Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Black Magic

During the darkest period of my life to date, and by a strange twist of circumstance, I had the delightful experience of staying at a bed & breakfast in Harlem. Strange sentence. It was under a shroud of sadness that I came to stay at this bed & breakfast, but the time there was irreplaceable and meaningful in many ways -- not least because of the swell guy who rents out the bottom floor of his brownstone as an apartment for visitors, which also houses his unbelievable bookstore, open “by Appointment, Invitation or Serendipity.” On 160th street between St. Nicholas Avenue and Edgecombe, just west of the Harlem River, sits Jumel Terrace Books, at the peak of the cobblestone street. Directly across 160th rests the stately Morris-Jumel Mansion (the oldest house in Manhattan) where George Washington was headquartered for September and October of 1776.
Jumel Terrace Books is owned and run by Kurt Thometz, a scholar, collector, and enthusiast of African and African-American literature. Beyond that, he is an expert on a wide berth of philosophy, but has a keen interest in the human transition from orality, to illiteracy (which is a concept in itself) and through to literacy and our modern ways of thinking, communicating and transmitting thought from person to person.
During our two days staying with him, effectively living in his bookstore and sleeping in the beautiful basement apartment in the next room over, he was kind enough to show us around Harlem, teach us a great deal about its history, and he spent hours talking with me, recommending literature, music, and relating stories from his life’s-wealth of experience.
While there, I was so taken by all of the book covers and art around us, I had to capture as much as possible. Many of the following photos are grainy, but were the best I could do in the half-light of the bookstore with a borrowed iPhone. The images start from the street, looking into Kurt’s bookstore at night...


Sanou’s Mum said...

just read about this blog on Harlem Bespoke and as a former typesetter I am thrilled to see it.

Kurt Thometz said...

Thank you. Fell on your kind words and have added them to the reviews on the Jumel Terrace B&B's website. What you wrote here, on staying with us, coming to me in these dark days (torrential rains, even) performs the same solace you took here. Likewise, it was refreshing to have sympathetic Americans as guests. Just yesterday, three who'd booked three nights here, online, were aghast to find themselves in Harlem on arrival. They abandoned their payment (in full) and ran downtown.

N.O.S.D. (“Not Our Sort, Dear,” as they say on the Upper East Side). But who are?

I don't know if you could have noticed the squib on us in yesterday's NY Times in a piece on "hidden treasures" in Washington Heights. There’s been an eerie silence since. My hard won cynicism hadn’t prepared me to zero response, making me think I’m failing on the side of optimism thinking anyone would. The last time we had a perfectly charming Jim Dwyer write up in the same paper my business fell off by 90%. This could be it.

Living in a Sponge Bob world that makes less sense with each passing day requires more faith in the word than ever. It will not make us smarter or happier or richer. The predicament of the word is our predicament. And, ain’t that just about a bad bitch?

Love to the b.w. ("beautiful wife") and charming mother-in-law. Y'all rare but don't make yourself scarce.