Summer is a great time to visit New York City. Like Boston, the city can be a pleasant experience providing it’s not a broiling 90F and high humidity. In this case, it was a clear balmy June weekend. It seems that the pace slows– people linger in the park, street fairs spring up over night and there’s music and entertainers everywhere.
When we stepped out of the subway on Friday afternoon in Union Square, the farmers’ market was in full swing. Home baked bread, raw milk, fresh green peas… the farmers bring the country to the city. And in the center of the market, a jazz band (violin, steel drums, conga and bass) was playing a Latin version of ‘Summertime’. We’ve been to jazz clubs that were far less engaging. After dinner we strolled around Washington Square where a French subtitled movie was playing to a large audience sitting on the ground or bleachers rolled out for the occasion.
Our hosts, Michael and Dale live on the 9th floor of a prewar apartment building in a prime location between Washington Square and Union Square. Their apartment has an unparalleled view that Gerard has painted several times.
A large bay of windows in the living room looks out above the neighboring buildings and several blocks beyond. Gerard loves NYC water towers and has counted no less than fourteen seen from the window. The view is never boring. Like most New York apartments, Michael and Dale’s is small, but well designed to utilize every inch. We’re fortunate to have our own bedroom. Sleeping directly beside the window, the view is even better, with the Empire State in the distance. I woke in the middle of the night, comforted by the activity on the street below. As the sky gradually lightened Gerard got up and we meditate.
I’ve always wanted to go to the Cloisters. So on Saturday morning we roared up from 59th to 120th on the A train, while Gerard told me he took this ride, on his first trip to NYC out of high school, because of the famous Duke Ellington song “Take the A train”. We got off at 190th in a beautiful park overlooking the Hudson gleaming in the sunshine. I’d always imagined the Cloisters was once the home of some monastic order that chose to live on the outskirts of NYC. But no –John D. Rockefeller (father of Nelson) had the museum built in the 1930s to house his European medieval collection.
The artifacts were all in a setting that made you forget you were in a museum. It was in fact modeled after a medieval French Abbey. In addition to the piece above, among my favorites was a wooden statue of Jesus sitting astride a donkey. The sign said it had once been in some Italian parish church. I wondered how Rockefeller negotiated the “transfer”– if indeed there was any negotiation? Or did he just hand over an irresistible sum of money to the priest and walk off with the statue? And if so, how did the congregation feel next Sunday to see it gone? We had lunch in a cloister looking out on a garden of medieval herbs and flowers.
The admission fee included the Metropolitan Museum of Art, so it made sense to continue back by train and a walk through Central Park to the Met. We wanted to see the exhibit of Turner’s four Whaling Pictures. One belongs to the Met; the other three normally reside in the Tate Britain, and this is the first time the quartet has been exhibited together. Painted toward the end of Turner’s life, they were way ahead of his time and very abstract. In fact it’s believed that the only reason Turner added a boat or ship to the painting was to placate his clientele. Gerard commented that these paintings are not necessarily about a whaling trip, but should be viewed in their entirety. It’s all about energy and vision. As a child I was fascinated by a Turner print hanging in our living room. I was convinced the large rock protruding from the turbulent water was a threatening elephant wading towards the ship.
Covering two city blocks, the Met makes Boston’s MFA look decidedly provincial. You could easily spend a solid week exploring its collections.
Gerard checked out the American wing, entered through a façade of an early 19thC building,
while I tried to comprehend over-the-top haute couture creations in the Manus X Machina exhibit, exploring the mergence of hand-made and machine-made in haute couture. An elaborate wedding dress designed by Karl Lagerfeld was made out of a rubbery looking scuba knit; its 20-foot train was hand-painted in metallic gold and hand-embroidered with pearls and gemstones, while a machine applied the rhinestones.
Back in Central Park, we decided to wait for an outdoor concert of a popular new jazz saxophonist. It was a beautiful evening and we sat on the grass among a diverse crowd, young and old, eating wood oven cooked pizza, waiting through two hours of unappealing (to us) DJ mixed music.
Finally the band arrived, but not quite what we’d anticipated. But we were amused by the modern day Go Go dancer or as Michael corrected, “interpretive dancer’. Now it was late, and, all in all, a wonderful day of city museums and parks.
On Sunday, after a leisurely lunch at Mamouns’s famous falafel joint that we’ve been patronizing since 1973, we spent a few hours back in Washington Square listening to a very good jazz band, (see trumpeter above) and a classical pianist playing a baby grand. How does he get the piano in and out of the park?
No visit to NYC is complete without a few hours browsing at the Strand. For those who don’t know, it’s one of the few remaining—and thriving —bookstores in NYC. Just outside Union Square, it is a bibliophile’s paradise. As customary, Gerard headed for art and music on the 2nd floor, while I hovered around the tables of the Strand’s favorite new fiction and nonfiction titles. The Strand staff has great tastes and from their suggested selections I found no less than 8 titles that spiked my interest.
On Monday afternoon, we walked up to Chelsea, ostensibly to go an exclusive jazz music store. On the way I tried to convince Gerard to buy a new windbreaker that he needed, for a couple of hundred of dollars. Of course he refused, and just round the corner we ran into an upscale recycled clothing store where he picked one up for $18. Much more his speed. The music store was obviously for insiders only — no advertising, and on the eight floor of an anonymous looking office building. Crammed with books, LPs CDs, and photographs, it was run by an eccentric New Yorker, with WGBO playing in the background. WGBO is NYC’s all jazz, commercial free radio station. Gerard really would feel at home in NYC! As for me…with frequent visits to Central Park, Brighton Beach and the Far Rockaways I might be able to handle it too. On the bus ride back to Boston, we thought how lucky we were to have such good friends who take care of our every need, who happen to live in our favorite city.