After we’d left the flea market, we walked across Central Park. I had, in the end, rejected all but the most alluring treasures: the 1970s Harlequin romances, a beloved Little Golden Book—Pantaloon—a sort of novelty all-purpose kit from 1957 embossed with the words Girl Friday containing aspirin, buttons, a shoe horn, a pen, tissues, Band-Aids, and giving off a distinct smell of decaying leatherette. I wasn’t sure what I’d do with it.
We visited a bookstore on Madison Avenue, perused the wooden shelves, marveled at a first-edition Ellison, ogled letterpress cards, picked up something my husband had been wanting to read: a reissue of The Green Man. Then we walked East, to the old German restaurant in Yorkville, now obscured by construction for the Second Avenue subway, and thought how the neighborhood would change even more. I was glad the place was full; the servers were in dirndls and lederhosen, although they came from all over the world. We shared weisswurst and I had a hot wine. It started to snow.
“I hope it will never close,” I said. “But if it does … that WPA-style mural is so beautiful … ”
We looked over our new acquisitions; the Girl Friday smelled so unappetizing that we had to put it away inside a tightly tied bag.
Then we walked west again, to the Metropolitan Museum, which was thronged with visitors. Inside, you could see the snow coming down in earnest through the glass walls of the new annex. My husband had never seen the arms and armor, so even though I’ve always found it dull, we went to its court—we couldn’t figure out how to get upstairs, although I’d wanted him to see it first from above—and it was more interesting than I remembered, even if more of it was ceremonial. Then to the temple in the Egyptian wing, which was full of kids, and the high-low vibrancy of a socialite’s wardrobe in the Costume Institute, and the low-lit halls of Medieval art, and the rooms and rooms of European painting.
In the corridor lined with artifacts of the Byzantine—jewelry, rock-crystal vials, spurs, kitchen implements—I rushed through, silently willing my husband to hurry. But when he asked me what made me look so troubled, it was hard to articulate: each piece here had taken so much labor, such resources, the work of a lifetime. And here were so many hundreds of them, all together, overwhelming. “Any one of them would have been … treasure,” I said.
It was a relief to move into the acquisitive, machine-made grotesqueries of the Victorian era, where quantity was the point.
Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.