Nature, and Culture, from Central Park Op-Ed

| 02 Jun 2016 | 05:03

Is there anything more enchanting than strolling in Central Park on a spring day?

Blue sky, gentle breezes, green leaves fluttering overhead and a beguiling Belgian waffle in your hand, ready to be devoured. It was all that for me last week, plus the knowledge of living in the midst of unlimited culture. I sat on my bench daydreaming and counting the places I could visit without leaving the area.

Without question there is the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of the City of New York, the Guggenheim Museum. the Museum of Natural History and the Jewish Museum. But who knows about the New York Society Library at 53 E. 79th Street? A privately owned entity that is barely discernable as you pass, disguised as a classy apartment building. You have to be a member to take out books, but they welcome strangers who just want to browse in their reference room. Their discussion groups are also open to the public for a fee. At one time I requested a tour of their fiction section and I was taken to another floor where these books were stored. I saw racks and racks of books of just the beginning of the alphabet and the rest were stored on upper floors. Nothing would have given me greater pleasure than to spend the whole day groping my way among the aisles looking for books I read years ago. But the librarian’s eyes were watching to make sure I didn’t get too attached to any book. A wonderful quiet retreat where you can sit, think and of course, read.

The Albertine Book Store at 972 Fifth Ave. is under the umbrella of the French Consulate located in the imposing Payne Whitney mansion. Their collection of French and English books is diversified and there is something there for every taste. Don’t expect to find “Fifty Shades of Gray” lurking on the tables or shelves but you may be surprised at what you do find. As you wind your way up a little circular staircase you enter a small, cosy area of tables and chairs. Here there are programs for children in French and English. But you could well be alone appreciating the solitude as you look out the window at the adjacent backyard.

At the Albertine there are numerous lectures, displays all through the year and if you register at the front desk you will be emailed information about future programs. All for free.

It’s time to visit our public library on 79th Street between Second and Third avenues. The library is in an old mansion which definitely has seen better days. Every time I walk up the crumbling steps and open the beleaguered wooden door I can’t help wondering why the city is unable to make these repairs to take away the unkempt and uncared for look of this imposing structure. There is a very alert staff inside but a number of users leave a lot to be desired. It’s unfortunate that these public places are homes for the strays walking around our city who use these facilities for nesting spots. The library’s location makes it accessible to the neighborhood and I find myself very often just taking a peek to see what’s new and picking up requested books.

To log into their website requires technical maneuvers I didn’t know I had and I wonder who dreams up these steps. Do I have to use a dictionary to understand the instructions? When you went to pick up a book, in the past, you went to a shelf and looked under your last name. Now, you go to a shelf that has the last four digits of your code number. I know my last name but I can’t remember the last four digits.

But the public library is still a wonderful free option into worlds of knowledge and pleasures for everyone who qualifies for a user card.

The afternoon in the park is slowly winding down and before I depart I go to the Belvedere Tower, climb the steps, lean on the parapet and gaze at the wondrous sights of our town, New York City.