Saturday, July 25, 2009

The BPL: My New Favorite Place

I've spent the past two Saturday mornings at the Central branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. I'm in love; the place is magical and whimsical.

The building--at first glance--is imposing, with a strangely concave front facade. Yet--on second glance--it is ameliorated by unattributed quotations about the power of reading. The quotations express wonderfully idealistic sentiments about the place of books in culture and the transformative effect of knowledge. The library's very physical shell is an ode to the idea of books as instruments of self-improvement. After reading the library's website, I discovered that the building's physicality is meant to evoke the materiality of a book. "The spine is on Grand Army Plaza and the building's two wings open like pages onto Eastern Parkway and Flatbush Avenue."

The steps leading up to the library are shallow and short, which induced me to skip and skim my way up, just like when I'm hurriedly reading a well-plotted book to figure out what will happen next. Once inside the building and past the first information desk, there's a soaring foyer of gray marble and honey colored wood. It feels deliciously calm, but not at all solemn. Off the foyer is the children's reading room and the literature reading room. On the second floor are the nonfiction reading rooms. All are incredibly large, sunny, and inviting. I spent several happy hours wondering up and down the stacks.

What I especially love about the Brooklyn Library is that, while not a university library, it's still a very serviceable research library, with an extensive and diverse nonfiction collection. Having grown up in the 'burbs of Georgia, I was almost convinced public libraries were architectually welcoming, but largely buildings that only housed popular reading, the classics, and some how-to manuals. I was delighted to wonder in today and pick up a treatise on the condom industry in the US, a historical study of the creation of a teen culture over the course of the twentieth century, and a Brits memoir of the American homefront during WWII. I'm in eclectic heaven.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The 21st-Century Promenade

The City is replete with hip places to see and be seen. The newest and, ironically, most egalitarian is the Highline--a park on the old elevated train tracks that used to run from Gansevoort Street to 20th Street, between 10th & 11th Avenues (see the map). Forget strolling anywhere else in the city during twilight, everyone is flocking to the magical, green oasis in the sky.

For good reason: the park is awesome, which stems--in part--from its novelty. The shocking juxtaposition of vibrant wildflowers with dead-looking city buildings is delicious. The ability to look at architectural details on level is delightful. Then there's the built-in teak benches which overlook the river during sunset. I also particularly like how the wildflower are planted between the old railroad ties.

But, the best part of my visit last week was the unexpected, unofficial jazz band that had set up on the fire escapes of an apartment building that overlooks the 20th St. entrance. The trumpet and trombone players scatted. The drummer rat-a-tat-tatted and the piano player provided the melody everyone started swinging to. New York is the only place where life sometimes really can be a musical--where joy transcends and infuses a moment so that the only thing one can do is sing and dance.