Susan had to attend a conference in New York City over the Martin Luther King, Jr. Weekend. Instead of staying home eating pizza, drinking beer, and listening to lonesome blues music, I decided to travel to the City with Susan. She was pleased to have my company and know that I’d be able to entertain myself. I believe I’ve visited New York at least once a year since my birth so it is good to keep the streak alive early in the year.
We chugged down to New York aboard Amtrak, I napped most of the way, but awoke to watch my old stomping grounds of Connecticut pass by. We checked into the La Quinta Inn amid the Korean barbecues and 24-Hour Spas of Korea Way. Some of my Mets fan buddies from The Crane Pool Forum were gathering at Virgil’s in Times Square so we joined them for a couple of beers and Mets talk.
With Cranepooler Edward, Susan & I marched up town to take advantage of Susan’s corporate pass to the Guggenheim Museum. En route, I satiated my blood sugar levels with a hot pretzel and Susan and Edward tried the chestnuts roasted on a open lightbulb. Neither of them enjoyed their chestnut experience much and Edward left most of his for the squirrels of Central Park. Susan and Edward chatted merrily while I pondered why I was sweating profusely in what was allegedly January.
The exhibition on display at the Guggenheim is called Spanish Painting from El Greco to Picasso: Time, Truth, and History. The exhibition is not arranged by chronology or artist but by themes like “Knights and Ghosts,” “Virgins and Mothers,” and “Monstruous.” Thus, regal portraits by Goya and Velasquez are mingled with surrreal landscapes by Dali and Picasso’s disturbing images of the Spanish Civil War. We started at the top of the rotunda which was actually the opposite direction of the exhibition so we learned about the themes after we saw the paintings. We arrived only an hour before closing so we’d only made it about halfway down the corkscrew before we were evicted. It was nice that Susan’s company provided the comp passes since it’s a rare treat that we can visit a museum for just an hour and not worry about rushing through to get our money’s worth.
The three of us walked back downtown and got some pizza for supper. Edward caught a train to Long Island and Susan & I returned to our hotel. I was exhausted and fell asleep swiftly while Susan watched a Tom Hanks movie.
The next morning while Susan attended sessions in the windlowless basement of the Javits Center, I began my day with a tour of Central Park. The topic was Views from the Past, a historical overview of the heart of Central Park: The Dairy, The Sheep Meadow, The Mall, and Bethesda Terrace. The guide was a bit dry but had some good stories. I particularly enjoyed his amusement with the Love-ins and Be-ins once held in the Sheep Meadow (“great events but bad for the grass”), the in-line skaters who perform impromptu dances by the bandshell, and the pet boa constrictor he once saw swimming in the Bethesda Fountain (“I don’t know if it’s legal but I did notice everyone pulling their dogs out of the fountain”).
After the tour I did some strolling on my own through the Ramble, the Great Lawn, and along the Reservoir. I also discovered something called the Pinetum. I didn’t know what it was at first, but since it was full of pine trees I assume it was an arboretum exclusively for pines. I left the park near the Ancient Playground. Why that name — is it because it’s the oldest playground in the park, named for the Ancient family, or because it’s near the Metropolitain Museum of Art? The last answer is correct and the playground is full of pyramids and obelisks modeled after the museum’s Egyptian wing. The playground also contains the Ancient Comfort Station which contains classic floor length urinals. Stop by and take a pee in them now before they renovate and put in those crumby seeing-eye toilets.
I left the park and strolled down the charming Madison Avenue since I’d walked up and down Fifth Avenue on Saturday night. Begging the forgiveness of my sisters and brothers in organized labor I paid my admission and entered The Frick Collection. Mr. Frick’s mansion full of conspicuous displays of wealth contains mainly European art from the 16th to 19th century. Frick apparently was not one of those wealthy people who supported modern art although I did see a Cezanne, a Renoir, and a Monet. One gallery called the Boucher Room is described by my guidebook as “not to 21st-century tastes” with its depictions of cherubic children engaged in various arts, sciences, and professions. I’m of the opposite opinion since people who collect Hummels and Precious Moments figurines would probably love this room.
Whatever you may say about Henry Clay Frick, he collected some beautiful art. I’m particularly fond of Bellini’s St. Francis in the Desert and Turner’s Cologne: The Arrival of a Packet-Boat, Evening. A special exhibition of Old Masters from the Cleveland Museum of Art included this David painting of Cupid looking proud and ready to do strut after a night with Psyche. The house was a bit gaudy for my taste but I did like the Garden Court, I could live in a house with one of those. In fact I could live in a house that was just a Garden Court with a kitchen in one corner and a bed in another.
On my way out the door my visit was spoiled a bit by a man throwing a temper tantrum at the securtiy staff over the museum not allowing children into the museum. I was proud of a woman who was visiting the collection who spoke up in favor of the guards. The man’s five-year old boy would’ve been bored to tears in the Frick. I couldn’t bear to watch the end of the argument so I got my coat and strolled down Lexington Avenue to the subway and rode back downtown to Herald Square. I attended Mass at the pretty little Church of St. Francis of Assisi and then returned to the hotel to meet up with Susan.
We dined out in Greenwich Village in a restaurant called Souen. This restaurant was perfect for us since the menu has a large number of vegetarian dishes for me and fish for Susan. The staff was very pleasant too. Souen goes on my list of restaurants to remember in New York City. For a digestif, we visited the dark and stylish Belgian Wine Bar Vol de Nuit. We shared a small serving of frites and I drank a glass of La Chouffe (delicious but pricey).
On Monday morning, Susan and I ate breakfast together at the Skylight Diner and then I walked Susan over to the Javits Center. I decided to stroll up town along the river since I’d never spent much time in that part of town. Not a good idea since the fog and buildings on the piers blocked my view of the Hudson and the neighborhood was industrial and dull. I did get to witness fleets of UPS and FedEx trucks getting ready to rumble in a contemporary version of West Side Story.
For this trip, I most looked forward to commemorating Dr. King’s day with a special Big Onion tour of Historic Harlem. I took the train up to Lenox Avenue and 135 St. and was there at 11 am but no one else was there. I thought maybe the tour was really starting at 125 St. so I boarded a bus and rode it downtown but there was nothing doing there either. I learned later that I got the time wrong and the tour was actually at 1 PM. Bummed, footsore, and tired of being out in the wetness, I stayed on the M102 bus all the way downtown to the East Village, enjoying a tour of the City’s many neighborhoods along Lexington Av.
Since I was in the East Village and it was lunchtime, I went to Curry Row on 6 St and ate at Gandhi Restaurant. Having rearranged my day to touring the East Village, I went to the Merchants House Museum which I’ve long wanted to see. The tour of the 19th-century house of the Tredwell family is self-guided and the docent gave me a thick binder full of descriptions of the various rooms of the house. This is perfect for history geeks like me so I could sit there and read the whole thing in its entirety. Afterwards, I wandered into the NYU area of the Village to pay my respects to the site of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company Fire.
In the evening, I returned to the hotel and once again joined up with the love of my life. Susan picked out a restaurant for dinner in the vicinity of the Port Authority and we walked up town. The West Bank Cafe turned out to be a lovely albeit expensive restaurant and I felt a bit underdressed. I have to note that the restrooms are classy and the dessert was wicked good. After that Susan walked me to the Port Authority and I took a bus back home to Boston.