New York Trip: Libraries

A good book is the best of friends, the same today and forever.   

From the time I was a young child, libraries have been an important part of my life. In North Vassalboro, where I grew up, there was a tiny library made from a converted cottage that had been hauled by horses across an icy China Lake. My family regularly went to this library. Once a week, we also went to the Waterville Public Library, a bigger library with a much larger and more enticing selection of books. So I guess you could say we were fools for libraries, and this perhaps explains why I so enjoy seeing other libraries when I travel.

On my recent trip to New York City, Dee and I visited two libraries in the New York Public Library system—“the iconic Stephen A. Schwarzman Building,” and the much smaller Hudson Park Library. The contrast between these two libraries couldn’t be greater, but both have their appeal and place.

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A temple for books

The Schwarzman Building—the one with the lions—is nothing less than a temple devoted to books and words and learning. There are pillars and marble and frescos and chandeliers and statues, and as I tiptoed through the hallowed halls, I looked up, down, and around until my neck began to hurt. I’m sure my mouth was agape as I took in the splendors of this magnificent library. I felt like a country bumpkin in the big city. Is there a more splendid library in this country? I can’t imagine it, but I would certainly be interested in finding out if there is one.

Laurie by the lion
Laurie and the lion

At the Schwarzman Building, we saw two exhibits: Over Here: WWI and the Fight for the American Mind and Sublime: The Prints of J. M. W. Turner and Thomas Moran.  Over Here illustrated how posters, songs, books, and even movies, a new technology at the time, were used as propaganda to encourage the American public to support WWI. And apparently the public did need to be persuaded. On one side was the progressive activist Jane Addams, who maintained that war “affords no solution for vexed international problems.” On the other side was Theodore Roosevelt, who decried “flabby pacifism” and urged America to join the fight. We know who won that argument.

From a historic point of view, Sublime was interesting, but there is no way around it—the prints lacked snap. Both Turner and Moran had a vision of nature that hardly resembles nature at all. With only a few exceptions, the prints were stiff and lifeless yet over the top at the same time. A difficult combination to achieve, but somehow they managed. I’m not sorry I saw the exhibit—Turner’s vivid paintings are completely different from his prints, and I was fascinated by the contrast. Before this exhibit, I had never heard of Thomas Moran, and it is always good to learn about an artist, even if his work doesn’t exactly speak to you.

The next day we visited the Hudson Park Library, to see paintings by Elliot Gilbert. Where the Schwarzman Building is grand and imposing, the Hudson Park Library is small and humble. The Hudson Park Library is tucked on a tree-lined street in Greenwich Village. The reading room was small but filled with various people reading and using the computers. It felt cozy and homey and well loved, a community center for Greenwich Village, and while I admired the grander Schwarzman Building, I felt at home in the Hudson Park Library. In fact, given enough money, I could even see myself living in one of those brick homes next to the library, where I would be close to shops and good Chinese restaurants and cinemas that play foreign film such as the terrific Diplomacy, which Dee and I saw after going to the library.

Unfortunately, Gilbert’s paintings were shown in a little room where people where studying and reading, and we weren’t able to get a good look at the paintings. But that’s all right. It was still fun visiting the library and walking through Greenwich village, which is much more relaxed than other parts of New York City.

The little Hudson Park Library
The little Hudson Park Library

A final note: The quotation at the beginning of this piece appropriately comes from a fortune cookie I had the first night in New York. What a fun way to start a trip that was centered on libraries!

 

 

New York Trip: Food

IMG_6901Now, I would go visit Dee wherever she lived, even if it were in a place where chain restaurants reigned supreme, and the Olive Garden was the height of culinary attractions. (Actually, that description could apply to central Maine.) But Dee lives in New York City, where terrific food can be found on nearly every corner. Some restaurants are very expensive, but there are also restaurants that offer great deals, and every time I go visit Dee, we find good places to eat at a reasonable price.

