I love how Christmas is described as the ‘Holiday Season’. I equate holidays with feeling relaxed and stress free. Christmas is not proving to be so for me! There is so much to see and do and it all involves so much rushing around…I have had barely a minute to breathe these past couple of weeks! Christmas is not really a lie down on a sunny beach, is it?!
Reading wise, I have been doing very little. I am slowly making my way through Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, which is absolutely sublime, and I am enjoying it immensely. However, it’s so beautifully written and filled with so much to think on, that I want to take my time with it. I have, however, been buying a fair amount of books. My excuse for doing so is that I am mainly collecting beautiful antique copies of American books I can’t buy in the UK. So it’s completely justifiable! It’s collecting, not hoarding! Books I have bought from ebay are a lovely first edition of Anne’s House of Dreams by L M Montgomery, within the pages of which I found pressed not one, but two, four leaved clovers; an equally beautiful copy of F H Burnett’s In the Closed Room, which I have been wanting for YEARS, is incredibly difficult to find at a reasonable price (I found mine for under $10) and has stunning hand tipped illustrations by Jessie Willcox Smith – I am just in love with it!; and a delightful first edition of Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which has the most lovely illustrations, and I can’t wait to read it! None of these books cost me more than $15 to buy and have sent to me, so they were bargains!
I have also acquired a lovely art deco copy of Hudson River Bracketed by Edith Wharton, Hermione Lee’s biography of Edith Wharton (a Christmas present from the lovely Jenny!), The Matchmaker by Stella Gibbons, which was on the dollar shelf at The Housing Works Bookstore (thanks for the dollar, Jenny!) and a beautiful first edition of Willa Cather’s Sapphira and the Slave Girl. Oh, and a random choice from the Strand dollar bins – Mrs Parkington, by Louis Bromfield – I had never heard of him before, but the first page of this book is hilarious and the story is set in New York, and it turns out Louis Bromfield was a very popular man during the mid 20th century, so I am intrigued to try this one for size. Due to my recent book buying binge, I am now all stocked up for quite a long way in the future when it comes to my reading choices! Interestingly,while I was looking up The Matchmaker on Amazon to see what other people thought of it, I noticed that Stella Gibbons’ books are being brought back into print by Vintage next August – there’s a press release about it here. So if, like me, you’re a huge fan of Stella Gibbons, look out for that – they are starting with the Cold Comfort Farm sequels, which is fantastic news, as they’re virtually impossible to get hold of!
In other Christmas related news, this past Thursday night I had the immense pleasure of attending the St Patrick’s Cathedral Carol Concert. St Patrick’s Cathedral is absolutely breathtaking inside, and in the dim light, with candles flickering, hordes of New Yorkers young and old packed into the pews, and the voices of the various choirs floating up into the vaulted ceiling, it was a simply beautiful and truly special experience to be part of. At the end, we all lit candles and sung Silent Night together, and in that warm, candlelit, peaceful space, it really did feel like the embodiment of the true meaning of Christmas, in bringing joy, peace and hope to all. It gave me goosebumps! I loved EVERY minute of it, and I think it’s wonderful that the Cathedral provides this opportunity for New Yorkers to come together and forget about the lists of things they ‘have’ to get ready for Christmas day, and the lure of the department stores outside, and just spend a couple of hours enjoying beautiful music and being at peace with the world.
On Friday night, still in the Christmas spirit, I went caroling in Greenwich Village with some American friends; we had a marvellous time, and even took requests! The streets of Greenwich Village are somewhat Dickensian compared to the rest of high-rise, grid patterned Manhattan, and I loved walking around after dark, seeing the lighted Christmas trees behind the windows of beautiful 19th century row houses and old tenement building apartments, and watching people enjoying dinner in the plethora of small, cosy restaurants that line the fairy lit streets.
What else have I been doing? Knitting a pretty, soft baby blanket…my darling sister is pregnant with her third baby, who will make his or her appearance at the end of May, which is incredibly exciting. Another little treasure to love and care for and provide with books! New York-wise, on Sunday I visited the Museum of the City of New York, which is very off the beaten path, even though it is on 5th Avenue’s ‘Museum Mile’; you’ll find it in Spanish Harlem, on 105th street. An imposing, federal style building, built specifically to house the Museum in the 1930s, it overlooks the rather more wild stretch of Central Park and contains a pleasant mishmash of interesting exhibitions and collections relating to the history of New York City. Their current blockbuster exhibition is ‘Notable and Notorious’, chronicling the dress and jewellery of a century of prominent female New Yorkers. The dresses were breathtaking, but disappointingly, the mannequins the dresses were mounted upon had not been padded or shaped to fit the era of the clothes they were supporting. Most of the dresses therefore hung rather limply, and were not shown to their best effect. Having worked at the V&A and seen the attention to detail and expense paid to padding mannequins to accurately fit period clothes, I can appreciate now why so much effort was put into this mounting process; without it, dress exhibitions really do fall flat. Aside from this niggle, however, I found the Museum lovely, and there is another wonderful exhibition besides ‘Notorious and Notable’, of paintings by Herbert Katzman, whose depictions of the skies over Manhattan is simply breathtaking. It’s well worth a visit if you’ve been to New York before and want to avoid the big tourist attractions; it has a very local feel and is particularly friendly for families with young children – there’s a whole suite of galleries just for kids, which I thought was a brilliant touch.
On Sunday evening, after a leisurely afternoon spent sipping enormous bowls of Belgian hot chocolate in Le Pain Quotidien, I saw The King’s Speech, which I thought was absolutely marvellous, and made me feel very homesick. Colin Firth surpassed himself and Helena Bonham Carter, much to my surprise, was a perfect Queen Elizabeth. I adored every cosy minute of it, and I highly recommend it!
So I might not be reading much, but I am keeping busy; New York is such a playground of fun and often I feel that I can’t sit and read when there is so much to do outside of my own front door!