Monday, September 4, 2006

9.4.06: Labor Day Weekend in New York

The sun sweeps away the clouds on Labor Day. 10:45 AM. Photo: JH.
9.4.06: Labor Day Weekend in New York was ushered in by Ernesto the hurricane who almost couldn’t ... but did. By the time the rain and the winds hit the shores of Manhattan, it was rather tame, hardly ferocious although decisive enough to keep some would-be travelers in town for the weekend. Cab drivers liked it because it meant business. Weekenders hated it because it meant ... well, wet. This writer liked it because he likes rainy days.

On Friday afternoon I went to my twenty-two minute session at Inform Fitness, from which I emerged with jelly-like legs and near exhaustion. I felt like going home and taking a nap but instead I went over to Nina Griscom’s shop on 70th and Lexington to take some pictures of her new merchandise only to learn that she was closed for the weekend.

Click cover to order.
So I went across the street to a sandwich shop (southwest corner of 70th and Lex) whose name I cannot remember but which is very very popular, where I purchased a smoked salmon and cream cheese on black bread sandwich (delicious), a large cappuccino and a large brownie. I ate the entire sandwich and half the brownie (eyes bigger than my stomach) and drank the whole cappuccino.

Then, with the storm clouds hovering but still no rain in sight, I decided to hit Bookberries, a bookstore on the southeast corner of 71st and Lex. I am not a shopper in the sense that I don’t look for gratification by purchasing “things” but I decided on this day, and with the mood I was in (half-melancholy/half-physically exhausted) to Go For It.

I love books, as I’ve written here many times before. I love them in a covetous way. I love the jackets, the bindings, the paper, the print, and of course the promise of the contents. So I consciously decided to splurge and buy whatever took my eye. This is quite an extravagance, for me anyway.

Click cover to order.
I soon found and bought: Literary Paris: A Guide, by Jessica Powell with a black-and-white cover photograph of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald and their daughter Scotty walking through a park in what looks like the end of wintertime around 1925. Photos of Scott and Zelda are always provocative to this romantic.

Inside are delicious anecdotes beginning with Moliere and Voltaire, the Marquis de Sade, Balzac, Victor Hugo right up through Colette, Gertrude Stein, Henry Miller, Hemingway, Camus, James Baldwin and many many more. Stories about writers in Paris transport me. Then: I bought a very thin and beautifully covered book called The London Scene: Six Essays on London Life by Virginia Woolf with introduction by Francine Prose. The jacket by High Design NYC with art by Mary Adshead, Entrance to Hyde Park 1930 was enough to make me want the book. The six essays are: The Docks of London, Oxford Street Tide, Great Men’s Houses, Abbeys and Cathedrals, This is the House of Commons,and Portrait of a Londoner.

Click cover to order.
Then I picked up The Young Apollo and Other Stories by Louis Auchincloss with the cover of a young Victorian looking New York man that is reminiscent of a John Singer Sargent portrait although it’s actually “The Portrait of John Severinus Conway” painted by Robert William Vonnoh in 1883. It too is a small, thin volume and the jacket evoked enough curiosity for me to wonder what Mr. Auchincloss would tell us about the imaginary character). Just inside the cover are two pages of the astounding list of Mr. Auchincloss’ output. Astounding is the only word, considering the quality and allure of Mr. Auchincloss’ work. The young Apollo in this story had a short life and died at 31, leaving behind a memory of curiosity, the likes of which engages us about many people we know but don’t really know.

I have been reading Mr. Auchincloss since (I think) The Rector of Justin, a novel inspired by the life of Endicott Peabody who founded the Groton School in 1884 and whose descendents include the late Marietta Tree, as well as her brothers former Massachusetts governor Endicott Peabody and Sam Peabody living here in Manhattan as well as his daughter Elizabeth Peabody.

Click cover to order.
Click cover to order.
The author, Mr. Auchincloss, is a not-unfamiliar figure to us denizens of the Upper East Side who can occasionally spot him in restaurants such as Swifty’s and at the Society Library. He is, for me, one of the few figures of prominence and celebrity (kind of a limp word for such an industrious and prolific man of accomplishment) of whom I remain in constant awe.

More books by their covers in this compulsive binge. I love coffee table books probably the way collectors love art. I bought Bricks and Brownstone: the New York Townhouse 1783-1929 by Charles Lockwood. The history; excellent filling-in with cumulative history of New York for this reader with surprises about this world we think we know so well and whence it came.

And: Building New York: The Rise and Rise of the Greatest City on Earth, by Bruce Marshall with Introduction by Christopher Gray, the man who writes the constantly fascinating pieces on real estate history every Sunday in the New York Times. The chapter on the bridges beginning with the Brooklyn Bridge is enough to satisfy any cave dweller but there’s much much more to remind us that we’re living in a place like nowhere else, with citizens who’ve been astonishing and amazing us with their inventiveness and ingenuity for not only decades but centuries.

It took me a lot less time to pick out these books than it has to record the purchases in this column. Within twenty minutes or so, I was paying (with plastic), and feeling the way one feels after having an excellent lunch (or dinner), except for the going home part which may be comparable to having the most excellent companion to accompany you home. Or maybe the best dessert you’ve had in ages. One that you know will last you even longer than the long weekend that was bequeathed to us more than a century ago by the industry, blood, sweat, heart and soul of our forebears.

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