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In Business...Out Of Business

September 6, 2011

My life seems to be all about endings and beginnings at the moment. I spent the eve of the start of my John S Knight Journalism Fellowship at Stanford last night wandering around downtown Palo Alto taking in the sights.

Two places I came across made me pause for thought:

1) Borders Books: The massive bookstore in Palo Alto is having its closing down sale. I drifted about the space with its mostly empty bookcases (all of them for sale for about $50) feeling sort of depressed. Besides a couple of cookbooks and a volume of Noel Coward letters, there seemed to be only trashy self-improvement guides, CMAT primers and cheap romances left in the store. (I suppose I should be grateful that people in Palo Alto have good taste and bought the interesting stuff first. Assuming there was interesting stuff to be had in the first place.) The space is huge. I wonder if it will remain empty for long? It's hard to imagine what kind of business, besides another big chain store, would go in there. And I don't suppose a Walmart-like company would want to open its doors on University Avenue, where I imagine the real estate prices are sky high.

2) Stanford Cinema: Happily, chancing upon Palo Alto's lovely old movie house just in time for an Alfred Hitchcock double feature, cheered me up. Although The Stanford isn't as lovely as San Francisco's Castro Theatre and the place was only about a quarter full for the 7.30pm showing of "To Catch A Thief," the atmosphere is heart-warming. The high ceilings and art deco fixtures take one back to a bygone era, which is of course compounded by watching Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in action. The Wurlitzer organ player does a great job of setting the mood before the movie starts. And you can't beat the $7 price tag. Plus, a bonus, there are no ads. It was interesting to note the disconnect between today's movie-going audience and the Hitchcockian movie-making aproach, which seems dated even in these rarified surroundings. The audience whooped with laughter in particular at Hitchcock's over-the-top use of imagery (how many times do we have to watch a cat prowling across the screen to get the message about the stealthy burglar at the heart of the plot?)

My fellowship begins in less than two hours. A whole year of adventures await...

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