Frozen Hot Chocolate

I love being a tourist in my own town, and today, my friend Helen put up with my crazy insistence to go to Serendipity.  Here it is one of the coldest days of the year, and we have the frozen hot chocolate (not hot hot chocolate) at Serendipity.

Helen with frozen hot chocolate

Well, wouldn’t you?

This is a trademark of Serendipity’s, combining 18 different kinds of chocolate.  Kind of like a really fancy chocolate milk shake.

We chose the peanut butter frozen hot chocolate to go along with our veggie burgers (and fried parsnips).  Talk about combining the ridiculous with the sublime!


Serendipity interior 3

Serendipity is pretty high on the fun factor.  The ceiling has objects, like giant keys and regular sized chairs, and people, in the form of dummies, dangling overhead.  Very much reminded us of the Maurizio Cattelan exhibit at the Guggenheim, without the ghoulishness.

At the front door are tchochtke cases that are pretty good.  My house used to look like these cases, before the NYC austerity era.  So I get a special kick out of anyone who lets their inner tchochtke out.

Serendipity display case 1


Check out more images of this festive place in the slideshow below and when you feel like indulging, you’ll have to go for a sundae at Serendipity.  That was too much for Helen and me today, but who knows…someday…

Oh my!





Letters as Laboratory

The art librarians sure know how to tour.  Today, we got a curator-led, very witty tour of the Beatrix Potter Picture-Letters exhibition at the Morgan Library.  I loved Beatrix Potter when I was a child and (in storage) have the book that I read over and over again, Tales of Benjamin Bunny.  So if you love her as much as I do, then get over to the Morgan before the end of the month.

The picture-letters were the source of her books.  The curator said, “letters as laboratory.”  She wrote illustrated letters to the children in her life (she had no children, nieces or nephews).  Famously, she was writing a letter to the son of her governess.  She told him she couldn’t think what to write, so she made up a story for him in an 8 page letter, which, yes, is in the exhibit. Peter Rabbit was born.

You can read the letter and see her labeled drawings of Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Peter.  Much later, she borrowed the letter back, copied it, added some scenes, and Peter, the book version, was launched.

But no publisher would have it, and since Beatrix was wealthy, she self-published 200 copies in black and white (since the letters were in b/w) for friends and relatives–yes, one is in the exhibit.  It really caught on because she knew how to capture the essence of the actual animals and then put them in human situations–a charming combination.

The exhibit also has wonderful photographs, adult letters, a scrapbook, her nature drawings, and original paintings for the books.  Here are some of my favorite things:

– a photograph of Beatrix with a rabbit named Benjamin Bouncer on a thin, string leash

– the 1907 patent application for the toy of Jemima Puddle-Duck, which has ‘mug’ shots, as if for a criminal, labeled front, side, and back–hilarious

– a drawing of the Cinderella story she made for her fiance and publisher Norman Warne, in which the pumpkin carriage is pulled by rabbits; he died before they could marry, but she must have looked at him as her Prince Charming, who would take her away from an overly restrictive Victorian home

– the miniature letters she wrote to children from characters in the books.  For example, one letter was signed Your Friend, Peter Rabbit.  There also are a couple of 2″ high mailboxes.  Apparently, she gave the mailboxes to the children, then when she would visit the parents, she would drop a letter in the mailbox for the child.  Sweet!

The whole exhibit is too sweet for my words.  In a world that can be so sour all too often, give yourself a 30 minute inner child respite with Beatrix.  It’s juuuuust right.



Not By Bread Alone

Not by Bread Alone.  What an experience.  Imagine acting, when you’ve never seen acting before.  That’s what kept going through my mind, as I marveled at the deaf-blind actors of the Israeli theater troop Nalanga’at.  A combination of a performance piece, vaudeville, silent film, pantomime, and of course, a Jewish wedding (complete with confetti and glitter), the experience was not quite like anything I’ve seen or heard before (all puns intended).

The courage and trust of each actor, interacting with each other (and a guide) in ways that revealed their personalities: the Romantic, the Clown, the Shy One.  They shared their dreams, so ordinary, so tender–to have a really great haircut, to eat popcorn at the movies, to get married.  Each said or signed what bread means to her or him.  One courted her beloved by playing a song from a long ago Russian memory, while he laid his head on the electric keyboard to feel the rhythm.

What brought tears to my eyes, that never quite left during the performance, was toward the beginning.  Each actor was kneading dough, then breaking and rolling the dough into balls for rolls that would bake in the ovens onstage.  But not until 10% had been given to someone less fortunate or more in need–someone hungry, an abused child, a pregnant woman, the birds.  Of course any of us in the audience would have assumed the actors themselves would have been the people in need.

But waste no pity on these people.  They express themselves.  They have a voice.  They create a vision.  My heart was captured by these sometimes awkward, sometimes childlike, sometimes full-of-grace actors who put their hearts out to touch mine.

