Last night I left work at the ungodly hour of 5:15 PM and walked east to visit a vanishing slice of New York.
I had read about a discussion at the New York Public Library--that grand old building on Fifth Avenue stretching from 40th Street to 42nd Street--between an author I like, Kati Marton, and the "New Yorker" writer Larissa MacFarquhar.
So, as I said, I decamped early from an ugly, badly-lit conference room with 11 mis-matched chairs and headed to the Wachenheim Trustees' Room in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.
New York has a long-tradition of honoring its malefactors of great wealth by blotting their names on our great buildings. I think Carnegie built most of Manhattan's unmatched library system with the trillions of tax-free dollars he made on the backs of the proletariat. Schwarzman has amassed the 100th largest fortune in the world--$12.9 billion--probably by, again avoiding taxes, and by squeezing the pension funds of widows, orphans and cripples.
Nonetheless, the library itself is a fabulous old place, with more marble than ancient Rome and the hush of centuries.
Both Marton and MacFarquhar wrote parts of their latest books in the place, and thanked it for the stimulation, its resources, its solitude and its utter lack of cell-service.
The talk, was, of course fabulous. Marton is an eloquent speaker. She's incredibly intelligent and has a storied life as the daughter of Hungarian-born diplomats who survived the Nazis, only to be imprisoned by the Soviets as alleged CIA agents.
Her latest book "True Believer: Stalin's Last American Spy," covers the intrigues of Noel Field, an American-born, Harvard-educated (he graduated in two years) agent of OGPU or the NKVD or the KGB, depending on what Soviet agency was ascendant at the time.
In a way, though, the talk was incidental.
I enjoyed an evening of thought and quiet surroundings. I sat amid three dozen variously-accented former communist dissidents looking to thank Marton for her various literary exposes.
Hey, if you live in New York, take a trip on a slow day to the library. Just get a feel for a different time. And soak in the intellectual quiet.
If you're really into treating yourself, pop into one of the old oak phone booths, and call, maybe, an old friend.