Last weekend, I finally got around to visiting Albertine, the new-ish bookstore and reading room housed in Manhattan’s historic Payne Whitney mansion, which has served the cultural services of the French Embassy since the 1950s. Conceived as a project to bridge the French and American cultures through books/humanities/general intellectual deliciousness, Albertine carries 14,000 titles in French and English and hosts special events like discussions, book signings, and story hours. While I aspire to partake in those alluring offerings later on, my first visit consisted of a quick stroll through the place, which was intimate and well-heated, and well, getting really hypnotized by the gorgeous indigo-and-gold ceiling on the second floor (details on the design of that here).
As I browsed the shelves one by one, I did feel a little out of place, mainly because I was hearing so much French spoken around me! Is this where cool French people of NYC come hang out? There were also quite a few families with adorable, French-speaking children…maman! papa! were heard all around (there’s a children’s/young-adult section upstairs.) I definitely enjoyed that. The second floor also had a few glass-enclosed shelves of really old and crusty volumes of classic French books (think Voltaire and Balzac, though I neglected to jot down specifics) that were selling for thousands of dollars…so maybe they’re rare original copies/first editions?
Anyway, I knew I wanted to leave with something, but since I only understood, I don’t know, 39 percent of whatever I was reading, it was really hard to process book synopses and discern what ~intrigues~ me. After much mulling, I got myself a 5th-grade-level book called Un Écrivain à la Maison. Écrivain! Maison! A writer at home? From what I can gather from the back cover, it’s about a group of students organizing a literary salon. I think I can dig that. (I’ve read two — very short–chapters so far and have already consulted Google/translate many times.)
After I checked out and made my exit, I noticed there was a room to the left that was, uh, quite spectacular. Just look at it. What a time capsule…
Oh man, just noticed you can see me in the reflection…and with that, I’m out!