Today I took a tour at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building – better known as the New York Public Library. The tour starts at 2 pm, so I could use the morning to do the laundry. I tried out the shortcut to Midtown, walked over Pulaski Bridge and took the 7 Train from Hunter’s Point.
I got off at Grand Central and as if was lunchtime I did what a lot of New Yorker’s did: go to the food concourse in the basement. Not only the famous Oyster Bar can be found there, but as well a food market where you can get everything from fresh fish to spices, and an area of food stalls of all kind: Indian, Thai, Chinese, Barbeque, Chillies, Soups, Sandwiches, Pizza. Just to mention a few. I decided on Thai and had a medium spicy Chicken Basil. You get it in a plastic container, the rice separately in a plastic cup, all in a classic brown bag. I found a table and watched people. Business people as well as local travelers were spending their lunch break down here, eating all the different stuff.
Having finished my chicken, which was pretty good, I stepped out onto 42nd street and walked towards 5th Avenue.
Here the huge complex stands, guarded by two lions.
I walked in and found myself in the impressive Astor Hall with its vaulted ceilings, all covered with marble. Vermont marble, as I learned later on.
I addressed the two friendly ladies behind the Visitor Information desk and asked for the tour. It was starting right here at 2 pm. Quite a big group got together. Our volunteer tour guide was Hilda, a woman in her seventies, I guess. She had short grey hair and had tiny, hardly visible hearing aids in both ears. Her face was very alert. She wore a pair of too big trousers, a T-shirt and a pretty dark striped blouse over it. Much too heavy clothes for a day like this and she was complaining about the heat. Her knowledge about the library building and the library system was amazing. We were taken to the Periodicals Room, decorated with murals from publishing nd newspaper headquarters buildings and to the wonderful Rose main Reading Room.
Every desk is equipped to connect a laptop, you can either borrow from the library or bring your own. Some places have fixed computers for public use. More than 600 people can sit and work here. There are no books in the reading room except reference books and catalogues, as Hilda explained. The books are stored in stacks on seven floors beneath the library building. 75 miles of books. 50 more beneath adjacent Bryant Park. That’s a little bit more than Strand Books’ 18 miles. Hilda explained the system very colorful. The reader fills in a so-called slip and gives it to the staff. The slip is sent own into the stacks, where people find the books and put them on a kind of belt that continuously connects the stacks to the reading room. This takes 20 to 30 minutes. She told us that recently she had a man in her tour who had worked in the stacks as a student in the 80s, for a Dollar per hour.
At the end of the tour Hilda pointed us to two current exhibitions in the Library, one about Federico Garcia Lorca in New York and another one about Childrens’ books, where you can find the original Winnie-the-Pooh animals and to the Library Shop. I visited the Library Shop, a real temptation for book lovers, and kept the exhibitions for another day. I will have to come back anyway to get a Library Card. It is policy of the Library that it is free and open to everybody. Not only to New York residents, not only to US citizens.
What to do next? I thought about checking out one of the rooftop bars, but it was too early for that. So I walked up Madison, bought a skirt (on sale), walked down 5th and got into rush hour. That’s when I absolutely dislike Midtown. Too many people, too many cars, no places where you can go to for a simple drink like a beer. So I caught a train on 6th Avenue and fled – to Williamsburg. There I found a bar on Bedford where a friendly waitress gave me a Brooklyn Lager and I took it to the back garden to chill out from my exhausting day.
What I learned today:
Don’t go to Midtown Manhattan save on purpose. And avoid the rush hours.