While listening to Spotify the other day, I had one of those classic “omigod, dozens, if not hundreds, of my early memories are linked to this Chopin ballade” moments.
I should first explain that I spent large swathes of my childhood in the central branch of the Greater Victoria Public Library due to a convenient intersection of natural dorkiness and the fact that I had hours upon hours available for independent learning due to my parents’ decision to homeschool me.
As might be expected, given the second-home status it assumed in my life and the fact that it’s full of, you know, books, the GVPL(CB) facilitated some of my most formative educational experiences. It was there that I was widely, and frequently, exposed to the most magical of all building blocks, the written word, and over the years, in accordance with my developing tastes, I devoured an idiosyncratic range of the library’s offerings, from most of the Berenstain Bears’ adventures, to issues of Reader’s Digest, to Faulkner. It’s hard not to become giddy with nostalgia just reminiscing about some of my GVPL-centred fixations. At a certain point, for example, I became obsessed with a series called Culture Shock!, meant for people relocating to foreign countries, and eagerly read about the customs and daily life of nations from Mexico to Germany to Mongolia (man, I loved those books). I methodically worked my way through entire shelves of subjects that interested me at any given time—World War II, first aid, paper maché techniques, marmots, etc. The language section aided my intensive sign-language-learning phase, which ended when my mother snapped at me one evening with an annoyed “just use your voice.” In her defence (thank me later, Mom), I can see how a child’s self-imposed sign-language immersion program in a home populated by non-ASL speakers would become tiresome/horribly obnoxious. I never signed again. (Just kidding: I still periodically break out the signs for “lobster” and “pickle.”) Later, I began reading issues of The Victoria Daily Times, mostly from the 1930s (foreshadowing my work on 1930s Italy? A stretch, I know), on microfilm, taking careful notes and photocopying pages that I found especially interesting. Yeah, I was a weird kid.
So, back to what I claimed was the topic at hand.
To signal that it was about to close, the library had—probably still has—a genius strategy: following a mundane announcement, it piped Chopin’s Ballade No. 3, Opus 47 in A-flat through the stacks and in the common areas. The ballade is impossible to ignore, even for the most determined to avoid returning to the reality of non-GVPL life, as child-me most certainly was. “It’s time, readers,” said the ghost of Chopin with increasing urgency as the ballade progressed: “Bring your books to the check-out desk and go home.”
Ten seconds of Chopin on an unseasonably chilly Toronto afternoon was all it took to transport me across the country to my girlhood happy place. Thanks, GVPL.