Saturday, January 17, 2009

books - part 1

I just came back from the green market at Union Square which was preceded by a short stop at the Muhlenberg branch of the New York Public Library (NYPL), where my partner Vlada had a book on hold (“The Fruit Hunters – A story of Nature, Adventure, Commerce and Obsession” by Adam Leith Gollner). Where does Vlada come up with these books? Recently, he and I discovered that books (as well as DVDs) could be conveniently reserved and ordered online on the NYPL website and that, even more attractively, recent books ordered in this fashion from the NYPL were almost always in a condition approaching the brand-new.

This recent realization of yet another benefit of living in a large city on the East Coast of the US such as New York, has not prevented V. and I to purchase books, new and used, whenever the opportunity arises. There is hardly a weekend when we do not visit at least one Manhattan bookstore. This winter, we have been accumulating books at a rate which far exceeds our reading speed. This is OK - I truly enjoy having a stack of unread books on our shelves, ready to be picked up as the need arises. I have, by the way, handwritten the draft of this note on a pad propped up on a recent book purchase – a large format book devoted to the art of the sculptor Ivan Mestrovic, recently bought at one of the Housing Works stores.

Our home library, while undoubtedly very modest by the standards of our immediate neighborhood and
city of residence, still regularly fills me with contentment and pride. I love to have discovered and collected, through chance events big and small, works by authors from the Balkans ranging from the famous to the virtually unknown (in the US). I find inner peace thinking that the memoirs of Simone de Beauvoir, Proust’s "Recherche du temps perdu" and a sizeable quantity of Yukio Mishima’s and Marguerite Yourcenar's fiction sits up there on the circular red bedroom shelf right under the ceiling, ready to be picked-up and re-read at any time. Recently I have started a small but slowly growing collection of travel writing which will keep company to Rebecca West’s “Black lamb and grey falcon.”

In 2009, New York is happily still a fairly bookish town. Besides, despite the omnipresence in Manhattan of the usual big chain bookstores and the convenience of the major online booksellers, small neighborhood bookstores manage to endure, and even perhaps thrive. Among my favorites bookstores in downtown Manhattan, two of them come to mind. The first one, an old favorite, is Housing Works Bookstore Cafe in Soho, which sells used books for
a good cause. The second one, Idlewild Books, located in Chelsea near Union Square in a newcomer which specializes in travel books and world literature. Idlewild is a small independent bookstore. I happened upon it one recent evening, lured by a large globe prominently displayed in the second floor of the building where the store is located. Stepping into this little gem of a place is perhaps the closest thing to visiting the Paris apartment of imaginary well-to-do friends or relatives while they are away. This bookstore is a cozy beauty where I could picture myself living, where books are neatly organized by country of origin and where a lot of thought went into the selection of both fiction and non-fiction works. If the owners offered coffee - as they currently do not, customers would likely linger there for hours.

PS: The photos on this post are of three of my favorites books by authors from the Balkans: "How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone" (by Sasa Stanisic), "The Beloved Land" (by Vladimir Dedijer) and "La Chronique de Travnik" (by Ivo Andric). I have now read Andric's “La Chronique de Travnik” (“Bosnian Chronicle”) a total of three times – a personal record that I may not break anytime soon. For those of you curious about the beatiful historistic town of Travnik in Central Bosnia, click here (site of the official site of the BH tourist office), or here and here (for a peek at my pictures of Travnik taken in April 2008).

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Ombres d'hiver - Winter shadows

These photographs were taken during our short stay in Brittany this past December. While going for walks with Vlada I kept noticing beautiful and sometimes mildly strange shadows on houses, walls, fields of grass. This was winter with a lot of houses locked-up for the season, not a lot of clutter in their courtyards and of course no leaves on most trees, which made it easier for these light effects to form. In Spring and Summer, there are other things to notice. My favorite picture in this series is the shadow of a gnarly fig tree on a simple white house with its twin set of shuttered french doors (below).