It's not often that I go to the South Street Seaport. It's full of tourists and has become the sort of place--like many in New York--that caters exclusively to the tepid tastes and desires of tourists, with suburban shopping mall stores and an outdoor food court. It's far from Joseph Mitchell's old Seaport, that's for sure. But I went recently and found a few things worth the bother.
is a temporary pop-up bookshop that just opened in a store called
Whisper Editions at 6 Fulton Street. They sell antler sculptures and
$135 makeup bags. Bypass those to access the bookshop upstairs.
Opened by Aaron Hicklin, editor-in-chief of Out magazine, One Grand is organized around the question "If you were on a desert island for the rest of your life, what 10 books would you take?"
The people who answered include Tilda Swinton, Justin Vivian Bond, Edmund White, Michael Cunningham, and Penny Arcade.
This is "curated" bookselling for sure, but if you can get over that, you might enjoy the way each shelf appears as its own desert island of the person's favorites. Most made interesting choices.
Fashion designer Tom Ford picked a bunch of Ayn Rand titles, which seems unsurprising.
The South Street Seaport Museum, in its also temporary, post-Sandy location, has a free exhibit. It features vintage photographs of the Fulton Fish Market in operation, along with artifacts from the old Seaport.
You will also find a few remnants of Carmine's Italian restaurant, which was shuttered after 107 years by a massive rent hike in 2010. For some reason, this is not mentioned on the information card.
Part of the Seaport Museum, Bowne Print Shop and Stationers is also well worth checking out. Established in 1775, they're still printing and the print shop itself has some lovely antique letter presses to admire.
They also have a bunch of printed matter for sale, like cards of quotes by E.B. White and Frank O'Hara, including my favorite:
“I can’t even enjoy a blade of grass unless I know there’s a subway handy, or a record store or some other sign that people do not totally regret life.”
(Really, if you can't say that, what are you doing in the city anyway?)
Next door, the stationery store sells some unusual and appealing
postcards of old New York. They also, oddly, sell tassels. Many tassels.
The proprietor explained that a business was forced to downsize in the
Garment District and donated all their tassels to the museum. So now you
know where to buy tassels, in bulk or otherwise.
Oddly, there aren't many tourists in these few places. They're too busy stuffing their faces at the food court or lining up to get their names printed on personalized cans of Coca-Cola. (I'm not kidding.) It's dreadful and it makes me think of how, lately, the world's global cities are all complaining that tourists are ruining things. Because they have no interest in the local culture or history. They only want to shop for the same junk they can find at home.
And that makes me think about a Paul Bowles quote, which might look good on a printed card from Bowne's:
An “important difference between tourist and traveler is that the former accepts his own civilization without question; not so the traveler, who compares it with the others, and rejects those elements he finds not to his liking.”