Colum McCann was talking about his new book “Transatlantic” today in Bryant Park Reading Room. I like Colum McCann since I met him years ago at a Literary Festival in Brattleboro, Vermont. Like his Irish voice, the way he talks and about what. So of course I went there. And discovered something that is really great: Bryant Park Reading Room. A room in a park? Well, it is not really a room. It is just a space in the park where people can sit and read and even borrow books, newspapers and magazines. Like an open air library – right behind the big library. There is as well a little stage where at lunchtime and in the evening readings and discussions are held. It is a great atmosphere. You sit there in a park surrounded by Midtown buildings, next to the library, among people who share your interest and close to the person reading or talking, as the Reading Room is small. Why didn’t I come here earlier?
After the talk I felt like I needed a visit to the Strand. To check if Colum McCann’s book or the one his interviewer and former student Jessica Soffer had just published, “Tomorrow there will be apricots” might be available in the review section downstairs, where review copies of current books are sold half-price. Regrettably the review section isn’t anymore what it has been years ago, when I first came to the Strand. It has shrunk to just three shelves. None of the books I was looking for was there. Upstairs I found McCann’s “Let the Great World Spin” however and a stack of cheaper New York Trilogies. Not the bestseller edition. So I had to buy two new books.
On my way to the Strand I was distracted by the Greenmarket on Union Square. It’s Wednesday. At one stand I found avocado squash – squash in the size and shape of an avocado – and bunches of sweet potato leaves, suggested to sauté with garlic. Interesting, must try both – but not today.
The afternoon took me on a literary walk to the East Village, at least part of it. I cut off the northern part of the walk, because in the evening I was expected in Bluestockings Bookstore on the Lower East Side, where Gloria and other poets were reading poems about the Palestine/Israel conflict. I came across the fancy Cooper Union Building, the Merchant’s House, that can be visited, but not on Wednesdays, McSorley’s old Ale House, New York’s second oldest Pub, The Nuyorican Poets Café, having been a center of the literary scene for long, some of the meanwhile famous neighborhood gardens and places where Norman Mailer, James F. Cooper and Allan Ginsberg had lived.
Instead of turning north on Avenue C I walked over to the East River. East River Park beyond the FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt) Drive offers views to Williamsburg Bridge and the north Brooklyn waterfront. From here you can see how industrial Brooklyn still is. The park offers ballfields where kids can play Baseball or Rugby. There are plenty of benches, soe grouped around tables along the waterside. But very few people using them. Maybe it was not prime park time at 5pm.
Bluestockings is a revolutionary and activist bookstore. The right place for people like Gloria. I met her friends Charlotte, who lives on the Upper West Side, is very much interested in arts, is drawing and has been teaching in Spanish Harlem and Bill, who lives in the East Village and is a janitor at the Metropolitan Museum. Charlotte asked me lots of questions and urged me not to miss the famous museums while I am here. After the reading we walked through the East Village to the Strand together. Not that I needed more books, they wanted to go there –and I did not follow them in.
The East Village is very lively at night. People sit in restaurants, cafés and bar or walk and talk on the streets. On 1st Avenue and 5th Street Gloria sidestepped into a spice shop. Fantastic place! They sell spices, oils, soaps, all sorts of rice and grains, roots and herbs. A superb oriental smell hung in the air. I found a sort of rice blended with red lentils and tiny yellow beans and was very tempted to buy it. Just looked so good! But I stayed reasonable and just bought a bag of dried papayas, the good ones without sugar. But I will come back for sure – when I prepare to send my big parcel home.
What I learned today:
American Liberals (yes they exist) complain about missing reactions to the spying scandal in their country. They were not surprised when I told them that in my country people are pretty upset.