At the end, I was one of the first to go on stage to talk with the actors, through their interpreters, while holding a hand.  Then I broke bread, hot from the oven, with another audience member, before dipping in olive oil and savoring.  The entire audience lined up to do the same.  I imagine them still working their way through the crowd, so many wanted a touch and a taste.

Even exiting had a sweetness.  Two young men, deaf and signing, with true joy thanked me for coming, asked about the bread, and wiggled their fingers above their heads when I said it was delicious.

An experience like this reminds me to be at my most open, my most kind, my most grateful for the simplest, most tender moments.  To hold a hand.  To say thank you.

Literary Sunday

Francis MorroneOn the 151st birthday of Edith Wharton, I joined Francis Morrone, architectural historian and tour guide extraordinaire, to see her neighborhood through her eyes.






Unusual for New York, her birthplace is intact…well, except for the facade which was originally brownstone and the Starbucks, which is installed in place of her father’s library.   But Francis said, it could be worse.  StarbucWharton birthlaceks was founded by 2 Melville addicts, naming the chain after the Moby Dick character, and Melville was Wharton’s second cousin.

Anyway, you can imagine home-tutored Edith as a girl, lying on her stomach, reading a book in front of the fireplace.  Think of her as you put cream in your coffee.

She wrote about the cream of society, which she knew well.  Born a Jones, her extended family was the source of the phrase “keeping up with the Jones’s.”

She played in nearby Madison Square, my favorite park, with Teedy (don’t call him Teddy) Roosevelt.  Francis’ fantasizes’ about these lifelong good friends in the park, while neighbor Henry James sat reading on a nearby park bench, as neighbor Herman Melville walked through the park to his work at Gansevoort Pier.  It could have happened, and what a literary geek I am to thrill about it, too.

Across from the park is where Delmonico’s was and where Edith attended the “Patrician Balls” held there during the season, which ran from December to April.  She might have eaten Eggs Benedict, Lobster Newburg, or Chicken Ala King–all dishes invented at Delmonico’s for the eight course meals eaten there by the elite.
James gave Wharton the advice to “go New York,” rather than write about exotic locales, and she was off.  Scribners, the handsome building at right, became her publisher, Francis joked, because they were right just around the corner from her birthplace.  What New Yorker wouldn’t want to go to work just around the corner?

House of Mirth sold more copies for Scribner’s than any book previously.  Wharton did not receive any inheritance from her father; it went to her brothers.  She built her mansion The Mount in Lenox, MA and her New York townhome based on her own earnings.  Way to go, girl!

Also love this view of the Flat Iron Building, which has absolutely nothing to do with Edith Wharton.  But after all, iFlatiront was an architectural tour, too.  This was taken on 23rd Street, just across from Wharton’s birthplace.  She lived opposite the swank Fifth Avenue Hotel.  It and her birthplace provide the setting for New Year’s Day, part of the Old New York trilogy, none of which I’ve read.

As we continued toward Gramercy Park, that lovely, locked park no one is ever in and the setting for another book in the New York Trilogy The Old Maid, we passed by one of my favorite trucks, which always is worth a look.  Have you seen it around downtown?  Olde Good Things.  Very good indeed!

Olde Good Things









We ended in front of the National Arts Clubs, one of the first great places I visited after National Arts Clubmoving to New York.  I hadn’t noticed the five busts of literary greats on the facade at ground level.  Click on this picture to enlarge it.  Maybe you can make out Shakespeare.  In the center is Ben Franklin.

You think you have a lot of books?  The railroad lawyer who lived here originally had so many books that he bought the house next door, just for his library.  He then hired an architect to join the two houses and create a facade to make them appear as one house.  Well done!

Francis wanted us to see this building because Martin Scorcese used its interiors for filming “The Age of Innocence”–particularly the ball scene.  Can’t wait to rewatch it, with that in mind.

Well, I’m off to find the New York Trilogy, so I can continue seeing New York through Edith Wharton’s eyes, much easier to do after an afternoon with Francis.


Weird and wonderful flavors

Chelsea Market

After a long meeting this afternoon, I treated myself to a visit to Chelsea Market.  I like it better than Eataly, even though it’s clearly another place targeted to tourists and is not practical for any kind of regular shopping.

The building was formerly a National Biscuit factory, where the Oreo was first produced.  So it has a long history of providing gastronomical pleasure!

I worked my way from the 15th Street side all the way to the 16th Street exit, noshing along the way.  Oh, and I bought a few things, too.

If you go, don’t miss the cheese vendor.  She has a good selection of local cheeses and types I wasn’t familiar with.  I dare you to turn down her tastes.

Oils, Vinegars


And of course, I’m a sucker for the flavored olive oil and balsamic vinegar store.  What’s different about this one?  I bought the butternut squash oil.  It is so beyond delicious, and I look forward to trying it on salads, pasta, and vegetables.



