I schlepped into Manhattan late last Thursday afternoon to deliver the finished manuscript of my Damn France Book. It weighs about ten pounds, being made of 208 sheets of 11-inch x 11-inch paper marked with position slugs on its edges onto which I have affixed each and every piece of text, each and every bit of artwork, and then covered with a vellum sheet (onto which the production dept. will make their notes re: color corrections, text scanning, size and additional position info).
I mention this again to bring more attention to my stupendous work ethic and my saintly perseverance and how much I go through just to make my books for youse. I’m not one of those typistswho sends my manuscript to my publisher with the push of a button, nope, not me. I do it all by hand, and then I hand-deliver the pile in person to my editor. I can’t get enough of your pity and awe.
Sadly, I forgot to take a photo of what 208 pages of raw Vivian Swift material looks like. Hint: It looks like a big pile of over-sized paper with a hedgehog buried in the middle. Actually, more like a mound than a pile.
I separated the manuscript into 50-page bundles , each supported with a firm piece of cardboard to keep the whole thing from toppling over. And then I put it in a box, and slid the whole shebang into a big shopping bag (the only one we had that was the right size was Top Cat’s bag from The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, from our visit there three years ago). I took a train into Manhattan, and a taxi to the Flatiron Building, and when I got to my editor’s office I took a photo of the Damn France Book sitting in her guest chair:
One of the reason I hand-deliver my manuscripts is because I get such a charge out of hanging out in my publisher’s offices, because my publisher is Bloomsbury, and Bloomsbury’s offices are in the historic Flatiron Building in New York City. You know the Flatiron:
Built in 1902, it’s been famous since it was erected on a peculiar triangle-shaped bit of land on 23rd Street in lower Manhattan.
In 1903, the artist Alfred Stieglitz made the first iconinc image of the Flatiron in a snow storm using that new fangled technology: photography.
In 1904, the artist Edward Steichen paid homage to Alfred with his iconic image of the Flatiron, using that new fangled technology: color photography.
The Flatiron is situated at the heart of lower Manhattan, where Broadway (an old Indian trail that slashes its age-old way diagonally down the isle of Manhattan) crosses Fifth Avenue.
See how the Flatiron is built like a triangle? Like a flatiron of yore? (Photo of a flatiron of yore to follow.)
On this visit to Bloomsbury, I was on a mission: I wanted to penetrate the inner sanctum, get to the heart of this publishing culture. I wanted to get here:
Not just the corner office of the Flatiron Building. The Isosceles office.
Well, they are very nice people at Bloomsbury. My editor, Kathy Belden, was more than happy to take me down into the fulcrum. Turns out that the Publisherof Bloomsbury, George Gibson, has his office in Bloomsbury’s tipping point, on the third floor. (The Publisher of a book publishing office is the boss of all the editors, the person who sets the overall tone of the house re: the kind of books it will publish. For instance, Bloomsbury does not do much fiction — absolutely no vampires — but when it does, does literaryfiction, of the kind that wins Man-Booker prizes. The Publisher also decides which authors get the monster advances, the big marketing bucks.)
This is what a distinguished literary Publisher’s office looks like:
This is George’s desk, in the cradle of the Flatiron Building.
If you step carefully over George’s lateral filing system on the floor, and look out his window (which faces uptown, north, towards streets that number 24 – 220th, the highest street number on the island of Manhattan, by the way; anything higher is in the damn Bronx), this is the view:
On the left, that’s Broadway heading towards its rendezvous with Fifth Avenue. Up the middle, that’s Fifth Avenuetaking its time to plow into Broadway, with a new “island” created there on the bottom edge by Mayor Bloomberg — one of his many such innovations in urban planning. It’s really nifty: all over the isle, he’s set aside bits of wide avenues and made them into plazas with potted trees, tables, flowers, etc., so people can gather and take back the landscape from the automobile. I will take you down to that plaza after I show you this:
This is George’s collection of the distinguished writers Bloomsbury has published. Big fat literary prize winners, noted authorities, New Yorker cartoonists, New Yorker short story writers, famous taste makers and renown style-setters.
I looked: my book’s not there.