This time when I went to visit Dee, I was on a Chinese food kick, and I have just cause. In short, Maine is a Chinese food wasteland. The state has many, many Chinese restaurants, but the ones I have been to can’t even be called fair, and some of them are outright terrible. (If anyone reading this knows of a good Chinese restaurant within driving distance of Augusta, then please, please let me know.) Chinese food, along with Italian food, is one of my absolute favorites, so it is especially discouraging that I haven’t found any decent ones in Maine.

As it happens, less than a block from Dee’s apartment is a little Chinese take-out, and it has been our tradition to get food there on the night I arrive. This time was no different, and we ordered steamed vegetable dumplings and mixed vegetables with bean curd, otherwise known as tofu. For the two of us, the meal came to $16, and that included drinks. The dumplings were moist and tasty, the vegetables were crisp, and the sauce was good. Can it get any better for that price?

It seemed that it could. Two days later, on our way to the Hudson Park Library, in Greenwich Village, we passed a little Chinese Restaurant—Grand Sichuan—and I saw a Zagat endorsement sticker on the door.

“If there’s time  before our movie, maybe we can come here after we see the exhibit at the library,” I said, even though we had already eaten Chinese food twice in two days.

“You’re just going crazy with the Chinese food,” Dee said.

I agreed and reminded her of the Chinese wasteland I live in. Dee, who knows very well what the situation is with Maine Chinese food, couldn’t argue.

As it turned out, the exhibit at the Hudson Park library was very small, and there was plenty of time to have lunch before our movie started. We were seated by a window where the light was great should I want to take a picture of my food. And I most certainly did. I ordered vegetable lo mein, and it had the kind of sauce that I crave but never get in Maine, a rich brown—but not sweet or cloying—sauce with a slightly smoky taste. The vegetables were cooked to crunchy perfection. The meal came with an appetizer, and we both ordered vegetarian egg rolls, which were all right but certainly not outstanding. Never mind. The lo mein was so good that the egg roll really didn’t matter. And the bill? A little over $13 for the two of us.

Lovely lo mein
Lovely lo mein

However, it wasn’t all Chinese food on this trip. The day before going to the Hudson Park Library, we did take a break from noodles, rice, and crunchy vegetables. After visiting the main branch of the New York Public Library, we went to Broadway Bites, “a seasonal culinary pop-up market in Greeley Square Park…” A friend of Dee’s had suggested we go there, and Dee knew it would be right up my alley. Indeed it was. Lots of little stalls selling different types of food? For me, it doesn’t get much better.

Everything we got was delicious. From the donuts made fresh on site

The birth of donuts
The birth of donuts

to the flaky, crunchy cheese sticks

Those cheese sticks!
Those cheese sticks!

to the hand-cut fries, cooked to order, with garlic and truffle oil.

Fries, fries, fries
Fries, fries, fries

What a way to spend the afternoon.

New York Trip: City Birds

Yesterday, I returned from my trip to New York City, where I visited Dee. As is always the case after I travel, I’m completely bushed—too little sleep, an ongoing issue for me even when I’m home, and too much stimulation. Therefore, in this post I’m not going to write much about New York, and I’m going to divide the trip in three sections—birds, food, and libraries.

City Birds

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Finally, here is a sign in Greeley Park, and it seems to me this is certainly a case of the pot calling the kettle black. After all, who is the most invasive species of all? Not pigeons, that’s for sure.

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Getting Ready for the New York Trip

IMG_6881I am busy, busy getting ready for my trip to New York. Things not to forget:  train tickets, umbrella, camera, notebook and pen, books for the trip, Dee’s birthday present, and perhaps the most important of all—chocolate chip cookies, which will travel in a tin layered between the clothes in my suitcase.

Dee is a cookie monster, and she has said, more than once, that chocolate chip cookies are my speciality. Well, everyone needs a speciality.

Last year for her birthday, I brought her homemade spiced pecans.  She was happy enough to get them, but I could tell she was disappointed that I didn’t bring chocolate chip cookies.