That same vendor also has very weird flavors of salt.  Bacon salt?  Green tea salt?

They’re all there to sample…be forewarned, these are very salty salts.  I mean salt can be salty or it can be like these–really, really salty.


Doughnuttery spices


Very high on the fun factor is Doughnuttery, which recently got a good review in the New York Times,.  Little bitty, mini donuts are being cooked continually.

You order a specialty sugar, like Cheeky Peach (peach, raspberry and rose petals), Urban Monkey (green coffee, banana, coconut), PBCP (peanut butter, cayenne, pretzel), Mistletoe (gingerbread, cranberry, sage), and more.

Three of the hot mini’s are put in a bag with the sugar and spices, shaken, and you are ready to indulge.  Oh, did I mention, there’s no transfat in the oil.  So you don’t have to feel a bit guilty.

Now I’m off to eat dinner–some cheese with rosemary sourdough, a salad with butternut squash dressing, and some doughnuttery.  Wish you were here, too.

New Haven gems

Today, I ventured to the College Book Arts Association meeting at Yale and had my first introduction to New Haven beyond the art museums.

We got to go on three rare book collection tours at Yale, and I’ll give you a taste of each.  Many more images are available in the image browser below.

I started my day at the Sterling Memorial Library, and oh my goodness, what a library.  It really is a cathedral of books.

Sterling Memorial Library 2


This is the long corridor you walk down until you arrive at the circulation desk.




Sterling Memorial Library 4




Yes, this is the circulation desk.


When you get up off your knees, I guess you can check out a book.




Sterling Scrimshaw Maps


While there, I got to tour the rare maps collection.  While each map, print, globe, and atlas was a true treasure, my faSterling Map 16th century reproduction of a Roman map of the worldvorite were the walrus tusk scrimshaw maps of the Alaska coast–just the perfect blend of material and function working in total harmony.

And I did love the 16th century reproduction of a Roman map of the world, squashed down to fit on a very long scroll.

The curator Abe also showed us maps he had created for books using Global Information Systems, or GIS software.  So as a curator, he’s a cartographer himself.  Inspiring, his delight in the treasures from history and his passion for creating maps digitally today.

Well, Beineke Library is inspiring, too, in a different way.  Designed in 1963, this is the 50th anniversary of this Gordon Bunshaft building.  He innovated the visible stacks, which extend up six stories, although most of the 250 million books are stored underground.  He also used a local mBeineke, its marble and lightarble that lets light through (as academics do for their students), a lovely metaphor for a library building.

Here’s my demonstration with a small piece of marble in front of a desk lamp.  And here’s what it looks like as the interior walls of the building.


The exterior is very much of its day.  Note the column support in the corner.  That actually doesn’t support the building.  It’s simply for aesthetics.  And I can tell you from walking under it, the faux columns do lend a bit of security to the overriding feeling that the building is going to fall on your head.


We were treated to some artist books and historic books with art in them, including books by Le Corbusier and Picasso (which also includes his poetry).  But with my passion for American art, you knowBeineke, Indian Ledger Book 2 I was all over the Indian ledger art by Howling Wolf made in the 1870s while he was in prison.  These are famous images and fantastic to see in person.





But my two absolute favorites on this tour were the 15th century Latin exercise book complete with doodles of castles, horses, and deer, oh my, and the “Blow Book.”  This is  like the first book of magicBeineke, Latin Exercise Book with doodles, where you can open it 16 different ways to see 16 different series of images.  Like a magic flipbook, the magician ‘blows’ on it, while opening it to reveal something completely different.  Fun, eh?Beineke, Blow Book



Here’s Elizabeth demonstrating how the Blow Book works.

And by the way, the miniature book on how to make miniature books was pretty postmodern cute, too.  Check it out on the slideshow below.

After Beineke, I got a neighborhood tour of New Haven by a realtor.  The downtown is really fun, lively, and much nicer than I expected–the home of several theaters, Yale’s two art museums, and of course, the bulk of the campus and the Green.  There are condos downtown, and the neighborhoods that I saw are quite lovely.

Returning to the tours, I went to the British Art Museum’s rare book room, where the curator is working on an exhibit for 2014, drawing side by side comparisons of historic “artist books,” mostly the work of girls and women in 19th century England, and contemporary artist books.

I liked the contemporary book of butterflies, where they are made from maps of where they come from.  British Artist Books 4 butterflies contempMuch better than your typical insect specimen book, which I find pretty creepy.

I won’t soon forget being the one who got to turn the pages of a Plant Specimen and Bestiary book from 1500.  Nowhere at Yale did I see anyone touch the rare objects with gloves.  Bare hands.  Bare hands, they insisted.  Things have changed since I was in library science school.  Anyway, touching a treasure like this gave me the shivers–the privilege of direct contact with something that someone labored lovingly over 500 years ago.

British Artist Books, 1500 Plant Specimen and Bestiary Book 4





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