Outdoor activities with a healthy dose of curiosity, brought to you by Laure Latham
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How would like to see Le Morte d’Artur by Sir Tomas Malory, a 1470 manuscript compiling for the very first time the adventures of the legendary (and historically debated) King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table?
Or the handwritten 1665 original of the blind poet John Milton’s Paradise Lost? Or the handwritten 1695 original of Charles Perrault’s Les Contes de La Mere L’Oye, the mother of all Mother Goose rhymes?
These treasures – and there is really no other word for them – are part of the extraordinary collection of the Morgan Pierpont Library in New York.
Before going to New York, I asked for some advice from an online network called Works For Me (a Yahoo! group for working mothers). Someone suggested I check out The Morgan Pierpont Library.
She said: “A great place to visit is the Morgan Library & Museum located at 36th & Madison, just 6 blocks from Grand Central. It was the former Morgan Family Robber Baron’s house and was turned into a museum. I highly recommend it for a more “unusual” museum in NY. ”
Since my conference ended at 1pm, I had ample time to walk there before thinking about getting at the airport at 5pm.
The morning session of the SCBWI Winter Conference brought us great talents such as Robert Sabuda (master extraordinaire in pop-up books, such as Peter Pan here), Tomie de Paola (the Strega Nona culprit) and the hysterically funny Jack Gantos (of Joey Pigza books fame).
The latter said: “Everybody can write the first chapter of a novel. It’s Chapter 13 that is vicious.” To the question “Why are we here?” he replied “You want to write a book that is going to be in the hands of a reader who will remember it all along his life.”
True, I remember and cherish my childhood books and would love nothing more than to write a book one child will cherish and remember – if only for the cover’s strawberry gum flavor!
As soon as they were done, wrapped up and all, I bid goodbye to new found friends and walked towards the Morgan Pierpont Library.
A few minutes later I was there and bought my ticket. After a could-have-been-faster lunch, I walked inside Mr. Morgan’s library.
An absolute treat for book (and mystery) lovers. Three levels of binding-to-binding books of various periods, books that weathered happy and sad owners, natural catastrophes and countless wars. It was incredible. I walked over the guard to ask him how anyone could get to the upper levels. I didn’t see any ladder.
“See this handle in the corner of the bookshelf?” he said, pointing to my right. “There are hiddden staircases behind.” Hidden staircases? Tell me more, I like that. I was starting to feel in a medieval fiction already. It reminded me, on a modest scale (if you can call modest a multimillionaire/world rated historical book collection), of the gorgeous library of the Prince de Condé at the Chateau de Chantilly. I’d move in a heartbeat … if they asked me, that is.
Since nobody asked, I climbed up two flights of stairs to the exhibitions hall to see a very interesting display of historic bindings covering from the Carolingians through to André Suarès’ Cirque.
After that, I still had two hours to kill. I had promised my girls to bring them back something special from New York: bagels. A friend has suggested Ess-A-Bagel on 3rd street so I looked at a map (street numbers don’t really help without a cross street) and headed towards what I fantasized would be a lovely tea place with trays overflowing with plump and shiny bagels as well as other delicacies.
On the way, I made sure to catch a glimpse of Sniffen Court, an unspoilt row of 1864 carriage houses (150-158 E 63th Street between Lexington and Third Avenues). The neat brick houses were lined up behind an iron gate and it seemed to me that they lacked the charm of London’s mews. Too square, too clean.
I guess I was expecting to stumble upon the seven dwarfs’ thatched cottage or something. But then, I haven’t been inside these houses so my view can only be a superficial winter view from behind iron gates. I kept on walking, and walking, and walking, until I reached the long-awaited Ess-A-Bagel.
I almost missed it. Too many commercial signs on the same building. Looking at the photo, I can hardly make the dark green letters of Ess-A-Bagel. It’s really for people-in-the-know.
Sadly, the experience was disappointing. I bought 8 mini bagels (4 plain, 4 sesame) but the next morning in San Francisco they were extra hard and even toasted, not as delicious as I expected. Add to that a nothing-special interior for the shop. I don’t think I’ll go again.
Noah’s Bagels will do just fine if I ever feel the urge.