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Posts from October 2006

The Soul of the Morgan Library


Belle da Costa Greene (1879-1950), circa 1913 by Paul-César Helleu (Black, red, and white chalk; postcard from the The Morgan Library)

This is Belle da Costa Greene. She became J.P. Morgan’s librarian in 1905 and for the next 43 years she spent millions of dollars buying rare manuscripts, books, and art. Her aim was to make Morgan’s library “pre-eminent, especially for incunabula, manuscripts, bindings and the classics.” She traveled frequently, staying at the best hotels in Europe and collecting autographed manuscripts, rare books, old master drawings, and medieval and Renaissance manuscripts. (I have a degree in Library and Information Science and this is a job I’d like to have!)

We loved discovering the hidden treasures of The Morgan Library & Museum at Madison Ave. and 36th  St. in New York where “every object is a treasure.” We saw original manuscripts by Mozart, drawings by great masters, illuminated texts, an envelope that Galileo had used to sketch Jupiter’s moons, and even the Martin guitars that belonged to Bob Dylan and Woodie Guthrie (in a special exhibit). A recent addition integrates Morgan’s three historical buildings into a steel-and-glass pavilion that feels like an Italian piazza.

From all accounts Belle was beautiful, smart, charming. She said, “Just because I am a librarian, doesn’t mean I have to dress like one,” so she wore couture gowns and jewels to work. See a photo of Belle after the jump.

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Cosmopolitan Manhattan Champagne


Drinks on the Terrace / Library Hotel, New York City / Oct. 2006

After a wonderful visit to The Morgan Library & Museum (more about that later) we walked north and discovered the Library Hotel, a landmark 1900 brick and terra cotta building located just a block from the New York Public Library, where we had drinks in the intimate setting of the Writer's Den on the 14th floor. We sat "outside" on the terrace (now enclosed in glass) and watched the lights come on in the neighboring buildings and the clouds blow by as the sky darkened.

Each of the ten floors in the hotel is dedicated to one of the ten major categories of the Dewey Decimal System (Social Sciences, Languages, Technology, Literature, etc.). Then each room has a collection of art and books relevant to one topic within the category for that floor. "I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of Library." - Jorge Luis Borges (Poema de los Dones)

Disavow Inauthentic Simplicity


Late Fall Afternoon Sun / Charlottesville, VA / October 2005

One of my favorite sections of the paper is House & Home in the Thursday New York Times. This past week they did a story on Dan Ho who has written a book called Rescue From Domestic Perfection. I love his philosophy. He has "downsized" his life from a 1,200 square foot house to a rented apartment in Greenwich Village that is one-quarter that size and his message is basically that we don't need all the stuff that we're told we do. "At the core of his philosophy is the belief that our relentless attention to renovation and reorganizing, to building and rebuilding, distracts us from the more demanding work of becoming better partners, caretakers and friends. Style in Mr. Ho's view, is unstudied, capricious." (NYTimes, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2006, p. F1)

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The Essence is in the Space


Tile Roof in Opatija, Croatia / May 2005

Thirty spokes meet in the hub,
But the empty space between them
is the essence of the wheel.

Pots are formed from clay,
But the empty space within it
is the essence of the pot.

Walls with windows and doors form the house,
But the empty space within it
is the essence of the home.

-Lao Tse

Outside a Connection to the Unknown


Plates on the "buffet" waiting to be filled with cheese, crackers, pineapple, pears, pepperoni bread, and Mom's stuffed mushrooms, spinach balls, and relish cheese / October 2006

This past Friday night was cool and crisp. The temperature had dropped about 30 degrees from the day before. The girls came over for wine and cheese and fruit and talk and then we strolled uptown to the Art Walk where we browsed in the shops and saw some wonderful artists like the ceramics of Jenny Davies-Reazor (she makes beautiful, unique tiles and ceramic shrines). We all enjoyed the walk and being out in the fresh air. It reminded me of why Halloween used to be my favorite celebration. Not because of costumes or candy, but because we went walking around at night by ourselves. Outside it smelled like fall, the leaves crunched underfoot and blew around as we walked the streets, and on that night there seemed to be something extraordinary in the air -- a connection to the unknown and the mysterious.

Brandy with Honey


Tarsa / Rijeka, Croatia; May 2005

After visiting Trsat we ate a late lunch at the Konoba Tarsa in Rijeka with Ervin's family. Brandy with honey served in small ceramic mugs to start. Carafes of red and white wine. Ceramic pitchers of water.

A "konoba" is a type of restaurant found along the Croatian coast serving simple and traditional food. At one time fishermen would take their catch to the konoba and have someone else cook it for them.

Konoba Tarsa is located at Josipa Kulfaneka 10 in the Trsat section of Rijeka.

The Smoke that Cheers?


When you have an old house you never know what will pop out of it. This empty cigarette package was under the floorboards on the third floor. I googled the brand name and found four advertisements that sold on ebay:

  • In a 1913 advertisement from the March issue of Country Life in America magazine a package costs 15 cents. The tag lines are “The smoke that cheers” and “Distinctively Individual”. (See a copy after the jump.)
  • A 1949 ad with actor Basil Rathbone showed the same package design (“Now at length – quality in a long cigarette –Fatima! First Quality for 30 years. If you like a long cigarette, buy the best of long cigarettes. Buy Fatima . . . it’s MY cigarette.” signed Basil Rathbone)
  • A 1950 ad from the Saturday Evening Post shows the same package design. (“Sales reports show these sensational increases in smokers: NEW YORK DIVISION—UP 132%, CHICAGO DIVISION—UP 453%, LOS ANGELOS DIVISION—UP 545%.)
  • A 1952 Life magazine ad showed a different design for the package. And they’re now called “King size” cigarettes rather than “long”.

I guess my package is at least 55 years old. I've never been a smoker, but looking at these ads ("pure and wholesome" — if they only knew!) and the exotic packaging (even though they are from Richmond, VA) are enough to make me long for ". . . the little luxuries in life."

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