Saturday, December 25, 2010

Books and Christmas at an Old Hudson Estate

Enjoying some Cider, Books, and an Old House on the Hudson

In the week before Christmas this past year, many businesses, organizations, and museums have celebrated the holiday season with open houses, complete with decorations of pine boughs, bright lights, and sugar cookies with warm mulled cider. And it was at one such event that I found some old books to share with my readers. And a little bit of history. In the cold of this December, the Clermont Estate, once owned by the illustrious Livingston family, was open to the public. Driving along the old paved roads leading up to homestead, one could see the cold woods, with traces of left-over snow and the community of grey trees holding themselves tight against the cold of winter.

Inside the visitors center, there were several exhibits relating not just to the Livingston family, who owned and lived on the property for generations, but also some luminaries of American history, including steam boat pioneer Robert Fulton.

Outside the shop and down the hill, visitors would soon see this lovely view of the manor house, which stood stately and proud in its age on this cold winter day.

Inside, the halls and rooms were decked in the most splendid holiday charm. Above, the Christmas tree; below, one of the library-study rooms.

The delightful tour of the home was capped by a visit to the kitchen. And look!--even there we found books! Books, books, everywhere! So, if you're ever in the area north of Poughkeepsie, NY, near the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge, or Bard College, stop by the old estate and pay them a visit. It's a worthy cause to help support such vital historical institutions of our regional and national heritage. And you might spy some interesting books in the mean time.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Books, Bakeries, and the Tea Party

The Constitution as Book

Not so long ago, I'd gone up to the foothills of the Catskills on a trek to find one of my all-time favorite bakeries, Hartmann's Kaffee Haus--and old-style German bakery and eatery, tucked away in the dark woods of Round Top, not far from Catskill, NY. One feels almost as if they're about to trip over Hansel and Gretal when they find this place in the woods! Usually, when I've gone to eat there, there are many old retirees, sitting quietly or murmuring to one another about local politics or who they'd seen at the recent penny social down at the Methodist church. They'll be nibbling on rye toast slathered in heavy dollops of unsalted butter, and sipping old-style water'd church coffee and smiling to their table mates.

I've found the food to be a good dose of old world flavor and old hill country charm. My favorite being the hefty bratwursts with sauerkraut. It will be an adequate meal for anyone who visits. Of course, I must add a little dessert to it, because the bakery is the main attraction, and its Linzer and Alexander tortes are simply to die for. Their Schwarzwald kuchen too, is a definite must for those who enjoy the cake-ish side of things. Now many of you might be asking: "what does cake and a bakery have to do with anything, least of all...books?" Well, let me tell you, good folks! This last time I visited, I remember pulling into the parking lot of Hartmann's and being greeted with not just the usual American and German flags--after all, Hartmann's is a "traditional" style German bakery. But also the "Don't Tread on Me" Flag, which has become a trademark banner of the new Tea Party. Usually, businesses don't wear their politics on their sleeves, but the mark of Tea Partying participants has been to demonstrate their beliefs of libertarian self-reliance and autonomous anti-big government through outward signs of vexillological grandeur ("flag showing"). The Gadsden "Don't Tread on Me" flag is perhaps now the most famous symbol of this movement. But another symbol is the U.S. Constitution.

As you can see above in the first photo, the bakery was not only selling pastries, tortes, and cakes, but also pocket size booklets of the U.S. Constitution! They sold for around $2. I must admit: I already own one of these, because during the last election, I was at a train stop in Westchester, when a Tea Party candidate was handing out U.S. Constitutions for free! Anyhow, it was interesting to see this. And interesting to see that they had taped a copy of the U.S. Constitution to their cash register. Now more than a month later, I thought about the old bakery once again, as I walked into a pizza place just yesterday. Below the counter there wasn't a U.S. Constitution, but a floor mat nailed upright, which read "No Spin Zone,"--the trademark of the famed Bill O'Reilly show. But what was more entertaining was the utilization of books, YES!--books! to promote a very similar message. Right there on the tables of the pizza shop, not far from (and surely catering to) one of America's great liberal arts colleges, the owners were clearly targeting their clientele with both good pizza...and tables piled high with books by Glenn Beck and the new rebuttal to Howard Zinn's influential opus (A People's History of the United States) entitled "A Patriot's History of the United States." And people say books are dead?!

At least we continue to be entertained.

A Book Bench in an Antique Shop

The Quirky, The Weird, and The Bench?

Every so often, I admit it: I am drawn to share with you some of the lighter aspects of bookishness. I could not help pass this opportunity by, then, when I was in an antique shop last month, and I saw an old coffee table/ottoman, which was designed to look like three books piled on one another. It opens (as you can see) to reveal a secret hiding place for...well, books (of course!) and other items. Now, some of you might think that you'd like this in your home, but this is the sort of furniture that I'd call a "one spouse preference" item. You know, those things that only one in a household likes, while the other things just simply tasteless, hideous, disgraceful. No? I did not buy this one in the end. Not for that reason, but because I actually don't have anywhere to put it. But more practically, it's because the darn thing was missing one of its legs, and leaned like a wounded runner after a long race. Poor little bench.

Hudson Valley Special Libraries Association

When Librarians Have Fun

Being relatively new to the area of New York city and Westchester County, I figured that it would be a good idea to start to meet some more people in the library world, to extend that network of colleagues in information science. So when I received an email from a colleague about an upcoming meeting and dinner of the Hudson Valley Chapter of the Special Libraries Association (SLA), I jumped on the opportunity and signed up. The event was held at the Casaletto Ristorante in Elmsford, NY, not far from Tarrytown, on November 29th. It was a cold evening and I drove down from the north into the seemingly crowded township, replete with strip malls and multiple classy-named diners. I was somewhat early, so there weren't too many attendees there yet. But it was a good opportunity to begin to meet some of the folks already there.

The theme of the event was that well-weathered and oft surprisingly consistent theme: "the future of the library." Of course, it is necessary for our or any other profession to embrace these dynamic questions, because otherwise we might be out of business--or without jobs! But a delightful, anecdotal, episodic speech was given after the sumptuous meal by Dr. Norman Jacknis (here at left), who spoke of the tasks at hand for both him and those sitting around the table. It was pleasant to get fresh insight from non-theological librarians, as well as those who are in the corporate sector, rather than strict academicians.

The evening was punctuated by various productive and entertaining interactions with other librarians. Since the SLA had an entire room of the restaurant to itself, everyone mingled and talked with one another from the we entered, as we were waiting for dinner, as we had dinner, and after the speech, during dessert. I made a lot of new acquaintances and partners in the info biz that evening. And just as I was heading out the door, thinking it was all over, they had a raffle, where my name was called out: I'd won a bottle of champaign! Now this is what librarianship is really about! As I'd offered in my introduction to the others as we went around the table: "I came tonight, because I wanted to be with other 'special people.'" Indeed, I think I'd found something I liked.