“A mighty fortress is our library,” one of the characters of my favorite novel, Duplicate Keys, by Jane Smiley, says at some point while standing in front of the New York Public Library. With its lion statues guarding it, it looks like a mighty fortress indeed, though that’s obviously not what the quote alludes to.
Today I decided at some point in the afternoon, after the most charming breakfast at Sarabeth’s by the Plaza, after my friends left, after I did a Facebook live video for my Dogs with Bagels book club, broadcasting from my window bench where I could see the beautiful yellow cabs on Lexington, after all that I decided that I wanted to walk to the Public Library. Actually I think I just wanted to walk and I remembered somehow through muscle memory that walking down Fifth Avenue really fast, all the way from the Park to the Village is one of my all-time favorite things. It makes me feel free. It makes me feel like anything is possible.
And so I walked. I walked past Saint Thomas, my favorite NYC church, with its intricate sculptures, took a moment even to go inside, then walked past Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. The Empire State drew nearer, the stores went from high end to cheesy, and the lovely scent of candied nuts from street vendors engulfed me. I felt very much at home.
Did I stop at the Library? You bet! I even went inside. I looked at some of the current exhibitions, and what occurred to me was that what’s changed since my crazy twenties in New York, when my appreciation of the City was superficial at best, to now when I fully feel its magic, is not that I’ve gotten older but that I’ve actually gotten an education. I don’t mean a formal education – the degrees I was earning while I still lived up here – but a real education in the things that truly interest me. An education derived slowly from reading books I like. Mostly novels. The realization made me somehow feel at peace with myself. I mean, all weekend I’ve been berating myself for being the rootless vagabond that I am, for wanting to move back to New York, for always being so ready to pick up and leave. Then I realized I’m ok. It’s all ok. The flip side of my vagrant ways is that I can be happy anywhere where I can paint and have access to good books. A mighty fortress is our library indeed.