Tuesday, May 20, 2008

New York: Pen Festival: Day One

On April 30, I arrive in New York for The Pen Festival of World Literature. A plethora of events awaits me . . . all of them in different locations. I don't know New York. I have work ahead of me. Agenda number one: find my way around the city. Assignment: get acquainted with the streets. Best method: walk

I walk from the Marriott East Side (525 Lexington and 49th)cross town to 6th Avenue and down to 42nd Street to find Town Hall, where I will attend Public Lives/Private Lives for an event featuring Salman Rushdie, Michael Ondaatje, Annie Proulx, Ian McEvan that evening, where these famous world writers will “peel back the layers of their literary selves” to reveal from whence arise their creative voices.

I find Town Hall, then walk uptown on Fifth Avenue, to find the Instituto Cervantes where at 1 p.m. Latin American and Spanish authors will discuss “New Directions in Spanish Literature.”

I didn't realize I would be waylaid by the New York Public Library on 42nd St. It is 10 am and the doors of the library are just opening. Crowds of people line the stairway awaiting entry. The great stone lions keep watch. On the terrace people sit at iron-wrought tables under delicate trees, reading the papers and chatting. They sip coffee that they’ve brought with them. The plaza resembles a cafĂ© but there are no waiters.

A large placard in front of the stairs announces a “Sketches on Glass: Cliche-Verre” exhibition. I know I cannot pass by the opportunity to view etchings by Impressionist artists Corot, Daubigny, Rousseau, and Millet. I follow the crowds through the great doors, open my backpack for the guards, climb the central staircase to the third floor, and turn to the right.

The exhibit stuns me into quietude. I move from sketch to sketch slowly, trying to absorb the landscapes presented here … captured by a technique that combined printmaking and photography – what is essentially a hand-drawn or painted negative on glass. When I remember to check my watch, I am stunned to find I have only one-half hour to find my way to the Cervantes Institute for the lecture at 1 p.m.

Photo: Mailman in NY


Diana Raabe said...

Was this excellent? I am so jealous! Annie Proulx has a short story in the New Yorker this week that I plan to read later tonight. And I've ordered a signed copy of Rushdie's new book from Powell's. He is the most charming man. I met him when he read at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis (last year?). I have a photo of the two of us together but, alas, it was taken with one of those wonderful cell phone cameras you mentioned.

Beryl Singleton Bissell said...

My next article will be on the Festival itself . . . the events I attended and my perceptions of those events.