sprite writes
broodings from the burrow

August 7, 2006

belated basking in authors’ auras
posted by soe 11:55 pm

I think I may have cooled off finally from my trip to New York City. Although each time I leave the cool tunnel of the Burrow, I have flashbacks.

We pulled into Penn Station shortly before 11 and after briefly venturing into the heat, we opted to return to the air conditioning (although not in the stations) of the subway. We surfaced at Grand Central a short time later and walked the couple blocks to Coliseum Books, across from the New York Public Library, where Debbie Stoller was scheduled to speak. After assuring ourselves that there would not be a problem with seating, we backtracked a shopfront to Pret a Manger, a UK-based pre-made sandwich shop we fell in love with on our first trip to London. Why can’t Americans figure out how to make tasty sandwiches ahead of time and not have them taste dry and stale and gross by lunchtime?

Rudi dropped me back at the bookstore and headed off to Virgin. I unpacked my sock and waited to be amused. It didn’t take long. Debbie is as funny as her books and she passed around great samples from her crochet book for us to fondle. (It does, however, make it tough to work on picking up gusset stitches if every 45 seconds you have to put down your knitting to hand the next sample on to your row-mate.)

After the talk ended, Rudi returned and we walked across to sit in the “shade” at Bryant Park so I could try and coordinate meeting up with everyone that evening. The heat made me short-tempered, which didn’t make it easier to work out details. Eventually I resorted to the “call me later when you know what’s going on” method of handling things.

We went into the library, which while it may be the most iconic library in the world, is actually crap. Sure it looks nice. But you can’t actually handle the books. Hell, you can’t even handle the magazines without asking. I want to be able to browse. Clearly it was not designed to encourage a love of literature or literacy.

Shortly, the appeal of vaulted ceilings and marble benches wore off and we were forced to consider other means of entertaining ourselves. We contemplated a museum visit. Erik had suggested a perfectly lovely one that I couldn’t remember where it was and since there were no helpful periodicals lying around to consult… we opted for the more pedestrian but easily accessible option of a movie.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie on the 12th or so floor of a building before, but our theater was located high above Times Square. I don’t think it was merely the altitude nor the air-conditioning that made me enjoy Little Miss Sunshine so much, but it put me into a more positive frame of mind.

We hiked back to Grand Central where we waited in the food emporium for Karen and Michael’s train to arrive and for Eri to slog uptown from work. Then we hustled (at least as much hustling as can be done in 110 degree humidex) up to Radio City to get in line for An Evening with Harry, Carrie, and Garp.

The evening featured some celebrities. Whoopie Goldberg opened the evening, but she was very wooden and seemed like she needed to have brushed up a bit more before going on. Tim Robbins introduced Stephen King. Stanley Tucci introduced John Irving. Kathy Bates introduced J.K. Rowling. Soledad O’Brien orchestrated the Q&A.

Here’s the sad part:

I slept through a good portion of John Irving and Stephen King’s readings. The heat and the lack of sleep just caught up with me. (I do know that King read from a story that inspired(?) Stand by Me and that Irving read from part of A Prayer for Owen Meany.)

Periodically I would awaken briefly, laugh or nod at something they were saying, and then doze right back off. As John Irving left the stage, Erik leaned over and whispered, “Now’s the main act,” hoping, I think, that I would finally rally.

He needn’t have worried. I would have awoken from a dead sleep for the author of the Harry Potter books.

Rowling took the stage to the adoring screams that normally accompany a rock star. She settled into her chair and began reading the Pensieve scene from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince where Harry and Dumbledore witness Dumbledore’s visit to Tom Riddle in the orphanage. She then answered a few questions from pre-selected members of the audience.

One person wanted to know whom (other than Harry) she would bring to life of her characters. Hagrid, she responded, because she thought all of us could use a Hagrid in real life.

Others were angling for insights into the final book of the series. Aunt Petunia has secrets we don’t know about, Rowling admitted. And, to the crushing disappointment of many in the room (sorry, Mum), Dumbledore really is dead. I believe “He won’t be pulling a Gandalf” were her exact words.

The other two authors returned to join Rowling on the stage and they each answered a few more questions, including one to Rowling from Salman Rushdie and his son.

And then it was over. We chatted briefly upstairs as we waited for the crowds below us to dissipate and then descended to the heat and humidity outside. Eri scooted off to catch a train down to her Nan’s in Newark. Rudi returned inside to find his wallet, which had accidentally been left behind. And then the rest of us trekked back towards Grand Central, ate a quick bite, and then put Karen and Michael on their train back to Connecticut.

Erik, Rudi, and I headed toward Brooklyn, where we were greeted by the already cooling house of Erik’s mom, who was kindly letting us stay there in her absence and who had asked a neighbor to come over and turn on the a/c. (Poor Erik was not so lucky, as his a/c was down for the second night in a row and his bedroom thermometer read a balmy 95 degrees. (He packed up his things for the next day and joined us back at his mom’s.)) But Erik did take us down to a pier near his house where you could see the Verrazano Bridge, Manhatten, Staten Island, and the Statue of Liberty through the haze. It was lovely.

The next day we slept in, had lunch with Eri at a sushi place by her office (I had an asparagus roll and a kampyo roll featuring a Japanese vegetable the waitress said was a type of squash), met up with Erik to return the keys at a Starbucks in Midtown, checked with Amtrak’s 1-800 line to learn that our train was late, and then ended up missing our train when it was on time after all. Oops.

Amtrak was lovely and booked us onto a slightly later train and we were home by 10, tired but happy we’d gone north to see our friends and a couple of really cool authors.

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