Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Seaport Stuff

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.

One Grand 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.”


Chris said...

I still like that part of the city, no matter how much it's been abused. Sloppy Louie's may be gone, but we do have Il Brigante!

Jill said...

After Sandy we helped clean those wooden boxes the type is kept in. I'm so glad they survived.

Forest Hills Harry said...

You missed out on Jeremy's, one of the great old-school dive bars in the Seaport.

Anonymous said...

The Seaport was always good for a lunchtime walk when I worked downtown. Looks like it has gotten better - going there post-Sandy was pretty depressing for a while. As a side note, Bowne printed my wedding invitations. They did a beautiful job!

Margot said...

First, the South Street Seaport Museum is not in a temporary location. It just feels that way because the building is not fully open due to Sandy damage.

I'd also recommend crossing South Street to visit the ships and book a sail on the Schooner Pioneer. I'll admit to bias as volunteer crew, but if you love NYC - as one must - these ships are illustrations of what built the city: commerce enabled by the excellent harbor.