Romany Marie


Marie Marchand, better known as Romany Marie was one of those eccentric characters that stood out in a town full of them. During the first part of the 20th century, her informal Greenwich Village cafés drew a society of artists, anarchists, activists, playwrights, musicians and bohemian intelligentsia. If you were looking for la vie bohème in New York City, you found it chez Romany Marie. Picture Stevie Nicks meets Gertrude Stein and you’ll start to get an idea of the kind of woman who single-handedly established Parisian café society in the Big Apple. So how did the village forget its most prominent café queen?

During her 35-year reign in the village, she sheltered all sorts of anarchists: Wobblies, Socialists, Communists, and even vegetarians! New York’s “lost generation” they were called. She had established a Rive Gauche of her own, and it was one that even Paris knew about. Before there were speakeasies, her tribe of liberals would always find their way to her locations, which were often hidden up several flights of stairs or at the ends of alleyways. Describing one of her locations on Minetta Lane, Rian James wrote “only a surveyor could find it” in his 1930 book, Dining in New York. Other locations included 55 Grove Street (next to the now famous piano bar Marie’s Crisis), St Mark’s Place, Washington Square South and the basement of the Hotel Brevoort.

Other notable guests at Marie’s included Diego Rivera, Orson Wells, and novelist Fannie Hurst. Everyone who was anyone on the art scene passed through Marie. “She was a Vesuvius of creativity in heart and mind,” recalled Buckminster Fuller. The pamphlet advertising Romanie’s read as follows:

In these sad dry days, Manhattan yams in gigantic boredom. Broadway and its garish lights? No! Then where? Then what to do? But just suppose there was a place with a peasant atmosphere? A place that gave an honest glimpse of “Romantic Romania?” A place where coals grow on an open grate? Where, instead of jazz, come soft languid gypsy aurs of the old Carpathians? 

A place where one sips Turkish coffee and fragrant drink? A place serving a table-d’hote dinner or dishes so delicious that they tempt the jaded palate? What then? Would that amuse you? For there is such a place! 

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A Tribute to the Printer Aldus Manutius, and the Roots of the Paperback [via Doug Fetterly]

CURIOUS strollers in early-16th-century Venice might have paused by the shop of the great printer Aldus Manutius only to be scared off by a stern warning posted over the door.
“Whoever you are, Aldus asks you again and again what it is you want from him,” it read. “State your business briefly, and then immediately go away.”

To state the current business at hand briefly, Aldus is the subject of a new exhibition commemorating the 500th anniversary of his death — and the birth of reading as we know it.

Aldus has attracted some pop-culture attention in recent years, at least among those with a geekish taste for printing history. The novel “The Rule of Four” gave his most famous book, the enigmatic “Hypnerotomachia Poliphili,” an upmarket “Da Vinci Code” treatment in 2004. There was also Robin Sloan’s 2012 best seller, “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore,” which turned Aldus into the founder of a shadowy secret society headed for an apocalyptic showdown with Google.

The exhibition that opened this week at the Grolier Club in Manhattan, “Aldus Manutius: A Legacy More Lasting Than Bronze,” gathers nearly 150 Aldines, as books from the press Aldus founded in Venice in 1494 are known, for a more sober tribute. Gutenberg may have invented the movable-type printing press, used to create his monumental Bibles. But anyone who has ever sat in a cafe, or in the bath, with a paperback owes a debt to Aldus and the small, cleanly designed editions of the secular classics he called libelli portatiles, or portable little books.
“It’s become a cliché to call them the forerunners of the Penguin Classics,” G. Scott Clemons, the president of the Grolier Club, said during a recent tour of the installation in progress. “But the concept of personal reading is in some ways directly traceable to the innovations of Aldus’s portable library.”

The exhibition, organized by Mr. Clemons and H. George Fletcher, a former curator of rare books at the New York Public Library and the Morgan Library, is a gallery of bragging rights. Aldus was the first to print Aristotle, Thucydides, Herodotus and Sophocles, among others in the Greek canon. He was possibly the first printer to compare manuscripts to arrive at the most reliable text. He was the first to use italic type. He was the first to use the semicolon in its modern sense.

And then there were the unwitting firsts, like what may be the earliest known version of “This page left intentionally blank,” preserved in a 1513 edition of the Greek orators included in the show, along with instructions to the binder to remove the extra leaf.

