On this past sunny Saturday in November (the doom laden stories of thigh high snow drifts and frozen eyelashes that everyone I meet has been anxious to assure me are commonplace during New York winters are yet to come true – it’s still positively balmy here!) I had the wonderful pleasure of meeting Jenny of the always intelligent and frequently hilarious Jenny’s Books. Jenny is a recent arrival in the Big Apple, like me. However, unlike me, she is actually American and comes from the South, though she was quick to dispel my stereotypical beliefs of life in this region, namely that in the part of Louisiana she’s from, they don’t talk like Forrest Gump, or spend all day sitting on their porches drinking sweet tea and chewing tobacco. Mea Culpa! Not only is Jenny just as funny and clever and adorable as she appears through her writing, she’s also exactly a day younger than me, which was a rather spooky coincidence, and loves most of the things I do. So, in short, Jenny and I got on like a house on fire, and had a thoroughly wonderful day.
We met at the Morgan Library, which you may remember me mentioning is a rare example of a Brownstone mansion of the Old New York style, situated on 36th st and Madison Avenue. Now, with one of those ubiquitous all glass extensions that architects seem obsessed with tacking onto old buildings, it is a real gem of a Museum, showcasing not only J. Pierpont Morgan’s magnificent former residence, including his impressive library and collection of rare books and prints, but also a fascinating and unusual selection of literary and artistic rotating exhibitions that are housed in the new extension. Jenny and I were both mesmerised by the intricate decoration inside, along with the walls and walls of beautifully bound books, stunning reclaimed medieval stained glass, fake mosaic ceilings and general splendour that surrounded us in the stately rooms of the mansion. From its drab brown exterior, you’d never guess what treasures it hides inside.
When we could stop excitedly whispering to each other, Jenny and I gasped over truly breathtaking illuminated manuscripts, priceless documents (such as an original Declaration of Independence) and scribbled first drafts of famous novels, marvelling at how this collection came to be amassed and displayed in such a beautiful and opulent space. We then moved on to the exhibition spaces, where currently a huge collection of Mark Twain manuscripts, letters and photographs are being displayed, as well as Roy Lichenstein drawings, Degas sketches, and the fascinating photographs taken by J.P.Morgan’s daughter Anne while she was working for the American Friends of France during WWI. It’s the perfect Museum for a bibliophile, and I especially appreciated the exhibition of Anne Morgan’s photographs, which demonstrated the role played by upper class women of the period in the relief effort in rural invaded France. One photograph in particular wonderfully illustrated the incongruousness of the situation; attractive, long skirted, beautifully coiffed girls with grease up to their elbows, fixing their cars, laughing away merrily. Though they still looked like nice girls from Fifth Avenue mansions and Swiss Finishing Schools, their ability to roll up their sleeves, pack up and move half way across the world to war torn Europe, learn a completely new set of skills, mix with an entirely alien set of people, and laugh while doing it, was wonderful to contemplate. If you’re in the vicinity, I’d encourage you to visit the library for this exhibition alone.
Once we’d annoyed everyone fully with our constant talking and giggling, we left the Library and went off in search of food. My favourite place for brunch is called Whym, and so I took Jenny here promising her a very good meal, though we did stop off at F.A.O. Schwartz to marvel at the gigantic stuffed animals on the way. Neither of us were disappointed when we finally got to eat; Whym’s chicken pot pie is to die for! After stuffing ourselves to the point of bursting, we headed off to the Strand on 14th street, a good 40 blocks away. On the way we swung by the Flea Market in Hell’s Kitchen, where I was nearly persuaded to buy a beautiful 1930’s quilt top I didn’t need and couldn’t afford, and Jenny and I thumbed our way through some very interesting 1920’s books on Sex Magnetism. We eventually arrived at the Strand and proceeded to encourage each other to buy books we could very well have done without, and so I left with a beautiful first edition of Willa Cather’s Sapphira and the Slave Girl and a rather grubbier first edition of Ford Madox Ford’s The Last Post, which I now realise is the fourth in a quartet, and as such, was a rather pointless purchase, as I haven’t read the others. Oh well! Even so, I got change for $10, so not exactly a bank breaker. Jenny bought a fascinating looking book about the Raj that I fully intend on stealing from her when she’s finished it, so I was of course very forceful in my encouragement when she wavered over buying it!
So, another lovely day in Manhattan was passed, and by the end of it I had a lovely new friend, a full stomach, a greater knowledge of WWI relief efforts and a bag of nice new books. I can’t ask for much more than that out of a Saturday, now, can I?!