This year, no such mistake will be made.

On a more serious note…Ebola has reared its ugly head in New York City. A doctor who worked with Ebola patients in West Africa has contracted the disease and is being treated in a New York hospital. As someone whose middle name should be “worry,” I wouldn’t be telling the truth if I didn’t admit that Ebola is on my mind. However, it won’t stop me from visiting my daughter. In Texas, none of Thomas Duncan’s friends and  relatives caught it, and they were in very close contact with him. I figure my chances of getting Ebola are very small indeed.

Onward to New York City!

 

 

 

A Very Library Trip to the Big Apple

On Saturday, I’ll be going to New York City to visit Dee. Just visiting with her is reason enough to go, but there are so many wonderful things to do in New York City, and some of them are even free or don’t cost much at all.

One prime example is the New York Public Library, which has “88 neighborhood branches and four scholarly research centers.” (Surprise, surprise that I would think of visiting a library.) At the Schwarzman building—often considered the main branch, with those famous lions guarding the entrance—there are two exhibitions that I’m interested in.

The first is Over Here: WWI and the Fight for the American Mind. This description from the New York Public Library’s website explains it best: “Drawing from collections across The New York Public Library, Over Here: WWI and the Fight for the American Mind explores the manner in which public relations, propaganda, and mass media in its many forms were used to shape and control public opinion about the war while also noting social and political issues that continue to resonate, such as freedom of speech and the press, xenophobia, and domestic espionage. “

I must admit I don’t know much about World War I. For me, World War II, Hitler, the death camps, and the atomic bomb overshadow that earlier war, and it will be interesting to see how the mass media functioned as a propaganda device in the early 1900s. (I certainly will never forget how the media—even the excellent New York Times—backed Bush and the war in Iraq.)

The second exhibit—Sublime: The Prints of J. M. W. Turner and Thomas Moran—will be a little lighter. As with World War I, I don’t know that much about Turner except that he was a British painter in the 1800s and painted in an impressionistic style before Monet and Renoir made it popular. (I also know that Timothy Spall will be portraying him in the upcoming Mike Leigh bio-pic.) I know absolutely nothing about Thomas Moran. According to the blurb on the library’s website, Moran was an American painter who was greatly influenced by Turner’s work.

After seeing both this exhibits, I should know much more about WWI and the works of Turner and Moran than I do now. And as far as I’m concerned, it’s always good to learn new things.

At the Hudson Park Library, there is an exhibition called Here and There: An Exhibit of Paintings by Elliot Gilbert. So as not to ruin my perfect record of ignorance as expressed in this post, I also have to confess that I am completely unacquainted with the works of Gilbert, who is a landscape artist and an illustrator of children’s books.

Dee and I will also tuck in a movie or two and get Chinese food from a place just down the street from her apartment. We’ve talked about getting donuts from the fabulous Doughnut Plant. (I can taste a donut right now.) And perhaps slide in a trip to the Strand bookstore. Then there are cannolis from that Italian shop not far from where Dee lives.

Always so much to do and see and eat in New York City.

Apple Crisp, Tea, A Visit from the Kids, and Book Talk

Yesterday, Shannon and Mike, along with their dogs Holly and Samara came over for a visit. The apartment above them was being sprayed for flea eradication, and they wanted to be away for the worst of it.

How nice it was to have a midweek visit from Shannon and Mike. They helped me move some heavy pots off the steps, and we stayed in the backyard until the damp and the rain drove us inside.

I made apple crisp for our tea, and as we sat around the dining room table on a gray day, we all decided that this was a pretty fine way to spend the afternoon. Whenever we get together, there is always movie talk and book talk. Recently, on Public Radio, I had heard a discussion about books, where The Great Gatsby was pronounced “overrated” as well as “vapid,” and Jane Austen was dismissed as delightful but not difficult. One of the guests, who shall remain unnamed, questioned whether Jane Austen was even great. Jane Austen was, perhaps, too entertaining.

