>Saturday morning, as I sat in Catherine’s kitchen drinking coffee and watching the fog slowly lift to reveal the magnificent cathedral of St John’s the Divine, the phone rang. It was her friend Taradina, who I had the pleasure of meeting while in NYC on business last year, calling from Senegal.
Catherine told her that I was in New York to meet someone from Germany, along with some NY-area people, none whom I had ever met in real life.
Really? Sounds rather James Bondian she said with a giggle.
Well, I didn’t have to get any sort of combo driving-flying-boating spy vehicle to arrive at the rendez-vous point. There were no secret passwords or handshakes. I simply walked out the door and around the corner to the designated spot, The Hungarian Pastry Shop. I didn’t even have cool boots and an umbrella a la Diana Rigg. The Avengers was always more my thing than Bond. Not that anyone would ever mistake me for Diana Rigg — or a spy.
The Pastry Shop has more of a college vib than some sort of secret service haunt in a Rive Gauche cafe, a Monaco casino, or hookah bar in Marrakesh: cramped, crowded, oddly matched tables and walls covered with literate graffiti, flyers for happenings at nearby Columbia, ads for people selling dog-walking services or organizing one’s apartment, people busily scribbling in notebooks or typing on laptops, or just chatting with friends. As I walked in, I only glanced for a nanosecond at the delicious baked goods in the display case. To walk past this is an act of courage for most sweet-tooths. I immediately spotted a table at the back with 6 people looking expectantly at each person who walked in the door. I immediately recognized Emily from pictures on her blog and Hobgoblin because I remember him writing once that he wore his hair in a ponytail. Then I saw Charlotte, who has also posted pictures of herself on her blog. Immediately I was introduced to them and to Dorothy, Marcy, and Becky.
We each had some sort of delicious baked good — I had an apricot linzer torte & a cup of tea, perfect for a foggy, grey day — and commenced talking. Hobgoblin and Dorothy know Emily and Becky. Emily, Becky and Marcy know each other through professional contacts as well as their blogs. Charlotte and I were the ones who hadn’t met any of the others in real life. After a bite to eat, we were off to the Strand with its 18 miles of bookshelves. Charlotte wanted to see some of the city by walking, but the 7 miles to the Strand was a bit too far. We walked for a bit and then took taxis. I appreciated that everyone was understanding that I, feeble-footed as I still am from my accident last year, couldn’t walk very far.
The Strand is one of those overwhelming bookstores that any booklover can’t believe they’ve landed in. There are books on tables, books stacked on the floor, books on shelving up to the high ceilings — on 3 floors. It is one of those places where you don’t find books; they find you. My advice to anyone visiting the Strand – unless you have about a day & half to spend there — is that you have a plan for 2, maybe 3 sections, that you want to browse. I immediately hit upon a section of travel essays and picked up two books, a translation of Guy de Maupassant’s Afloat, and The Search for the Pink-Headed Duck: A Journey into the Himalayas and Down the Brahmaputra by Rory Nugent.
The de Maupassant book is described as a merging of
fact and fiction, dream, polemic and documentation in a wholly original manner. Humorous and troubling stories, unreliable confessions, stray reminiscences, and thoughts on life, love, art, nature and society….
The Pink-headed duck is about a journey through India, which appears to have much to do with India, and only a little to do with a bird that hadn’t been seen in a half century. How could I pass up either of them?
But my real find of the day was found on a remainders table between fiction, literary biography and poetry: a book reproducing William Blake’s illuminated poems, Songs of Innocence and Experience, with transcriptions and commentary on each of the individual plates. When I showed it to Catherine that evening, she said (as anyone on the business side of publishing might), This is expensive paper. I don’t know why they used it in the signatures that are just text, yet they were too cheap to use colored end papers. As a lover of books, of poetry, and of art, who first discovered Blake’s paintings as a young college student wandering through The Tate, I don’t care how unprofitable such a book might be; I just care that it is a marvelous book, beautiful to hold and to read. I even like the two brown ribbons, for page marking both the plate and the corresponding commentary, that match brown fabric on the spine of the book. It is lovely. Although heavy, I carried it aboard the plane today so that I wouldn’t chance the airlines loosing it.
After The Strand, we had a late lunch. If you read Dorothy’s blog today, you may have wondered about mimosas and mac ‘n cheese. They don’t really sound like they’d go together, but they mixed well with good conversation and an intermittent commentary on the 80’s music that was playing. It was fun spending time with the other bloggers. As Dorothy wrote today, it does feel a little strange to meet people in real life who you know only through their blogs. It is like you know them, but yet, you only know their on-line persona, one aspect of their lives. I wasn’t surprised by anyone though. I think that each is very similar to their online voice. I am glad that I had the opportunity to meet them. If you don’t know any of these bloggers, go to their blogs now and meet them online.
PS — I also discovered the real-life name of Dorothy & Hob’s pseudonymous dog, Muttboy. All I’ll say is that it is fitting, although I will always think of him as Muttboy.