When I first arrived in New York the lovely Thomas sent me a copy of New York’s Unique and Unexpected Places, which actually was an unexpected, and much appreciated, gift. I am the sort of person who likes to brag about the interesting things they do with their life, when really I spend a considerable amount of time spreadeagled on the sofa watching terrible romantic comedies and eating gallons of icecream, and so this book is perfect for me. It makes me sound wonderfully cultured and knowledgeable when I lead my friends off on exciting weekend adventures that are off the usual beaten tourist paths, and I of course accept their praise of my amazingness without revealing my source!
This past weekend my friends and I hopped off on one of these adventures to the South Street Seaport Museum, which is downtown, below Wall Street. This is one of the Museums that tourists don’t tend to visit, and this was exemplified by its complete emptiness on a Saturday morning. We were entranced by the beautiful exhibit of Alfred Stieglitz’s photographs of New York, spanning from the late 1800s to the 1930s. They chronicled New York from its Gilded Age carriages parked outside a snowy Central Park and majestic gas lit, brownstone lined streets, to the soaring Art Deco skyscrapers and relentless scaffolding of the post war years, when New York epitomised the spirit of modernism and restlessness that marked these glory years before the Great Depression and WW2. I found the images haunting and beautiful, and I was delighted to find the accompanying book, which I think I shall treat myself to as a Christmas present!
The Museum is also showing an exhibition on the SS Normandie, the great Art Deco cruise liner, and this was similarly breathtaking. The design, furnishings, and atmosphere of this luxurious floating palace were brought to life in the fascinating displays, and I was left desperate to know more. What I wouldn’t give to have been sitting on the beautiful embroidered chairs, listening to jazz music being played in the exquisitely painted, sparkling ballroom on board! Host to numerous celebrities and movers and shakers of the day, the SS Normandie would have cost the best part of $100,000 in today’s money to sail on, and from what I saw, it would have been worth every penny!
Part of the Museum, and featured in the aforementioned book, is Bowne and Co Stationer’s, an original Victorian stationers’ shop that still functions today. The shop sells beautiful stationery, cards, posters and book related items, and I was thrilled to find some letter press printed book plates, something I have wanted for a while. The shop is situated amongst the beautiful red brick Wharf buildings that make up the Seaport area, and this little section of the city makes you feel a world away from the hustle and bustle of midtown. Cobbled streets, early Victorian buildings and faded painted signs reveal the history of this once bustling marketplace, the original trading centre of New York in the first half of the 19th century. It’s a very atmospheric place and I highly recommend a visit. If you do go down, you must eat at Table Tales; it served the most delicious lunch I’ve had since I got here – buttermilk battered chicken, potato salad, cajun mayonnaise, chocolate creme brulee…need I say more?!!
While my friend was here last week, we popped into another off the beaten path New York treasure; the New York Historical Society. Unfortunately they are mostly closed for refurbishment, which is a shame as they have the best photo collection in the city, but they do currently have a brilliant exhibition about the discovery of insulin and the threat diabetes used to be to the world’s population. I didn’t expect to find it of much interest, but I was absolutely fascinated, and I learned a lot about a subject I wasn’t aware had such a powerful and moving past. There is also a very good gift shop!
I plan on working my way through the Unique and Unexpected Places book while I am here, so I will continue to share my varied adventures with you as I go along!