I am a huge fan of both The Great Gatsby and Jane Austen, and I told Mike and Shannon that by the time the show was over, I was ready to put sticks in my ears. What was so disappointing about this show was how glib and dismissive the comments were. Certainly, with any book—no matter how beloved—there is a place for thoughtful, intelligent criticism, but the comments I heard indicated that the guests, as well as the show’s host, had just skimmed over the books and had missed the essential elements that do in fact make these books great.

Mike, Shannon, and I spent a fair amount of time discussing the show and the books. Mike commented on how it didn’t matter if Daisy and Gatsby were vapid, and that might even be the point. I spoke of how the role of money, crushing capitalism, and inequality are themes that thrum through the book. What could be more relevant today?

Essayist and critic Maureen Corrigan, who has just written a book about The Great Gatsby-So We Read On: How the Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why it Endures—perhaps comes closest to getting to the essence of this admittedly offbeat novel. In an interview, Corrigan notes, “It’s not character driven nor especially plot driven; rather, it’s that oddest of literary animals—a voice-driven novel.” That voice being Nick Carraway, the narrator. Corrigan also notes: “Gatsby celebrates the doomed beauty of trying in ordinary American language made unearthly by Fitzgerald’s great poetic gifts.”

Then Shannon, Mike, and I moved on to Jane Austen. Shannon observed that all too often, Jane Austen’s novels are considered light reading. “It’s not fair at all,” Shannon said. “There’s a lot going on, a lot of shrewd, social commentary and a lot about the relationships between husbands and wives, children and parents, siblings, and friends.” Class, of course, is a huge concern in all of Austen’s novel, and “It’s not like we don’t have class issues today,” Shannon went on to say. We certainly do.

I suggested that Jane Austen was in the vanguard of the modern novel and that she led the way for those who came after her—the Brontës, George Elliot, and Thomas Hardy, to name a few. Who comes before Jane Austen? Henry Fielding, Laurence Sterne, and Jonathan Swift, all brilliant in their own, often strange ways, but none of them were such keen observers of human nature, of families and society, as Jane Austen was.

Is it fair to say that Jane Austen was the godmother of the modern novel? I think it might be. Merely entertaining indeed!

Leaves, Leaves, Leaves

IMG_6871The leaves have come tumbling down, and it’s time to make a serious effort to clean them up. Yesterday, I raked/brushed some of the driveway, and I felt as though I were in a lake of leaves. However, the trees by the driveway are pretty bare, and I think my Sisyphean task of keeping the driveway clear seems to be coming to an end.

There are also gardens to clip down, garden ornaments to bring in, and the bird bath to clean and store down cellar. Clif has been hauling wood, and on both Saturday and Sunday, we worked on our various projects.

Now, I never thought I would be writing this, but here goes: On Saturday, the weather was so warm and muggy—in the 70s—that it actually made me feel lethargic and a little off. I like warm weather very much, but by mid-October there is supposed to be a chill in the air, and to have it be so warm felt just plain weird. In fact, as I noted in a previous post, October so far has been freakishly warm, and a strong emphasis must placed on freakish. But perhaps this warm weather in autumn isn’t freakish at all. Perhaps it’s the new normal. We’ve had this weather pattern for several years in a row, and while it is never good to jump to conclusions, this does seem to be a trend.

But on Saturday night a strong rain came, driving away the warm weather, and Sunday was as crisp and fine and blowy as an October day in Maine should be. Swish, swish, swish went the rake and broom. Thump went the wood as Clif loaded into the cart. After we were finished, we came in for our tea, and it was cozy to take our tea in the snug living room after a chilly time spent outside.

After tea, I made a chicken galette with leftover chicken, potatoes, carrots, and broth from a previous meal. There is enough of the mixture left to make chicken pot pies when Mike and Shannon come over on Tuesday.

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Today is as chilly as it was yesterday.  I’ll be doing more chores outside, and I hope the weather continues to be seasonably crisp.

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