of ports and books, and images of escape

Although contemporary ports are a rational economic affair – the imagination is fortunately slow to adapt. Who would not project onto ports, a promise, if not of happiness, then at least of travel & escape? 

My actual naval experience is limited to a train tour (25 years ago on a cheap youth eurorail ticket) of Europe’s port cities. Maritime romance was, alas, in short supply everywhere, but among the visited cities, Hamburg, even though bustling with commerce & industry, did appeal most to the imagination. 

I now read (1) how the busy commercial people of Hamburg came rather late (& reluctantly) to culture & artistic education. And if they did,  it was partly thanks to the  "Kulturwissenschaftliche Bibliothek Warburg"  : this wonderful joint venture of the entrepreneurial & dazzlingly wealthy Warburg banker brothers and the eldest, melancholy & nerve wracked,  non-banker brother, Aby Warburg. 

In 1933 the library escaped from the Nazis by boat, via the port of Hamburg.

“He came back from Italy with four thousand books. Seven years later, in 1911, he has fifteen thousand books. 
In 1933, more than sixty thousand books will leave Hamburg for England, aboard of two steamships."

The kind of sentence to keep alive the immemorial lure of ships on the horizon.  


  1.     « Aby Warburg ou la tentation du regard », by Marie-Anne Lescourret
  2.  The link of the text with the photos is admittedly tenuous – one is a picture of the river Scheldt taken from the MAS building in Antwerpen, and the other is a photo (detail) from a Netherlandish painting, taken in Suermondt museum in Aachen.  In fact, there only is some  subjective contemporaneousness, in terms of reading & photographing – both camera & Warburg book accompanied me on my year-end escapist trips.

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