Friday, 12 May 2017

Forgotten Bookmarks

Everywhere I turn in Florence at the moment I seem to stumble upon art exhibitions. Whether in churches, piazzas, small side-streets or even the opening corridor of the British Institute’s Harold Acton Library there always seems to be something beautiful waiting to be seen.

The current exhibition that welcomes visitors to the library in the small chequered-floored corridor looks at the forgotten bookmarks that have been found over the years in the books on the library shelves. The glass cases in the entrance hall house everything from letters and newspaper cuttings to museum tickets and illustrations. While looking through the original Baedeker guide used in the Merchant Ivory film of A Room with a View (whose anniversary is coming up at the end of this year) the British Institute's Director Julia Race discovered an old museum entry ticket in the pages, and so the exhibition was born. 

As well as personal notes and letters – 'What a beautiful lot of wine!' one begins – there's even a letter from Ava Levenson, a novelist and friend of Oscar Wilde, about her upcoming novel Tenderhooks. It's incredible to see the forgotten fragments of past lives that live on in the books we read, and especially those that have passed through the haven that is the Harold Acton library in the busy centre of Florence. I've often thought of a library as a crowd of voices, each book another thought, another idea, another story, just waiting to be discovered. In this exhibition the objects on display only enhance this feeling.

Libraries are communal spaces, and reading is often said to be a solitary activity, browsing the library books and realising how many have done so before me and left their small but traceable marks is somehow comforting. While studying the ornate map of Florence that was found folded up, I can't help but wonder if I've accidentally left anything between the pages of a book that might be found by an unsuspecting stranger many years from now. I wonder what my 'Forgotten Bookmark' will be . . .