Friday, February 22, 2008

Notes from New York

It has long been my belief that the best way to get a piece of writing done is to go someplace where writing is the only option. Because of this, I am using a portion of my weekend in New York to come to the main branch of the New York Public Library, one of my favorite institutions in the world, to finish off a chapter of my book. I started coming here regularly when I was in graduate school at Potemkin University. One day in the reading room back in the 1980's, prior to the invention of laptop computers and a set of rules imposed by the Giuliani administration to prevent vagrants from coming to the library in the winter to thaw out, my friend Barbara pointed out a number of people sitting at one of the long tables and said: "Just try to guess which are the historians and which are the homeless." And indeed, each person at the table was wrapped in odd layers of grimy clothing and shuffling index cards and scraps of paper around. Upon closer inspection, some were scholars and others were -- well, just shuffling scraps of paper, trying to find a pattern.

It is snowing today, and rivers of gray slush are coursing down Fifth Avenue. Waiting outside the Metropolitan Museum (where I had stopped off to see the Jasper Johns Gray exhibit), I realized I have lost a lot of my New York skills since we sold the Lower East Side apartment almost two years ago. Focused on nothing in particular, I saw a huge tour bus filled with people from Scarsdale or Roslyn or wherever bearing down on me, and I had one of those slow motion thoughts that failed to fully form before, to my horror, the giant left wheels kicked up a tidal wave of grimy ice water that heaved toward me. I did have time to both turn and take one giant step backward, but got nailed below the knees all the same.

I do recommend the Johns exhibit if you are in or around New York any time soon: it's up until May 5. A little aimless wandering in the museum (which I honestly don't think I have visited since all my artist friends died of AIDS twenty years ago) also caused me to turn the corner and suddenly come up in front of Picasso's portrait of Gertrude Stein in her thirties, of which I had only seen reproductions until this moment.

OK. Now off to work. Lucky for my book-finishing ambitions, there are no electrical plugs in the Periodicals Room (where they have free WiFi) and there is no WiFi in the Reading Room (where they do have electrical plugs.)


Susan said...

oooh, lucky you TR. I did my first ever real research in the NY Public when I was 16, and I fell in love with both the institution and research. Reading crumbling 19th century pamphlets -- total bliss. (And my then crush was also doing research in the NY Public on Saturdays, so it was special bliss : ) Needless to say, I have continued to love research, but not the crush.

gwoertendyke said...

ok, i'm SO jealous, of being there AND using the fabulous library.

Paris said...

When did the vagrants get kicked out? They were alive and well in 2001 when I worked in NYPL regularly and I believe that was the end of Guliani's reign.

I was actually witness to an encounter where a grimy scholar of some persuasion tried to get some (presumably) homeless kids thrown out of the reading room and all he achieved was getting his bearded ass evicted. Priceless.

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