Thursday, June 26, 2008


Mountain View, California... but thinking of New York. First things first: no I am not taking the piss, Anonymous,  of course I could have stayed at hotels other than the Hudson. But I don't necessarily know where I'll be for how long, there's a time difference between me and the Sunday Times travel office and I'm not the kind of jerk who says he has to stay at the Pierre because they do a great BLT, which, I am sure, they don't. But, anyway, the Time Warner Center is close to the Hudson.  This was designed by some visually illiterate jerks from the once great firm of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. In the city of Mies's Seagram Building and Hood's wonderfully slender and rhythmic 30 Rock, now known as the GE Building, the Time Warner Center is an affront to all civilised values and should be torn down at the first opportunity. It does, however, have an excellent branch of Borders where, for some reason, language teachers always go to correct their students' English - every time I go there it's happening. It was there that I found, generously displayed, a mag called Lapham's Quarterly.  This is an astonishing publication, a thematic anthology basically, which, in this latest issue, counts William Wordsworth, Dante Alighieri and Ovid among its contributors. At first I thought it must be the one-off whim of its founder, Lewis Lapham, but it turns out to have a massive, distinguished editorial board and a mighty staff. Its web site is here  Such a thing would be unimaginable in Britain. Ask for it in Waterstone's and they would try to flog you the latest Harry Potter if you were lucky, the latest Jeffrey Archer if you weren't. Worst of all, they might point you to the phoney 'staff picks'. Anyway, that said,  this anthology contained a fragment by Frederick Law Olmstead, defending this designs for Central Park - 'A broad stretch of slightly undulating meadow without a defined edge, its turf lost in a haze of the shadows of scattered trees under the branches of which the eye would range, would be of high value.'  The romanticism of Central Park - its rocks and chasms - as opposed to the classicism of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens has always fascinated me. We constructed the gardens of a country house, the New Yorkers constructed an urban fantasy of nature untamed. I'm not sure which refreshes more, but it's pleasant to think about it here in Silicon Valley.


  1. I must be doing something wrong Bryan. I agree that you wouldn't see anything like Lapham's in Waterstones, but all those literary periodicals in Borders etc displaying ostentatious learning and good taste just set my teeth on edge.

  2. ''Finding the present in the past, the past in the present.''

    I can taste sick in my mouth...

  3. Lewis Lapham: Great editor of "Harper's," which used to be one of my favorite magazines. A fellow who is erudite, loves literature, *and* can write himself. Rare, rare, like they don't cook steaks anymore.

    If you like great little magazines, Bryan, check out The Hudson Review. The 60th anniversary issue is still on newstands (and certainly in that Borders) and it has some great stuff too, including some never-before-published fiction by Penelope Fitzgerald. It also has something by yours truly, deriding a recent "Mommy Meanest" memoir by one of America's really good *fiction* writers.

  4. Lewis Lapham: Isn't he the reporter who has been caught filing stories, including crowd reaction, before the events he was supposedly covering?