Sunday, October 23, 2016


I was always a fan of
information -  let's call
it that. Living in NYC, I
was in the middle of some
of the largest pools, back then,
of information. Unlike today,
when a simple Internet call
gets you reams of info to
most anything, good, bad,
or indifferent, back then you
really did have to dig for
things. Paper and book
search. Research library
stuff. The New York Public
Library was one of the best
for that  -  rigorous info-backup,
vast reading room, attendants,
book retrieval, and the rest.
It was serious business. It
seemed to me that the library
itself was always somewhat
dark, a serious and ponderous,
under-lit, resource guarded by
two marble lions  - and they
had names! Patience, and
Fortitude. I found out later
that those names were actually
their second names, the first
having been Leo Lenox and
Leo Astor  - named for the
two families whose personal
libraries and funding merged
to have this structure built.
It's not a high place, though
its 'large' enough. The footprint
of that library building is, I
think with the little Bryant
Park space behind it, the actual
footprint of the old Croton
Reservoir, which was replaced
by the library when it became
outmoded and other sources of
city-water-distribution were
brought in for the growing-to-
uptown city. It (the reservoir)
was a high pyramidal-type
tower, filled with water, and a
walkway and promenade
around in, which New Yorkers
of that day used to walk upon
on their outings. Proud and
haughty. It all gave way, to later,
this very spot, whereon the library
now stands. The library itself
was not, in the 1960's referential
sense, high, modern , striking,
or 'efficient' looking  -  as those
terms went back in that day. It
was anything but, and still is.
It always reminded me more
of a Graecian re-claimed ruin,
being re-used and re-vitalized
but kept in all its old, Parthenon-
type scale. There was, in this
sense too, nothing at all
'Medieval' about it. All the
medieval-character building
stuff had apparently been
left for ivy-league schools
and some old churches to
toy with and maintain. This
was austere, but in another
sense completely. It just
drew me in, called me, like
a mystery. You had to realize
what the late 1960's were :
they were becoming the end
and a result of all the early 60's
ferment. And the 'architecture'
showed it. If it wasn't that
oddball glass and steel, it was
the even odder architecture-
by-reference stuff of the
original Huntington-Hartford
Museum (almost a joke), or
the US Embassy, in New
Delhi. Or the new Guggenheim.
Or the then-new Whitney, the
one uptown. It all possessed a
certain ethos and feel, it spoke
the volumes needed to exclaim
the 1960's. That was NY then  -
the United Nations buildings
and more. Everything from
boats and vessels, to cars and
containers began having that
look. Something of late-Kennedy,
throwback coolness. I never
knew why, or what they were
thinking. Therapy, or just a
weird explanation, a shout.
The library jumped that gap.
It just ignored all the present
and somehow knowledgeably
leapt into the past, saying, after
one look at the present day :
'Goodbye to all that.'
You'd go in there, to the vast
rotunda, and first off you 'knew'
you were 'somewhere.' It spoke
volumes, by itself; forget the
rest of the library. Right off,
there was an exhibition room, 
of changing shows. Entering
it, if you so chose, there'd be 
paintings and exhibits of all 
sorts of things. Art/Art history;
caught by accident or by plan 
(I never knew ahead of time 
what was to be in there). Up 
the grand marble stairs, making
a left, you'd enter the 'Berg 
Collection' room. On that
wall, The Falls at Katterskill, 
by Asher Durand. (painting
now gone sold off to the 
WalMart Museum). Durand
was a Hudson River School
painter, from back in that day,
and this painting caught, with
some wonder, exactly what it
had set out to catch : A real
form of bucolic, American
wonder. A lot of painters
from the Hudson River School
have captured that Catskill
Mountain scene, but Durand's
was the best. Too bad they
peddled it away. Really
Across from the Berg Room  -
which also had, outside in the
'hall' area, a great, marble 
sitting section, marble benches 
and the like, before you'd enter
the reference sections and the 
two reading rooms.  I'd sit there,
 for hours, reading or writing. One 
time a classy woman, older, 
wealthy-looking, came up to 
me and said how 'striking' I 
looked right there, and then
she said 'Do you know you are
 sitting in the very precise spot
where Luigi Barzini sat everyday 
for some five years or more as 
he was writing his book 'The 
Italians?'  I said I did not know.
My first impulse was to say, 'who
the hell is Luigi Barzini?, but I
didn't. I later looked it all up, and 
found out it's a well-reputed book
and it was used a lot as a basis of
 'The God Father' saga as well.
All this scene-setting, it's hard 
to explain. These weren't
really 'rooms' as we know
them, These were grand 
and cavernous spaces, with 
huge tables and chairs, writing 
desks, book research slots, 
wall benches, places for
people to read, take notes, 
research and type. It was 
all made for a world that 
no longer exists. (As I like
to call it, a space-bar world, 
not a delete-button world). 
A person would go up to the
book-reference area, order by 
name or number the book you 
wished (or had done so ahead 
of time, so they'd all be ready for
you), and a clerk (Using the 
miles of underground book 
shelves and storage would
eventually have your book or
books dumb-waiter'd up for 
you, for which books  you'd 
sign out and take to your 
study table or spot. It's all still 
done  like that, pretty much the 
same way but different. All
done now in today's way.
Everything now, even there, 
has been re-acclimated for
computer and terminal use. 
Banks of laptops and terminals 
card-holders. That's all well 
and good, but all the old 
factor of books and paper 
is long gone, and, frankly, 
it was much better. It took 
determination, grit, and an
adherence to mission. Today,
there's none of that, except 
for play. In the same way 
as people's habits of eating 
have changed, so too the
idea of information, Fast-food
info is now demanded. No 
work, no search Just get 
it here. as is the depth 
and darkness. All things  
now are light and simple, 
happy and airy. Cloud
sandwiches on demand.
The library is outmoded.
All that old spirit is dead and
gone, and the more the library 
tries playing up to it, attempts
to modernize itself into the
modern, junk, day, all it's 
doing is betraying its own
sense of purpose and value
of being  - as well as all its 
entire past.  Yet, I have,
and I retain and hold to,
all my memories of that
place and time.

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