31 October 2019

Another Trip to New York, Another Fabulous Time

The George Washington bridges seen from the Cloisters.
Just got back after spending nine days in New York. The highlight of the trip and always the primary reason we (the wife and I) go to the Big Apple is to visit youngest daughter. She's working full time as a social worker while also getting her MSW and -- like her older sister -- making her dad very proud. She soaked us for four dinners, a brunch and a theater ticket but it's worth ten dinners, seven brunches and five theater tickets to hang with her. My late great father would be enormously proud of my children and my brother's four young 'uns. I have two nieces and two nephews who are among planet Earth's finest citizens. Enough boasting about my family....

Our first day we went to the Brooklyn Museum where we especially enjoyed an exhibition of the photography of Gary Winogrand. Most of the photos were the '50s and '60s and while most were taken in the New York area, there were shots from other parts of the US as well. He's got a Diana Arbus vibe to him which I really enjoyed. I liked the Brooklyn Museum which I thought of as a kind of "people's museum." Not as ostentatious as some of the other great museums in the New York area and feels like it caters to the hoi polloi. The day marked our return to the labyrinthine New York subway system where you can see all manner of people. Most qualify as "normal" looking individuals engaged in "normal" subway travel but a few of whom are dressed or posed as if pieces of performance art. The subway is dirty, confusing and often overly crowded but it can get you anywhere. I'd hate to commute in it everyday but as a tourist it's damn convenient.

Central Park.
On day two we went to the Museum of Natural History which is to me more noteworthy for the structure itself then for anything in it. On this my second visit to the museum I was struck by how run down the place has become. There were placards that were difficult to read, some exhibits were poorly lit and some of the descriptions of the Native Americans need to be updated to be in line with modern sensibilities. From the museum we crossed the street and strolled through Central Park and lemme tell you Autumn is the perfect time of year to meander through the biggest municipal park in the US. It's not exactly the Vermont countryside, but the foliage is still striking. Temperatures were in the low 60s, ideal for a long walk.

On Friday we had lunch at Katz's Delicatessen which owes a great deal of its fame to a scene in When Harry Met Sally. We got to the Deli at about 11:15 and immediately got a table. By the time we  left there was a line for seating stretching out onto the sidewalk. Timing is everything. The cuisine was fine but one comes for the atmosphere which Katz's has in spades. Far too many individually owned delis, cafes and restaurants across the country have closed in the last few decades to be replaced by chic, hip and stylized eateries that have flash but no character. Berkeley has lost two classic eateries in the past few years that had histories stretching back decades. The missus overheard two old geezers at a nearby table lamenting the many fine delis in New York that are no more. Katz's walls are festooned with photos of celebrities who have patronized the place, everyone from Joe DiMaggio to Leonardo Dicaprio. Next we took in the Tenement Museum which you can only enjoy via one of their many tours. I went on one called Hard Times in which we were taken to a tenement and shown rooms once occupied by particular families of immigrants. Our guide was a young lady who knew her stuff. The museum does an excellent job of preservation and research to accurately depict the immigrant experience from the mid 19th century through the 1930s and to a lesser degree, until today. The museum also boasts a kick ass gift shop. (I love museum gift shops, though I rarely purchase anything from them.)

Saturday we went to the Top of the Rock which is, of course, the top of Rockefeller Center. The views are spectacular, although I preferred my visit last year to the top of the Empire State Building.
In the evening we took in a hot and controversial play, The Slave Play. It has apparently made many a theater goer uncomfortable -- including some in our audience  -- because of its frank and vivid representation of interracial relationships -- not to mention relationships in general -- and its uncanny ability to connect racial tensions of today (even those hidden within a romantic relationship) with the legacy of slavery. It also lampooned group therapy and all the jargon and tropes that go with it. For this is a play about using role playing set in the antebellum south as couples therapy. The actors are almost as brave and bold as the playwright Jeremy O. Harris.

People enjoying a Jackson Pollack painting
The next day we enjoyed brunch with youngest daughter then navigated a downpour to go to MoMa, aka the Museum of Modern Art. This is one of my favorite museums in the world and it did not disappoint on this rainy Sunday. There was the works of Edward Hopper, Jackson Pollack, Man Ray, Salvador Dali, Georgia O'Keefe, Picasso, Andy Warhol, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and many more. What an absolute delight to spend time with the work of some of our greatest artists. There was also an exhibition of one of my favorite poets, Frank O'Hara, who was also an artist and a curator at the museum. There's nothing that can lift a mood like being surrounded by great efforts by great artists, it restores one's faith in humanity.

Monday's visit to the Cloisters was nowhere near as exciting but still enjoyable and the location affords some magnificent views especially at this time of the year. It was preceded by a stop at Columbia University where my mother did her graduate work and where my favorite writers, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg met. We also stopped by Tom's Restaurant the exterior of which was used as a stand-in for Monk's Cafe in the greatest of all TV sit-coms, Seinfeld. You may have heard of it. Later we took a second stroll through Central Park.

On our last full day we made a second pilgrimage to Zabar's where I had a bagel with lox, a sticky bun and tea. Zabar's has been seen or mentioned in dozens of movies and TV shows. The cafe and adjoining store have been a going concern since the 1920s. We also popped into the New York Public Library which to my surprise has a gift shop and indeed it is a terrific gift shop. Our visit provided one of the highlights of the trip as they currently have a JD Salinger exhibition and boy what an exhibition. On display were the author's typewriter, passports, pipes, reading glasses, book contracts, the original manuscript of Catcher in the Rye (!!!!) along with correspondence and family photos. Fantastic.

Yesterday we flew across the country and boy are my arms tired (rim shot).

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