Moving from Uptown to Downtown

by Michel Amandry

When I asked last year if the ANS would be willing to have me return as the Summer Seminar’s Visiting Scholar—after a twenty-year hiatus—I was quite pleased at the enthusiastic response. Indeed, I wanted to be the first European scholar to take part in the Seminar in its new downtown home.

Much has changed both at the ANS and in the US since my last Visiting Scholar stint in 1984. Surprisingly this year, in the wake of 9/11, I had only to book my airline ticket to come to New York rather than fill out the reams of INS paperwork I remember from my experience in the 1980s. Although I had visited the ANS as a teenager in 1966 with my father, Pierre Amandry (a noted archaeologist and former head of the French School in Athens), and had lunch that day with the Greek coin curator Margaret Thompson, my memories of that day are quite vague. For all intents and purposes, my first taste of the ANS did not come until nearly twenty years later when I returned to New York as a scholar myself. When I arrived in June 1984, former curator Bill Metcalf was waiting for me at JFK airport to bring me into Manhattan where I would be staying at Larissa Bonfante’s apartment located on the upper west side near Morningside Park (for many years Bonfante, a professor at NYU, offered her apartment to the ANS’ Visiting Scholar when she left for Italy each summer). When dropping me off, Bill duly instructed me not to walk in the Park; the crime then in that part of the City was quite serious. Older now and much more familiar with NYC after countless visits since, this time I simply hailed a cab to take me from the airport to Sebastian Heath’s house in Brooklyn, where I stayed a few days until my own place in Staten Island was ready. Residing in Staten Island this year has been a different kind of NYC experience—it’s so quiet you hardly imagine you are so close to Manhattan—and quite pleasant thanks to the new Greek coin curator Peter van Alfen and his wife Muserref, who live just two blocks away from my apartment.

In the 1984 Seminar there were eight students, a reduced number from the usual dozen or so that attended each year. It is easy now to recall their faces seeing their picture on the ANS archives website (http://​www.numismatics.org​/Archives​/GraduateSeminar). This year there are only six students, the maximum number now, and one probably for the best since each student receives more attention as well as a larger stipend. After twenty years the staff has changed too; the librarian Frank Campbell and Islamic curator Michael Bates’ faces are the only ones I recognize from twenty years ago. To be expected, some habits have changed too. In 1984, the curator in charge of the Seminar, Bill Metcalf, a diehard Yankees fan, used to take the students down 155th and across the East River over to the Bronx to watch the Bombers play. This year, the class ventured to Coney Island instead for the carnival-like Mermaids Parade, with dozens of (mostly) young, often topless “mermaids” celebrating the opening of the beaches. Certainly another view of American life!

Other changes have come with time and the move. Twenty years ago Audubon Terrace and its neighborhood were nowhere near as safe as they are today. In fact, on my very first bus ride from Columbia University to the ANS, I saw a murder victim dead and bleeding on Broadway. Once in the ANS building, we rarely ventured out except for an occasional Cuban sandwich or lunch at the old standby, Coral. Needless to say, concerns about safety or finding a good lunch are not issues on Fulton street; there are dozens of restaurants nearby, and, perhaps most importantly, sharing a bottle of good wine over lunch at Vine with former ANS Trustee and dear friend Rick Witschonke is now so much easier. Over time too the old ANS building had become quite disorganized, with the library scattered across several floors and hidden in various small rooms; having the photo file in the basement was also an inconvenience when one wanted to compare coins with the file record. The layout of the new headquarters is so much better: the library is better organized and accessible (and well lit!); the curators, coins, and photo file are all together on one floor.

Of course, the first weeks of the Seminar this year were a bit chaotic as the move was still going on along with the work on the building. In addition to studying coins, one could also study the mechanics of elevators by watching a worker assemble one over the course of two weeks, or could study air conditioners, computerized security systems, or even the principles of leverage as large pieces of furniture were hoisted and manhandled between the floors. All in all, whatever chaos and disruptions there were this year, they were certainly easier to handle than a dead body on Broadway!