My editor, Kathy, and I then took the Damn France manuscript up to the 8th floor where the production editors and the children’s books people work. It just now occurs to me that I should have taken my camera to show you how nifty those offices are — I saw where they keep the real writers’ manuscripts on file!! They are held in safekeeping on open shelves and it looks like a paper fetishists’ lair — I will have to get back up there on my next visit and show you! (I showed you a bit of that floor in The Truth About Publishing Part Three, or Four. Maybe it was Part One — I forget.)
And then I was out on the pavement, heading up to 29th street to check out the latest hipster haven in Manhattan, passing through the Fifth Avenue plaza at 23rd street:
It’s hard to show how swell it is here, sitting in this lovely oasis while traffic slithers past on all sides. It’s really cool.
My destination was The Ace Hotel at Broadway and 29th street.
The Ace is the anchor to Manhattan’s newest (and some say, last) new neighborhood — NoMad. NoMad was the only stretch of un-named real estate left in Manhattan, a dreary stretch of streets north of 23rd and south of 34th (to get oriented: the Empire State Building is on 34th and Fifth) that are full of discount perfume stores. The area is bound by Fifth Avenue on the east and Broadway on the west, and is above Madison Square Park on 23rd street, hence north of Madison Square Park = NoMad.
I wanted to see the Ace Hotel because I like to keep up on the hipster happenings in town and because this hipster happening hotel is a Pacific Northwest stronghold in Manhattan. The Ace chain (of four hotels in America so far) was founded by Portlander Alex Calderwood for Portland-ish travelers — cultural travelers– who travel to see film, design, art, literature, food, and music.
The bike rack is your first tip-off that this is not your usual smart-ass/ new money New York hipster happening hang-out:
The sidewalk evergreens are another. (They have fetching little blue lights in them.)
Inside the hotel it’s very dark and I lost my way trying to find the front desk, but a nice cleaning lady led me to it and when I asked for a room rate card I was told that it’s all paperless — I have to make a reservation from their website. As if I carry around an iPhone, or a smart phone, or any phone…the vibe at this Ace Hotel, like the Ace Hotels in Seattle and Portland, is “creative class”. Not for people like me, who insist on working as anachronistically as possible.
(The Front Desk, courtesy Oyster.com)
It was so very dark in there that I didn’t take photos, but I wasn’t there for the bar scene. I was there for the Stumptown Coffee bar. Stumptown Coffee is famous in Portland , Oregon — a strictly hometown institution, full of Portland ethos and style and insider jokes (Stumptown is an old nickname for Portland, from when it was a pioneer town and the developers were cutting down trees and the locals, already showing signs of their peculiar brand of Portland tribalism, decided to come up with the least catchiest town moniker ever).
So there I was, standing in the middle of the Stumptown coffee bar in the Ace Hotel, where I’ve read that if you look too dull, too smarmy, too Wall Streetishyou will be told that the cafe is full (even if you can see with your own eyes that the place is empty), and I start shooting pictures, and this is what the barista does:
That is sooooo Portland, soooo Stumptown coffee.
And yes, all the baristas wear hats.
I came home on the 6:35 train to Long Island and I rushed home to Top Cat and told him that we have to do something we’ve never done: take a romantic weekend in Manhattan. At the Ace Hotel. I’m dying to spend a night there, hang out and observe the to’s and fro’s of this generational esprit. Know what I mean?
One last picture, not related to this post at all: I walked to Penn Station on 34th Street, passing the Hotel Pennsylvania (it faces Madison Square, the up-town one, named after the Madison Square on 23rd Street, the stadium where the Nicks play basketball and where I saw Bruce Springsteen on his Rising Tour in 2003 and George Harrison on his 1974 Dark Horse tour, among others). And on the sidewalk was the cabin crew for Air India, waiting for their bus to JFK airport:
A little market research here:
Who wants to read about my [future] weekend at the Ace Hotel, about my observations on the cultish style and humor and “creative class” vibe and, doggone it, the niceness, regarding the Pacific Northwest-by-the-Hudson scene??
Let me know in the Comments –
P.S. On Friday, one last fond memory of my Great Pacific Great Northwest tour.