the Earth, who have seen the sun in Cosmos with its blinding light, who traveled inside a burning knot while their space craft was entering the atmosphere. The reports the cosmonauts wrote in a clear and simple language shinning with an eerie beauty.

I searched for Tereshkova in the book. She is mentioned a few times. There is a story about her wedding. There is mentioned that, while male cosmonauts were chosen from among pilots, women who didn’t have any former flight experience had to train more. She appears once more towards the end of the book as a kind and motherly colleague, comforting the worried Lebedev before he jumps with a parachute for the first time. He calls her Valia. There is also a photo of her in space.

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I read this book together with my child double, trying to imagine what she would have felt or thought reading it. She would have shivered the same way as me at the pages about animals and she would have rushed trough them. She wouldn’t have noticed that all the attributes necessary to be a cosmonaut are written in male form. She would have thought that in the distant future of her adult years space travel will be available to anyone (as a poem in the book titled “We will live to see it” promises). She would have nodded approvingly to the description of the beauty of life in communism.

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I tried to read this book with her and remember her hopes now when the world is so bleak. Reading about space travel now is reading about the same issues: going to Mars, sending out long term manned missions to distant places of our star system and beyond, creating the ecosystems inside these ships, dealing with the psychological aspects of such travels, etc. But the hope and the wonder is completely gone now, when people compete to receive a one-way ticket to Mars in order to be in a reality show, when space exploration missions are private ventures based on the commons of knowledge acquired in the sixties and seventies and often funded by public money, when the colonization of space is in direct connection to the necessity of leaving behind our dying planet in order to go somewhere where even the air you breath would be a commodity.

I used to love looking at these kind of photos, at his smiling face while the water from his cup is floating in front of him. IMG_8733a

Fairy tales

I have first seen these books in the house of one of my mother’s friends, sometimes in the mid eighties. Her kids were already college students, but she kept these special books that they used to have as children. They were published in collaboration with a Prague printing house in 1974 and they are short version of Cinderella, Snow White and Hansel and Gretel. What made them very special for a kid in socialist Romania was the fact that they were pop-up books. I imagine these were published in quite a small number, because I have never seen anything like them till that visit to my mother’s friend. They were something quite different from the usual idea of socialist design, that wouldn’t use so much  elements that are not really necessary for the understanding of the text.

A short time after this visit, I got pneumonia and stayed in bed for a while. There were miserable and boring days for me and my mother asked me what gift would I like for her to get me to cheer me up. I asked for books like those I have see at her friend’s house. My mother searched every bookstore in the city, but no one ever heard of such books. So, eventually, she asked her friend to borrow us the books and she kindly gifted them to me.

Even if, for my grown up eyes, I had much more interesting books, with illustrations that are closer to my present taste, even if these classic fairy tales were not my favorites (I  preferred much more stories of contemporary children that I could relate to and that had a less bleak atmosphere), still I have always kept these books with care, like the curious specimens that they are.

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Linking up with Vintage Bliss Tuesdays  and Vintage Charm parties.

Art Nouveau book illustrations

I don’t collect antique books. Such a collection would take up too much space and anyway it is difficult to find  books that are so old and still interesting for me to read. I have a few Hungarian encyclopedias from the nineteenth century that are family heirloom and 3 books that I picked up in Vienna many years ago. We were there in an artist residency and our roommate and friend found a big pile of old books near our building’s dumpster. They were really clean. We went to search through them. They were all in German, of course, so not interesting for me. Our friend picked up a lot of them, and I have also chose three: a French dictionary from 1912, an atlas of Italy with beautiful maps from 1898 and this book, that I choose for the illustrations. It is from 1890. I searched the woman author online, and she wrote literature for teenage girls. Quite normative and kitschy, I imagine, judging from the images, but who knows… This seems to be about some young women traveling. If the illustration plates are quite banal, the graphics that accompany each chapter title are beautiful and imaginative art nouveau drawings. I scanned in some of them, but almost each chapter has a different illustration. IMG_0001 IMG_0002 IMG_0003 IMG_0004 IMG_0015 IMG_0008 IMG_0009 IMG_0006 IMG_0007 IMG_0010 IMG_0011 IMG_0012 IMG_0013 IMG_0014 IMG_0016 IMG_0017 IMG_0018 IMG_0019 IMG_0020 IMG_0021 IMG_0022

Linking up with Vintage Bliss Tuesdays.

Antique notebooks

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These books are one of my favorite finds ever! I have found them yesterday at the same vendor where I picked up the Russian button tin, and I’m sure they come from the same family. I don’t know the English name for this practice of writing some small poems, some words of advice or favorite quotations and of drawing something or collaging something to make the page prettier for a friend. We would make these souvenir notebooks for each other in primary and secondary school (only the girls would). I still have mine, with drawings and messages for the future from my friends, family members and class mates.

