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Friday, June 25, 2004

Lost, and Found

Dr. Frank is interested in "found text"---by which he usually means other people's lost and discarded letters. The other day he wrote about a different kind of found text: inscriptions in books. He wonders about the people who sell or give away books in which someone has written a very personal inscription. In the comments to that post, I mentioned one I'd found, and another commenter, Myke, has a sadder example.

But I plumb forgot about a different kind of inscription I found in a used book. I bought it at the library sale in Menlo Park, California. The Bay Area was chock-full of library sales, yet another reason why I miss it so (and the reason why I have far too many books!). Palo Alto had one every month, but the Menlo Park and Los Altos sales were best.

The book I bought was one of the souvenir books you get at the Louvre, dating from the 1950s. When I was there I didn't have the money for one (they were pricey), so when I saw this one I thought maybe it would be a cheap way to pick one up.

It wasn't a very good book, though, since it had very few color photographs, and the ones it did have were rather dark and muddy-looking. I don't know whether 1950s technology was that bad, or whether the plates had degraded in the ensuing 50 years (or if the paintings themselves were dark and muddy).

I didn't realize that until I got it home and looked at it more closely. But then I noticed the writing all over the front endpapers. The book had an inscription to a "Ralph Finkelstein" (some name like that---the book's packed away and I can't get at it). But the inscription was almost lost among the other scribblings---in several different kinds of pen and pencil, at various angles, but all in the same hand, different from that of the inscription.

It seemed to begin, "In 1952 Ralph and I toured Europe and the Holy Land". It might not have been '52, but it was sometime in the '50s. The other writings were little notes about what they saw and did. At one point the writer mentions how inspiring the trip was, the trip of their lives.

I imagined that Ralph had died, and his grieving widow had written the little notes in order to preserve that bit of their history. She felt so much closer to Ralph as she remembered it. And the children certainly will want to know about their parents' lives, and what they did on the trip. It was historic, for one thing, touring the infant Israel.

For years, maybe, she'd get out the book and write down another reminiscence.

And then poor Mrs. Finkelstein died herself, or went into the nursing home, and her children, the clods, gave the book to the library sale. Very sad.

But that wasn't the most interesting aspect of the book. The inscription, as I said, was in another hand. Mrs. Finkelstein notes: "The inscription reads, 'To Ralph Finkelstein, in an appreciation of fine photography.' I can't make out the signature."

That is indeed the inscription. But I don't know why she couldn't make out the signature. It's as plain as day.

It reads, "Itzhak Rabin".

But, I'm sure that's a really common name.