Tag Archives: Serendipity

Serendipity and a Park Bench

Last week’s snowstorms affected the Carnegie Library’s users and staff alike.  In today’s guest post, Richard reflects upon his brush with what many are calling The Blizzard of 2010.

Given the week we’ve just had, after spending several hours out in the snow you could be excused if you thought I was going to bring up Robert Frost’s “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening”.  I’m not; I’m more in mind of Neil Diamond.

"What a beautiful noise comin' up from the street."

I happen to be fortunate in that I live across from one of Pittsburgh’s gems: Highland Park.  The park, which opened in 1893, is a natural wonder overlooking the Allegheny River (as well as my house), and certainly makes it hard to believe that my corner of the Highland Park neighborhood is really within city limits.  On Tuesday I was able to get out and try some less-than-serious cross-country skiing on both the unplowed streets and in the park itself.  By not plowing down to the asphalt, Pittsburgh Public Works provided me with the perfect skiing surface– not roadway, and not two feet of powder more appropriate for snowshoes.

I spent about two hours early Tuesday evening in and around the park, almost alone, but not quite.  It wasn’t bucolic; I wasn’t making the first tracks on virgin snow, and to tell you the truth, I didn’t need to:  I’ve done that before.

This was an urban experience — hence the reference to Neil Diamond.  I was thinking of his 1976 song Beautiful Noise.  I was skiing above Bunker Hill Road, which is not normally a quiet country lane.  For three days, though, there had been no buses and few plows, and only the foolish or eternally optimistic had taken their chances going up or down.

"What a beautiful noise comin' up from the park."

During my sojourn there were just enough buses and cars off to the side to remind me where I was without disturbing me…and in a way, the interruptions were reassuring.  In the park itself there were two or three other people and the falling snow.  As I was trying to stay on relatively packed areas — trails imply a deliberate “from here to there,” and that wasn’t the case — I came across two snow-covered park benches placed under a copse of two or three pine trees.  They were arranged in such a way that the trees afforded some protection from the falling snow, and the panorama of the restored fountain was open before them.

They were perfectly alluring, and we owe a modest amount of gratitude to

"It's a beautiful noise made of joy and of strife."

whoever placed them there, whether deliberately or just because it seemed like a good place.  I’ll make sure to go back and check them out in the spring and summer, when the sounds of the street are a little clearer.

–Richard

"Like a symphony played by the passing parade, it's the music of life."

All photos copyright 2010, RK.  Used with permission.

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Serendipity for a Friday Afternoon

elysian

 One of the things a librarian might tell you, if you managed to ply her with a preferred libation or two while off duty, is that serendipity is one of her favorite forms of searching.  Similarly, for customers, one of the favorite ways of searching is browsing our extensive shelves.  Hardly a day goes by when a person or three doesn’t say to me, “Just get me to the section, I’ll take it from there.”  When you browse in the stacks, you sometimes find the most unlikely things.  Ask any librarian, most of whom have piles of books at home unearthed while looking for something for someone else, and, yes, some of those books are overdue because, well, librarians are regular folk, too.

Regular folk who have to pay fines like everyone else, I hasten to add.

While doing some background research recently, I noticed that today, June 19th, is the anniversary of what is reputed to be the first ever game of modern baseball, played in 1846 in Hoboken, NJ, on the lyrically named Elysian Fields (pictured above).  Hoboken is a popular northern New Jersey city just across the Hudson River from Manhattan, a small but delightful place where I spent a fair amount of time in my younger years.  I was born nearby in Bayonne, which is another small city that took a lot of good-natured ribbing from Jackie Gleason on the TV show The Honeymooners, a 1950’s sitcom that, remarkably, is still airing over 50 years later on WGN, Chicago. 

Hoboken itself has a storied history.  Quite a few punk rock, neo-punk, emo, and independent bands have emerged from the Hoboken scene over the years, a scene that is still thriving today.  Many of those bands got their start in Maxwell’s on Washington Street, Hoboken’s main drag, and still a very active music venue. 

When it comes to music, serendipitously enough, the Dutch musicologist, Anthony van Hoboken, a descendent of one of the families the city may have been named after (there are at least two other possible origins of the name: the Flemish town of Hoboken and a phrase from the Lenni Lanape Unami language), is most famous for his catalogue of the works of Joseph Haydn.

When you shake the Inter-nets, lots of info on Hoboken falls out, including some interesting tidbits from Wikipedia.  Though I’m not sure about the veracity of this little niblet, it’s said that the Hoboken Public Library CD collection of works by favorite son, Frank Sinatra, is so large, they’ve given him his own classification (Classical, Jazz, Rock, Sinatra etc.) and if it isn’t true it should be.  Famous folks hailing from Hoboken are about as varied a bunch as you can get: Bill Frisell, the band Yo La Tengo, Alfred Kinsey, G. Gordon Liddy, Eli Manning, Anna Quindlen, Dorethea Lange, Alfred Stieglitz, John Sayles, Willem de Kooning, Daniel Pinkwater, and Arti Lange, to mention the more famous.

Hoboken was supposedly the site of the first brewery in the United States, but I’ve found some conflicting information on that (and even more conflicting information on that).  The zipper, thank you, Lord, was invented there.  One of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories, “The Mystery of Marie Roget,” the first mystery story to be based on a real crime and something of a sequel to “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” was set there.  Like Manhattan, Hoboken was first seen by Europeans when Henry Hudson sailed up the river that took his name and, again like Manhattan, it was purchased from the local Native American tribe for a pittance by Peter Stuyvesant.

A serendipitous search of the library catalog for Hoboken produces some interesting results.  There is last year’s cookbook cum memoir bestseller, the delightfully titled “The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken.”  Novelist Christian Bauman’s “In Hoboken” is about musicians, rock and roll, and the simultaneous charm and despair that is Hoboken.  In fact, there are 7 novels set in Hoboken in the catalog.  Hoboken’s Union Station is featured in “Still Standing: A Century of Urban Train Station Design.”  There are dozens of music CDs either recorded in or referring to Hoboken in our collections.  “Gritty Cities: A Second Look at Allentown, Bethlehem, Bridgeport, Hoboken, Lancaster, Norwich, Paterson, Reading, Trenton, Waterbury, Wilmington” captures the ambiance of an earlier, less auspicious time (pre-1978), something we Pittsburghers can readily relate to.

As the mills were to Western Pennsylvania, the waterfront was to Hoboken and so it would be accurate to say that not only was one of the greatest movies of all time, “On The Waterfront,” filmed there, it was lived there.

Finally, here’s one for the final Jeopardy category of “Musicals” and you don’t even have to be from Hoboken to answer it:

“The Little Sisters of Hoboken.”

And the question is ….

– Don

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