Padua – Part 3: The smell of old books

The next morning we joined the department head, the professor / politician – senza Carla, lecturing – to tour a new anatomic museum, with a state of the art hologram.

And a great set of obstetric and embryological models, wish I could show them all. Hell, wish I could have handled them, so amazing.

Along with anatomical oddities, like a mummified situs inversus:

And some teaching models for obstetrics, along with old tools that made me wince.

Even the erect penis gets a model:

And beautifully rendered if horrific models of eye diseases:

Wait, it gets better: We returned to the Anatomy Department at the University, down through the bowels of institutional staircases in these old halls, arriving at a couple of nondescript rooms in an unused corner and into – Heaven!

The Anatomical Library – The library of old medical manuscripts. I inhaled the aroma of old paper and leather, uunmistakeable and rich with history. With Anna, the curator of this treasure trove, we gently slipped the facing paper off pages of priceless old anatomical atlases. How did they achieve these fine prints, scratching on wood or copper and without four-colour printing? How did they get such clear dissections in the short time allotted before the bodies would melt unpleasantly in Italian heat?

Our progenitors, paving the way for our small refinements on their bold reach for knowledge.

Books bound together with ribbon, long since having lost their spines, books so large they reached your thigh and required two careful hands to open. The professore so clearly loved this collection – showing us this and then can’t wait to show us that, Look, look here – was still trying to scrape up the money and the interest in the strapped University’s budget to save this collection. “Save it?” I inquired sharply, “It should have its own hall; it’s your national honour.”

“Italy’s still in the process of forming a government,” he said in despair. I lifted an eyebrow, “Isn’t Italy always in the process of forming a government?” Laughter fills the library. I loved him for his love of books and hope he succeeds – how much knowledge has been lost to fire and the fire of ignorance?