“He printed the instructions in Latin and Greek,” Mr. Clemons said. “But of course bookbinders couldn’t read Latin or Greek.”

Aldus, born in the Papal States around 1452, trained as a humanist scholar and worked as a tutor in aristocratic households before taking up printing in the 1490s. It was a moment of upheaval in reading roughly equivalent to our own digitally disrupted age. And Venice was the Silicon Valley of printing, home to dozens of shops locked in cutthroat competition.

The Aldine Press, in its start-up phase, emphasized Greek and Latin lexicons and grammar manuals. In 1495, Aldus began publishing the first printed edition of Aristotle. In 1501, he released the first of his small octavo editions of the classics, books “that could be held in the hand and learned by heart (not to speak of being read) by everyone,” as he later wrote. The show includes 20 libelli portatiles, all bearing Aldus’s printer’s mark, a dolphin curled around an anchor. (The colophon is still used today by Doubleday.) Some of the books were treated as treasures, and customized with magnificent decoration that harked back to the tradition of illuminated manuscripts. Others were workaday volumes, filled with marginal scribbles.

The exhibition also includes examples of Aldus’s larger-format work, including the “Hypnerotomachia Poliphili” (1499), sometimes said to be the most beautiful — and the most unreadable — book ever printed.
The book, a densely allegorical erotic love story attributed to Francesco Colonna, is celebrated for its integration of gracefully shaped typography and elegant woodcuts. But visitors to the Grolier would be forgiven for letting their eyes go straight to the famously excited ithyphallic (to use the scholarly term) god Priapus standing at attention, as it were. The book is displayed cracked open a modest halfway to that page, directly across the room from a 1547 medical encyclopedia open to a passage discussing the uses of cannabis.

“We wanted the show to have both sex and drugs,” Mr. Clemons explained.

Most of Aldus’s contributions to the art of printing are more subtle, like that first italic typeface, which he created with the type cutter Francesco Griffo, a shadowy fellow who broke with Aldus acrimoniously and then slugged a man to death with an iron bar before reputedly meeting his own demise at the end of a hangman’s rope. Italics, which were intended to mimic the humanist handwriting of the day, first appeared in a modest five words in a 1500 edition of the letters of St. Catherine and soon spread to other Aldines, and beyond.

And then there was the roman typeface devised for a 1496 book by the humanist scholar Pietro Bembo — the inspiration for the modern font Bembo, still treasured by book designers for its grace and readability.
“The book itself is almost frivolous,” Mr. Clemons said of the text, which recounts a trip to Mount Etna. “But it launched that very modern typeface.”

The libelli portatiles also attracted less flattering imitations. Aldus, who had secured special printing privileges from the Vatican, was plagued by counterfeiters, despite the warnings on his title pages that those who made unauthorized copies would be excommunicated.

Things got so bad that in 1503 he printed a broadside warning consumers of the telltale marks of fake Aldines, including specific textual errors, low-quality paper with “a heavy odor” and typography that exuded, as he put it, a sort of “Gallicitas,” or “Frenchiness.” (Many counterfeits came from Lyon.)

“The counterfeiters just said, ‘Thank you very much,’ corrected their errors, and kept printing fakes,” Mr. Clemons said.
While putting together the show, Mr. Clemons identified one previously unknown counterfeit, a 1501 Virgil printed on vellum and held by Princeton University. “It was immediately obvious,” Mr. Clemons said. “It was Frenchy.”
Aldus died in 1515, and the press was taken over by his father-in-law and then by his son Paulus. The center of printing had begun migrating north, but the press continued to produce some important editions, including the first printed Greek Bible, the Septuagint, in 1518, and the official proceedings of the Council of Trent.

Aldus’s grandson, known as Aldus the Younger, took sole control in 1574, but “the gene pool had run very shallow,” Mr. Fletcher said.

By 1579, Aldines carried a list of still-available titles printed in the back. “You can almost imagine him looking over his shoulder at the unsold books piling up,” Mr. Clemons said.

In a last-ditch effort to save the press, Aldus the Younger accepted a commission from Pope Sixtus V for a new Latin Bible, only to produce a rush job so riddled with errors — about 4,900, Mr. Fletcher noted grimly — that it was suppressed.

