The books of New York City
I'm just back from a few days in New York - an end-of-summer break which included (the first time I've ever managed this) visits to two very contrasting second-hand book dealers. Strand Books, on Broadway and 12th near Union Square, boasts eighteen miles of books, and on the top floor has a very welcoming rare book room. I picked up there this signed copy of a title by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, in my view the doyen of the Beat poets and the founder of the City Lights bookshop and imprint in San Francisco. He turns 100 next March.
Ferlinghetti has signed an awful lot of books over the years and this wasn't a first edition or anything like that - that was reflected in the modest price. I'm so pleased to have a signed Ferlinghetti.
Jose Alemany was a Catalan-American photographer with close links to the Spanish leftists; Ray Valinsky was a Pittsburgh-based Communist who gets passing mention in the minutes of the notorious House Committee on Un-American Activities.
I asked in the rare book room if they had anything in the way of political pamphlets - nothing, it seemed. But a trawl round the shelves proved them wrong. I came across these really nice anarchist propaganda pieces from a century and more ago:
And top marks for the Strand's very apposite selection of badges - I love them almost as much as old pamphlets:
The following day I came across a very different type of book store - the by-appointment-only Jumel Terrace Books near Sugar Hill in Harlem, approximately 150 blocks north of Strand Books, It's run by an exceptionally knowledgeable bibliophile and librarian, Kurt Thometz, whose passion is for West African pamphlets, often libidinous in nature, and also extends to African and African-American literature and politics.
He's also an enthusiast for the American radical Aaron Burr, vice-president during Thomas Jefferson's first term and now destined forever to be remembered as the man who shot dead Hamilton, the guy the musical is about, in a duel. Burr once lived in a very stylish mansion just across the road from Kurt's place.
A real treat to meet Kurt, see some of his library and his wonderful brown stone house - and yes, I did buy a few items. Take a look ...
After two brilliantly sunny days here in San Francisco, I can hardly complain about a bit of rain. Northern California needs rain. It's facing a drought. I even heard mention of a restaurant that will only bring water to the table on request, citing the drought. But last night's and this morning's rain has left a city sodden with water. The sidewalks are awash, the damp is everywhere - the sort that soaks through your shoes and makes your whole body feel waterlogged.
So on my last morning here, I turned to the local diner as a handy retreat from the rain. Fountain's on Market, playing 50s rock'n'roll, and serving food to match. I had a pancake dish called a "Fumble" - well it is the day of the Super Bowl - which will set me up at least until I'm back in blighty. Great value, prompt and friendly service. Not quite in sync with City Lights or Haight Ashbury (my plans to go there abandoned because of the deluge, but somehow hippy San Francisco hasn't survived quite as well as the Beat city) but not a bad way of rounding off my stay.
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