These are that sorts of books. They are not complete, there are marks on many pages that show missing cards or photos, but I’m glad with what had stayed. They are very clean, without a smell of something old, and in such a good shape for their age.

The brown one has entries from 1887, with beautiful hand writing in Russian and kitschy prints. There is also a hand drawing of a boat on a lake.

The green velvet one has the first entries in 1911. There are also prints in it, pages colored in soft pink and green, one entry in French from a grandmother in Warsaw and one gouache painting. The last entry, from 1966 is in Romanian and it is written by a men who, on the occasion of their second wedding anniversary, wishes his wife to share in the future the same love for each other. Probably the book belonged to someone in his family and he gave it as a gift to his wife.

I’m not sure how this Russian books (and the button tin) ended up in my city. Maybe their original owner fled the October Revolution and ended up in Romania? Maybe someone moved from Russia to Romania after 1945 and brought also some family heirlooms?

I would really like to read the entries, especially a long one that seems like a letter, but I have to find someone who speaks Russian.

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Linking up with Idle Needle’s challenge Make, Thrift and Tell.

Also, linking up with Vintage Bliss Tuesdays.

Books about photography

I usually buy these books about the technical aspects of photography when I see them at the flea market or at used books stands. They were written in socialist times (the ones I have are from the fifties till early eighties) and they were intended for amateurs. They are quite useful. Actually I have learned how to use a SLR camera and to process my films reading one of these books, in the early  nineties when I was a bored art student learning photography by myself. I still use that book when I check for proportions and time in processing my films. They do have though many times, besides charmingly dated naive jokes, a patronizing tone. And of course the reader, the photography enthusiast who is addressed in these books, is always male  both in the text of the books and in the illustrations also (even if it is only a naked little boy on the beach, photographing the sea).

These one, from 1956, is a second edition of a translation from Russian. The examples in it (with a strange, dramatic contrast in the print) are also by Soviet photographers. DSCN9750 DSCN9759 DSCN9760 DSCN9761 DSCN9762 DSCN9764 DSCN9766 DSCN9767

The rest of the books I have are from Romanian authors.

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Linking up with Vintage Bliss Tuesday.

Time

This is my grandmother’s apartment, the place were I grew up. It froze sometimes in the mid-eighties, when my grandmother and I changed towns and we moved to live with my mother, here in Timisoara. After a few years, my grandmother sold her apartment in the town in Transilvania where we used to live and moved all her things in this apartment in Timisoara. She never lived here, it was only a museum of her past life, with all her things neatly arranged in the same way as in their former places. It is still like that today, with dust gathering under the doilies. We visit it sometimes with my friends, sometimes we pull out some things that we like and bring them to our “alive” home. My mother, the keeper of this place, visits it also sometimes, afraid and fascinated by the ghosts in it. She keeps this place as a symbol of family and continuity, family congealed in the property of stuff, continuity of the things whose stories we still remember, while we are still alive. I don’t know if she thinks about what will happen to these things after my death. I don’t think about it either, although maybe at some point, indefinite in time, I might give this place a new life.

Furniture bought by my grandmother in the fifties as a surprise for my grandfather (she secretly gathered the money that she managed to save from the daily spending with her thrifty housewife ways).  Family photos in which she looks much older than my grandfather, after all the sleepless nights with her two kids and all the spotless rooms and all the three course meals. (She was the perfect wife, my grandfather  used to say, giving up her job as an accountant, giving up her dreams to study at the University and putting into practice the perfect family life my grandfather envisioned. ) A stove from the sixties, still fully functioning. All the books my grandparents had in their bookshelves, one of them was in my grandfather’s bag in the day of his sudden death. Two prints from the twenties representing two little girls (the blonde one looked like my grandmother, the brunette one like her sister). My childhood clothes in the cupboards. A sticker with a baby wearing a gas mask that I glued to the fridge sometimes after Chernobyl.

I took pinhole photos in the apartment one summer. I spent long hours alone in this timeless space, waiting for the images to slowly impress the film, wearing a mask to protect myself from the dust.

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Learning to sew

I plan to use this book to try to learn to sew. Maybe a simple skirt, first? This 1980 book was aimed at young girls, helping them to built up for themselves a youthful, practical, elegant and flattering wardrobe :), this is what it is written on the cover. One of my two best friends, who is very talented at sewing, says it is a complicated book, much too difficult for an absolute beginner like myself. Among other things it teaches you how to draw patterns from scratch, etc. I like this thing, it is consistent with a way of learning from the socialist times, when you would be encouraged to understand the entire process, all the aspects of the thing you study. (For example the amateur photo cameras in the socialist block, even the very simple ones, supposed that the user would know some basic things about the shutter speeds and exposure time, etc, in contrast to the “Western” point and shoots). Drawing your own patterns seems kind of similar to me (although using printed patterns to sew is in no way similar to taking photos with a point and shoot). So, I’ll try to read this book and see if I can learn something and sew something. Maybe not that floor length lavender dresses, though :).

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