Once in a while, you turn a corner in this overwhelming city, and you come across a tiny door to the past.
Before I left for Europe, I had tea with two of my New York pals, and then Sandrine (she took the recent slew of smiley pix on the site) and I went in search of a button store that she had heard about. Her husband is Will Lee, the fabulous bass player. And he's known for his rather outrageous outfits on the Letterman show. Well, Sandrine was looking for some buttons for one of his crazier suits, and I was looking for buttons for the crazy coat I'm almost finished knitting.
There it was, on 62nd street, between Lex and 3rd. "Tender Buttons." I never thought of buttons as having qualities, or feelings, but once inside, I became a believer. It was like a pet store where you feel the pleading desire of each tiny animal, "please choose me, take me hoooome."
One wall is lined top to bottom with brown boxes. At the end of each box, the buttons it contains are attached. The other wall has glass display cases, locked with tiny antique locks. The buttons inside are exquisite, bejeweled, mother of pearl, mother of god gorgeous. There are one of a kind creations from the twenties. Beautiful antique sterling match holders. Trinkets and tchotchkes. You could spend a week and not see every treasure.
The floors creak, the sales people are elderly and quite creaky themselves, but this store was a vivid reminder of all that is quickly fading. Tiny stores that specialize in one thing are so rare. This is why I insist on buying all my books at my favorite local bookstore; Crawford Doyle Bookseller even when they have to order them for me. I know I could have them more quickly and cheaply from amazon. But I am desperate to hold on to some piece of this other time.
Maybe this is why I love France so much. There is still a little store for the bread and croissants, a butcher for the meat, a fish place to buy your seafood, another tiny shop for your linens. You ALWAYS say "Bonjour Madame, Monsieur" when you enter any establishment. And "Merci, au revoir" when you leave. The notoriously cranky creaky French do things a certain way and enforce the rituals they cherish. And I LOVE this.
Maybe this is all part of that other conversation about the value of music, the domination of gismos and high speed acquisitions of digital media. Sometimes I feel we're losing our attention span, our ability to slow down and have a real conversation. To remember the VALUE of real things. We defer to texting instead of picking up the phone. We email, we don't have time to stop and LISTEN. But where's the magic in that? Where's the story?
Maybe this collapse of the economy, the shaming of the greedy is all part of a forced re-calibration of priorities. Did we really need more stuff? Is wealth at any cost really something to aspire to?
Tender Buttons is cash only, and it is not cheap, and don't let them catch you taking pictures! I had trouble deciding and so got two choices for my coat of many colors; crazy purple, and classic tortoise. Now I just have to finish knitting.
or the tortoise?
I'll have to let you know which ones win!