“Sixtus died, and the new pope said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’ ” Mr. Fletcher said. (The book, which includes carefully pasted-in printed corrections, is now among the rarer Aldines.)

The press closed for good in 1597. But Aldines, which survive in the tens of thousands, have exerted an unflagging hold on collectors, from Jean Grolier, the Renaissance bibliophile for whom the club is named, to the two curators, whose personal loans make up the bulk of the show.

Mr. Clemons, a managing partner at the financial firm Brown Brothers Harriman, bought the first of the roughly 1,000 Aldines in his collection while an undergraduate classics major. “It may now finally be worth what I paid,” he joked.

Mr. Fletcher, who acquired the first of his 125 Aldines when he was 16, summed up their allure with what might be called Aldine understatement.

“Aldus was a person with a strong aesthetic sense who was also able to work with common sense,” he said. “This is an almost completely unknown phenomenon, even today.”

Reposted From The New York Times


Before There Was Emily in Paris, There Was Sally Jay Gorce


Throughout the latter half of the twentieth century and well into the beginning of the next, it’s easy to track our fascination with young women attempting to figure out life – they are witty, tenacious, and often keenly perceptive of the world in which they exist and their place within it. Their names have become household, pop-culture gospel: Holly, Carrie, and now (for better or worse) Emily. But there is one name on that list that often fails to come up: Sally Jay Gorce.

Now, let’s go back for a moment. In November of 1958, Esquire magazine began serialising a novella that told the story of a young woman living in New York. She was a bit of a party girl, and she was looking for a rich man to make all her dreams come true. What those dreams were, exactly, no-one was really sure. Its author, Truman Capote, had originally sent the story to Harper’s Bazaar, who later backed out on the basis that it was just a bit too risque. As well as being serialised in Esquire, the novella was published in full by Random House. It was called Breakfast at Tiffany’s. By 1961, it had been adapted for the screen into what would become one of the all time greats, Audrey Hepburn stepping into the OG little black dress in a performance that would both irk (one person, Capote, who wanted Marilyn Monroe) and bewitch (everyone else, who, as the saying goes, either wanted to be her or be with her.)

But also in 1958, some nine months before Breakfast at Tiffany’s was published, there was another novel making the rounds, already on its way to becoming a cult favourite. In January of that year, the writer Elaine Dundy – previously an actress in Paris and London, now married to the theatre critic Kenneth Tynan and a new mother – had released her first novel into the world. She called it, rather coyly, The Dud Avocado.

Elaine Dundy based the novel on her own exploits when she lived in Paris for a year before heading to London to act. “All the outrageous things my heroine does, “ Dundy has stated in interviews, “like wearing an evening dress in the middle of the day, are autobiographical. All the sensible things she does are not.” Groucho Marx, who loved the book, sent her a note: “If this was actually your life, I don’t see how the hell you ever got through it.”

Dundy’s method of using her own life as a springboard is similar to that of another woman several decades later, who in November of 1994 began writing a column for the New York Observer detailing the exploits of her and friends as young women making a life – “Well, but living you know…” – in the Big Apple. She called the column Sex and the City. 

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Author Daniel Moskowitz

 Author Daniel Moskowitz in the photo below holding his book Bronx Stagger in an unintentional shameless act of self-promotion.

Moskowitz volunteered to help his former colleagues organize assigned Family Court Attorney's rally for better paySometimes good deeds do go rewarded.  His novel takes place in Bronx Family Court, the busiest court in NYC.

Credit...Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

Lawyers who are known as panel attorneys and who represent children and indigent adults, have been departing the system by the dozens over the past decade, leaving many of the most vulnerable New Yorkers without their constitutionally guaranteed right to counsel. The attorneys say that their ranks are thinning because their salaries have not risen in close to two decades, and they are now fighting in court to change that.

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Sex, Drugs, & Rock ‘n Roll are on the docket of Bronx Family Court, the busiest court in NYC. Schwartz the Lawyer fights for justice for families while struggling with personal demons that place his own family Sex, Drugs, & Rock ‘n Roll are on the docket of Bronx Family Court, the busiest court in NYC. Schwartz the Lawyer fights for justice for families while struggling with personal demons that place his own family risk.

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 "After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world."

― Philip Pullman