Wednesday, March 31, 2010

why is this night different from all other nights

Came back to the motel early yesterday afternoon and found an e-mail from a reader in the Boston area, Leah Archibald, asking if I would like to come to a Seder that night. This sounded like a wonderful idea; I haven't been to a Seder since David and I separated. Leah very kindly agreed to pick me up at 5 when she got off work.

Leah works at a firm specialising in internet marketing. I say: Oh, that sounds interesting. Leah: You don't have to pretend. Sadly, perhaps, I am not pretending: I think this is fascinating. Partly, no doubt, as a result of having a blog. Also, unfortunately, as a result of inconclusive discussions with my former agent, Bill Clegg on the subject of likely readers of a book incorporating Tuftean information design, one which Bill originally thought I would have to self-publish. The drive to the house turns into a sort of busman's holiday for Leah: For example, I say, I explained to Bill that we could have a cover by Randall Munroe! xkcd gets 190,000 hits a day! Deservedly so! (And, ahem, if RM had better things to do I could probably come up with a drawing myself...) Bill was decidedly uninterested in this and the many other statistics on relevant blogs, and presently explained that publishers would not be interested in this sort of thing, they just had to love the book. An unnerving revelation which can now be shared with a sympathetic audience. Leah says her husband Dan went to one of ET's seminars a few years ago and they now have many of the books.

Leah lives in Bedford with her husband Dan, dog Rascal and 9-month-old baby Harvey. Leah and Dan grew up about a block from each other in Lexington; one of the things I discovered in the course of the evening was that civic holidays are seen differently in this part of the world. Patriots Day, a holiday marking the Battles of Lexington and Concord, is celebrated only in Massachusetts and Maine: in Massachusetts it involves a reenactment of the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere and the Battle of Lexington. And, possibly, the Battle of Concord. In period costume. There is local rivalry: in Lexington the focus of the day is the Battle of Lexington, in Concord the battle at North Bridge, while other towns emphasise other highlights of the historic day which I have now forgotten.

Dan: Oh, yes, it's a really big deal. They don't really pay much attention to the Fourth of July.

I anticipate.

When we arrive we find that Dan and friends are in the kitchen preparing the meal. Dan comes out with Harvey strapped to his back. We talk; I find that Dan is a loyal follower of Languagehat (thanks to whom he first read The Last Samurai many years ago, so thanks, Steve) and Language Log. More friends come.

One of the friends, Alan, teaches biology to 11th and 12th graders; he has just been roped into teaching an electronics class. He explains that he has been having the class build an amplifier using vacuum tubes. No one got electrocuted, so they're doing well. Another friend, Cara, teaches ancient history to 5th graders. She once worked in a Barnes & Noble. I ask why the Framingham B&N would not stock Portuguese books when the town has a large Brazilian population. She says it is partly the result of being a national chain; that the Brazilian community may not be large enough to justify a special stock; and that it may not be easy to order foreign books. The B&N may not be able to get the books in its system; they may not know who the distributors are. The last point sounds plausible: it seems entirely possible that local staff would not know which books to order, let alone how they could be ordered in the US, and if local staff don't know it's hard to see why anyone at head office would be better informed. (It may be that those of us who would like to see more foreign-language books in bookstores need to do some legwork. As things stand, unfortunately, it always looks so much easier to order books online - but then one misses out on the happy accidents that come of seeing something one hadn't heard of before.)

Dan is Episcopalian but runs the Seder with aplomb. Many of the friends are not Jewish, but the Haggadah is presented in a way that allows the Seder to combine English and Hebrew (it has Hebrew and Aramaic texts, transliteration and translation). A wonderful evening, and heartening, somehow, in these days of religious segregationism.

Fans of Rashomon can see Leah's account here.

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