Showing posts from 2012

Sweden's Coffee Ban

I recently quit coffee. And I love coffee. But I quit the bean to ease my migraines (working so far). Around the same time I tore through Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy and was struck with the sheer volume of coffee the girl with the dragon tattoo, Mikael Blomkvist and friends drank while seeking revenge and doing investigative journalism. It made me wonder... Do those long Scandinavian nights require insane amounts of coffee? Were all the coffee breaks taken by Lisbeth Salander a mere literary crutch?

 Rooney Mara as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in David Fincher's 2011 film
The answer to these questions can be found in the 18th century when Frederick I, the king of Sweden from 1720 to 1751, banned coffee in his kingdom. Coffee had first arrived in Sweden in the late 17th century, and by 1746 Fred decided he needed to tax the import. He taxed coffee paraphernalia and tea as well.

Fredrick I c. 1730
According theThe World of Caffeine: The Science and Culture of the World…

Snug Harbor

Three weeks ago Hurricane Sandy made landfall and devastated New Jersey, where I live, as well as New York City, where I work. While trying to get back to "normal" with public transit and power outages still affecting daily life and while helping my neighbors who have lost so much, I've been thinking a lot about a trip we made recently to Snug Harbor in Staten Island. Founded in the early 19th century as a home for "aged, decrepit and worn-out" seaman, Sailors' Snug Harbor is now used as a cultural center and botanical garden and noted for its variety of architecture, which appears to have been spared the damage suffered by other sections of New York's "forgotten borough" although the grounds suffered "substantial tree damage."

The Greek Revival buildings of Snug Habor have landmark status

In 1801, wealthy New York sea captain Robert Richard Randall founded a charity dedicated to providing for aged seamen, who in the 19th century did…

Brazen Art Thieves Make off with Seven Paintings Including Monet, Matisse, Gauguin and Picasso

A privately-owned art collection, on public display for the first time, was plundered on Tuesday in Rotterdam. Seven paintings were stolen from the Dutch Kunsthal museum in the latest instance of art theft in Europe. The works stolen were  Matisse's "Reading Girl in White and Yellow," Monet's "Charing Cross Bridge, London" and "Waterloo Bridge, London," Gauguin's "Girl in Front of Open Window," Meyer de Haan’s "Self-Portrait," Picasso’s "Harlequin Head," and Freud’s "Woman With Eyes Closed." 

Monet's "Charing Cross Bridge, London" Image courtesy of Police Rotterdam, the Netherlands

With stolen art notoriously difficult -- if not impossible -- to fence, speculation abounds that the works were stolen-to-order. The New York Times reported: "Marc Masurovsky, a historian and an expert on plundered art in Washington, noted the possibility that the theft was 'contract job,' adding: …

Lost & Found, Bought & Sold: First Edition Frankenstein Inscribed from Mary Shelley to Lord Byron & More!

A rare first edition of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, inscribed "from the author" to Lord Byron is being offered for sale in London! Sealed bids are being accepted until October 3rd.

According to an article about this incredible find in Fine Books Magazine, "This presentation copy of an important book from one famous author to another bears witness to one of the most intriguing literary friendships -- as the legend goes, it was Byron who dared the teenaged Shelley to write a 'ghost story.'" See more pictures and a video about the book, being hand;ed by Peter Harrington Books, here.

In other news, a Nazi-owned Tibetan statue was discovered to be made out of a meteorite

According to Art Daily the statue was brought from Tibet to Germany in 1938 by a "Nazi-backed venture [which] set out for Tibet in 1938 in part to trace the origins of the Aryan race -- a cornerstone of the Nazi's racist ideology." The statue came to auction in 2007 and …

George Washington's Mountain Lookout: A visit to Washington Rock State Park

Last weekend, with fall in the air and a new set of wheels, my hubby and I looked around for a destination for a Sunday drive. We settled on Washington Rock State Park, located in Green Brook Township, New Jersey (GPS Coordinates: DMS 40° 36’ 47.65” N 74° 28' 23.70" W). What makes this park interesting is what makes so many New Jersey sites interesting... George Washington and New York City views!

The park is an elevated outcrop of rock which gave General Washington a strategic view of the New Jersey plains below.

Looking south from Washington's Rock one can see for 30 miles
A view to the southeast
During 1777 and again in 1778-1779, Revolutionary forces ensconced themselves in the Middlebrook encampment in New Jersey's Watchung Mountains, which span Morris, Union, Essex and Passaic counties. From their mountain stronghold, the patriots were able to monitor movement of the red coats between British-held Manhattan and the city of Philadelphia.

The New York City skyli…

When Poetry Was an Olympic Event

Rugby A drawing by Luxembourg artist Jean Jacoby which won the 1928 Olympic medal for drawing

I am not a sports fan. There, I said it. So I'm always a bit torn when the Olympics comes around. I love the pageantry, the traditions and the notion of the whole world putting aside cultural and political differences in order to play. I became even more enamored of the Olympics after reading the fascinating blog post on entitled"When the Olympics Gave Out Medals for Art."

