It still feels strange to take a look at our friendship over the last year.
Leaving my home country, starting to study at university. Learning about exams, courses, the university infrastructure, new people, new friends. And then being assigned to be “friends with an old book”. Every friendship is established on a voluntary basis, it is “a relationship of mutual affection between people” [Oxford Dictionary]. But in this relationship, we were assigned to our friends: no voluntariness, no mutual affection – a book is utterly objective – and no people. So was this friendship going to develop at all?
Then we met. On a long list. We were number 127 out of 235. I was suprised: Just a few months before I had been to Rome with a group of students. First time ever. We had all prepared presentations on different buildings and monuments all over the city. 53 in total, from the Forum Romanum to fascist razionalismo.
As in many friendships, I underestimated the importance of coincidence and chance. I was now friends with a book that had recorded all the detailed facades from the Renaissance palazzi I had strolled by and admired a year before: “Palazzi di roma de piu celebri architetti”. I scrolled through the pages of drawings; the book presented iteself to me as a collection of facades, including every single palazzo I had seen in Rome. All drawn in a simple, but exact manner, including details, roof tiles, small ornaments and even variations in recurring elements.
Finally we were assigned to visit ETHs “Abteilung alte und seltene Drucke”, a place with the single purpose of collecting and preserving knowledge aquired over the past centuries. 65’000 volumes of encyclopaedic information on arts, culture, history and sciences. I had called in advance and was waiting in front of a pre-arranged styrofoam book support to meet my new friend. Then I was finally presented with the book. I opened the huge cover – still suspicious if I considered it right for hundreds of bachelor students to touch those ancient pages – but I took a closer look without having to worry about digital resolution quality. We were getting along quite well from then on.
We received new tasks that took me away from the content and made me look at the book from a more analytical perspective. I felt like I was losing him. When I tried the OCR, it didn’t work at all. So I decided to just copy it by hand. I had inspected the images as well as the important informations. But now I read and wrote them out word by word. After a few pages I started to recognise the Italian words. I learned about the context of the palaces, the people who gave the orders, the neighbourhoods, the origins, interests and portfolios of the architects.
After all that, it was a very warm friendship not just for the book, but for the project as a whole. I was astounded to see the maps you created with mathematica and the things that derived from digitalizing a medium that originally lives of its analogue communication. That was the second key part in our friendship: Seeing how the hundreds of paragraphs we wrote were transformed into futuristic maps of color that could detect keywords, characters and even form groups.
Seeing how two contrary worlds didn’t collide, but even communicated.