Friday, November 2, 2012

Literary Birding, New York Style! - 22 Oct 2012

Pigeon of Passage, plate from Catesby's Natural History of
Carolina, Florida and Bahamas
Robin and I boarded a plane for Laguardia to visit our friends Guy St. Clair and Andrew Bernum in Manhattan for the weekend.  Our Friday morning arrival in New York produced our first New York cab ride to mid-town Manhattan, where we stayed at Pod 39 on E. 39th Street.

Guy, our host, is a Sr. Knowledge Management 'Rock Star', native New Yorker, local historian, and a professor at Columbia University. He met us at the hotel and we walked to 31st and Lexington for some thin-crust pizza and Stella Artoise at Vezzo. We chatted and made plans for the weekend. Afterward, we walked to their apartment on Park Ave. and then around the corner to the historic New York Public Library. Robin was interested in seeing the map rooms, and Guy gave us a tour of the renovated Rose Reading Room. Gorgeous. We then headed back to our hotel for a quick nap before dinner w/ Guy and Andrew.

Guy met us at the hotel and we headed over to the University Club, one of New Yorks oldest and prestigious private clubs.  There we met Andrew, who is the Curator of the massive literary collection in the building.  After a brief tour of the main library, Andrew took us down to the vaults, where we got to check out some of the 'older' volumes.
Temminck's Tragopan, plate XII
from Beebe's Monograph of Pheasants
Our first treasure was a peek at William Beebe's Monograph of Pheasants, a four-volume portfolio of
pheasants first published in 1918-22.  Stunning paintings and prose by William Beebe, it was a joy to see the gorgeous color plates. The book can be viewed online here!

Largest White-bill Woodpecker, plate from
Catesby's Natural History of Carolina, Florida
and Bahamas
We were then treated to a look-see at Mark Catesby's Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahamas. Published between 1734-1747 this 11-section work was combined into two volumes.  I found a reference to a copy that went for over $384,000 at Christie's Auction House.  No wonder Andrew kept this copy in the vault...  Catesby's work was a predecessor to Audubon's works, and although it contains numerous 'mistakes', it was truly a joy to see the full-color plates.  Check out the Largest White-billed Woodpecker at left, now known as the (extinct) Ivory-billed Woodpecker.  An online version of the book can be seen here.

Not to be left out, Andrew then treated Robin to a look at a 1511 copy of Ptolemy's Geographia. His maps of the known world showed only a hint of a Western Hemisphere.  A cartogragher's dream!

From there we walked past the Chrysler Building, Waldorf Astoria, St. Patrick's Cathedral and other landmarks to the Century Association Club for dinner, a tour of their Reading Room, a Homer Winslow painting under canvas, and a tour of their Great Room. Founded in 1847 it was considered 'as the most unspeakably respectable club in the United States'. Ha, Robin even got booted off the steps 'after dinner' by the doorman as we waited for a bus.

We then retired for the night, knowing that Saturday would be  a big day of touring the city. We weren't disappointed.  After breakfast at Scotty's Diner on Lexington and 39th, we met up w/ Guy and Andrew for a walking tour of New York City.   After perusing a street fair we headed to the subway toward City Hall, and a short tour of the Brooklyn Bridge.  A Hermit Thrush made a brief appearance in the bushes lining City Hall.

Andrew was a delight.  An architectoral historian, he dazzled us w/ his knowledge of city buildings and history.  We quickly learned which buildings were considered 'gems', and which ones were designed by the 'Neo-Brutalists'.  Ha!  We wandered down toward Staten Island, passing by Wall Street, the Liberty Tower, and countless foot traffic.  A ferry ride over to Staten Island took us past the Statue of Liberty and provided stunning views of the metropolis against the darkening skies of Sandy.

From there we looked for lunch, then headed toward Central Park and the American Museum of Natural History.  Along the way I managed to spot Golden-crowned Kinglets, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Palm Warblers, and White-throated Sparrows.

I was interested in seeing the bird exhibit at the AMNH.  Remembering how disappointed I was in the displays at the Smithsonian in Washington, I was not disappointed here.  We checked out the numerous displays of American, as well as tropical bird displays.  From there we headed to the large mammal displays, especially the elephants - Guy's favorite. With a pending trip to Kenya next summer we were all excited to see the African mammal displays.

We then headed down to the Theodore Roosevelt gallery, where we enjoyed a wonderful tour of the newly-reopened large mammal display of North America.  Cell phone pics don't do the displays justice, but give a nice idea of how beautiful the animal mounts are.

It was impossible to wave down one of the hundreds of taxi cabs circling Central Park, so we settled for a very long bus ride back to our hotel in the late Saturday afternoon New York traffic.  After a great swedish meatball dinner at the Scandinavian House on Park Ave. we headed back to our room just in time to watch the Tigers lose game 3 of the World Series....

Our flight back to Detroit was not until late in the afternoon on Sunday, so we met Guy and Andrew for Starbucks, and a tour of the Grand Central Terminal before having lunch at the Pierpont Morgan Museum just around the block from our hotel.  We then headed back to Laguardia for an evening flight back to Detroit.  Hurricane Sandy was bearing down on New York, so we were lucky to get one of the last flights out.

We had an amazing time, and cannot thank Mr. Guy and Mr. Andrew enough for a wonderful weekend.  Thank you, gentlemen! and looking forward to our trip to Kenya next summer. Wishing you and the rest of the East Coast a safe ride through Hurricane Sandy.

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