Including the arts was the intention of Pierre de Fr├ędy, Baron de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics movement, and "for the first four decades of competition, the Olympics awarded official medals for painting, sculpture, architecture, literature and music, alongside those for the athletic competitions," (
The works of art had to be inspired by athletics, and some recipients of medals for the arts were American John Russell Pope (Los Angeles 1932), designe…

The Battle of Paulus Hook: Revolutionary War History in Downtown Jersey City

Just across the Hudson River from lower Manhattan is Paulus Hook, a Jersey City neighborhood that, on August 19, 1779, was the scene of a notable Revolutionary War battle, the Battle of Paulus Hook.

Although today dominated by 19th-century brownstones and new luxury highrises, this area was originally occupied by the Lenape Indians and settled by the Dutch in the 17th century.

At high tide the "hook" became an island, making it an ideal location for a fort.

Such a structure was built there in 1776 by the American Revolutionaries as part of a series of outposts along the Hudson. However, when the British took Manhattan from the Americans in November 1776, the fort in Paulus Hook was abandoned and soon became occupied by the British.

But on the afternoon of August 18, 1779, three years into the war, a young go-getter by the name of Henry Lee III aka "Light Horse Harry" led a raid on the fort that exemplified the audacity of the Revolutionary cause. Lee, had graduate…

John Kennedy Toole Archive Sold at Sotheby's

A few months ago I posted about a purported lost manuscript of John Kennedy Toole, the late author of A Confederacy of Dunces. Since that time a small archive of Toole manuscript material did come to light and went under the hammer at Sotheby's. It included an autograph letter signed by Toole, a first edition of Dunces and children's books from his own library.

I happened to be on the phone with a representative from Sotheby's on June 15 when this lot was auctioned in their New York rooms and, despite the fanfare surrounded it and the estimate of $10,000 to $15,000, it sold for the low estimate of $10,000.

The 1963 letter, while on the surface appearing slightly mundane, bears traces of Ignatius J. Reilly.
Toole writes, "Unfortunately I did not see you during the holidays – although I doubt whether this greatly affected your Christmas either way. I had no access to an automobile. The prospect of traveling via Greyhound stopped me in the planning stage…"
Are t…

London's Historic Women's Library Threatened

The UNESCO-recognized Women's Library in London is facing the loss of funding as London Metropolitan University seeks to divorce itself from the storied institution in an effort to trim its budget.

Founded in 1926 in a converted pub and counting Virginia Woolf among its members, the library is the repository for archives relating to the fight for suffrage as well as other women's issues such as health and reproduction, education, employment, and equal pay. The vast collection of books (including a first edition of Mary Wollstonecraft A Vindication of the Rights of Women), pamphlets and periodicals, are joined by objects and ephemera such as campaign banners, photographs, posters, and textiles.

After suffering bomb damage during the Blitz, the library relocated several times and became affiliated with London Metropolitan University. The National Lottery funded a new building in 1998, which was lauded by the Royal Institute of British Architects. In 2011, the library was recogniz…

Remembering Survivors in the Wake of the Titanic Anniversary: A Book Review of "The Last Leaf" by Stuart Lutz

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "There is properly no history; only biography,” a point which author and historian Stuart Lutz nicely illustrates in his vastly interesting book The Last Leaf. Each chapter grants the reader a fresh look at a historic moment, person, place, or movement through the eyes of the sole surviving eye-witness. In so doing, Lutz has preserved for all generations to come a new and vital perspective on history; The Last Leaf covers such diverse episodes in history as the Suffrage Movement, the creation of Social Security, the Holocaust, the development of radio, the sinking of the Lusitania, and the General Slocum fire.

Today is the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic and I think it's a good time to draw attention to the kind of history Lutz has recorded in The Last Leaf. There have been many first-hand accounts of Titanic survivors in the media this week. The voices recorded in The Last Leaf are equally moving, illuminating and fascinating and len…

Lost & Found, Bought & Sold: A Confederacy of Dunces and the Salem Witch Trials

Introducing what I hope will be the first of many installments of "Lost & Found, Bought & Sold" where I will highlight newly lost or discovered manuscripts, works of art, artifacts, etc. as well as notable sales of the same. Today's column includes a literary treasure hunt and the sale of a macabre manuscript from Salem.

The biographer of enigmatic author John Kennedy Toole discusses tracking a lost manuscript of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, A Confederacy of Dunces, and finding a valuable source of oral history instead. The biography, entitled Butterfly in the Typewriter by Cory MacLauchlin is being released today and looks to be the book for which fans of A Confederacyof Dunces have long been waiting.

Earlier this month, a Salem witch trial manuscript was sold at Swann Auction Galleries in New York City for $26,000. The 1682 indictment is rare and puts on paper the many crimes with which Margaret Scott, a septuagenarian widow, was charged and for which she…