Saturday, November 6, 2010

New York, Part One

On our first morning in New York I awoke to a massive nosebleed. I believe this was due to the dry air circulating our plane on our five hour flight from Seattle to Newark. It was worrisome, but not serious. It did interfere with our plans to go for a morning run in Central Park. Instead, Roberta ordered some coffee which arrived promptly a few minutes later, carried by a soft-spoken young Latino. It felt odd and embarrassing to be lying in bed while a strange man entered the room, performing a service. Roberta asked him how much he usually received as a tip. The question embarrassed him. He did not know how to answer. Roberta gave him a 20% tip. I don’t know if he was satisfied with this, but I think we were also supposed to have tipped the doorman who carried our bag from the trunk of the shuttle to the hotel lobby. He was a Japanese American man who seemed to wince with acute humiliation each time he opened the hotel door for people.

He had my sympathy. He seemed very ill at ease in his double-breasted doorman's uniform. I would have felt the same way. I wondered if, in fact, he might have been a surgeon or architect in Japan and must now feed his family by ministering to a door in Manhattan.

It was an imposing door, to be sure, but not so formidable as to challenge the strength and ingenuity of anyone accustomed to the marvels of the hinge and doorknob.

I enjoy opening doors. There are numerous things in life I continue to have difficulties with, not the least of which are the turnstiles of the New York subway system, but opening a door is certainly not one of them. Opening doors comes naturally to me. It stems from a grasp of the oposable thumb, an alacrity with the concept of pushing and pulling.

Nor do I mind in the least carrying a bag twenty-five feet. I may not feel that way twenty years from now, if I am still living, but for the time being I have sufficient strength and agility to carry a bag of some 20 or 30 lbs.

The flight to New York had been smooth and serene. There were no children aboard, no crying babies or fussy toddlers, and a benevolent tailwind eased our passage to the east.

I watched the landscape change during our flight from an altitude of some 35,000 feet. The aridity of eastern Washington, turbulence over the Bitterroot Range, forbidden wastelands of eastern Montana which revealed rocky crevices and outcroppings interspersed with fields of wheat or pasture land, the desolate plains of the Dakotas, the green and silver patchwork of Minnesota, the vastness of Lake Michigan, the sprawl of little streets and houses in Detroit, neighborhoods which, from the air, seemed to be empty, void of traffic. The eeriness of Lake Erie, a brown, disturbing water. The mountains of Pennsylvania, which easterners call Penntucky.

By far the prettiest state was New Jersey. I can see now why they call it The Garden State. It really is full of gardens. It looked like England.

The area around Newark, however, is not pretty. It reminded me a lot of south Seattle: interspersions of industry, motels, and residential areas. Copses of trees and shrubbery, tangles of staggerbush, black locust, and oak. Gravel pits, backhoes, ducts.

Tuesday, November 2nd, was our first day. We decided to visit MOMA. We were eager to see the Abstract Expressionist exhibit everyone had been raving about.

We caught the subway at Broadway and West 79th and got off at 50th Street. The hotel desk clerk, a young woman with a Brooklyn accent, had told us that MOMA was between 51st and 52nd Streets. It’s not. It’s on 53rd, between 5th and 6th Avenue. We must have wasted a good hour walking around blocks, up and down, this way and that, trying to find it. We were in the theatre district, not far from Times Square, at mid day, so the traffic was heavy. We were disoriented, both by having no sense of direction, and the intense noise and activity of the area. After an exhaustive search we finally the found the building, which is modest in the extreme, one would hardly know it was a museum of any sort, and wondered where the line was. There seemed to be no people at all. I thought we were in luck. We would have an exceptionally serene visit to the museum. But then we discovered why there were no people. The museum is closed on Tuesday.

IMPORTANT MESSAGE TO HOTEL MANAGEMENT: please make sure your desk staff are able and willing to provide information about museum schedules and have the correct addresses and other pertinent information. If there is a gap in their knowledge, I would recommend use of the computer. It’s easy to google up most places and pass the relevant information on to your guests.

We wondered what to do. Call it a day and return to our hotel, or try to find some other place to visit. Andrew Joron had mentioned a show at a gallery on West 57th, surrealist paintings by Gordon Onslow Ford.

Ford was one of the last surviving members of the 1930s Paris Surrealist group surrounding AndrĂ© Breton. He was influential in getting the Chilean painter Roberto Matta to segue from architecture to painting, organized some important surrealist shows in New York in 1941 which had a seminal influence on the Abstract Expressionist painters, established a haven for artists aboard his ferryboat named Vallejo moored in Sausalito, California which grew into a popular cultural center on the waterfront, and in 1998 co-founded the Lucid Art Foundation with Fariba Bogzaran and Robert Anthoine. “Lucid Art,” state Ford and Bogzaran, “is the convergence of the universal creative force expressed in a spontaneous work of art that elicits in the viewer a sudden awakening of an aspect of the inner worlds.”

The Ford exhibit was one of numerous galleries in The New York Gallery Building. It was tempting to see some of the other exhibits, but we were getting tired. We returned to our hotel, rested, and then went to have dinner at Nice Matin, the restaurant which was part of the Lucerne Hotel.

Roberta remarked on how much she enjoyed the rumble of the subways. It sounded like a stampeding herd of buffalo. It gave rise to excitement.

I had trouble with the turnstiles. The idea is to run your metro card through a slot which signals the turnstile to let you through. I would slide the card through, and slam against the turnstile at mid-torso, abutting the pubis bone. I would try again. Still no good. I saw a digitized message: card must slide through more slowly. Or: card must slide through faster. The computerized gadget was unbelievably fussy about the speed with which I swept my card through. It did not seem to like any speed with which I swept it through.

No one else had this problem. People sped through without even thinking.

Without pause. Without reflection. Easy as breathing.

Not me. The turnstile and I continued to have disagreements during our entire stay.

1 comment:

Steven Fama said...

Thanks John, for this here travel post, and I look forward to part 2 and beyond -- I love NYC.

Interesting to read about your Metrocard / subway problems. "Failed swipes," I've just now googled up and learned, can be common. Here's an article about a WSJ story from earlier this year that allegedly included tips on how to do it right, and a link to a five year old study that found a 25% rate (!) of failed swipes.

I still have one of the classic NYC keyhole subway tokens from when I was back there in 1978 . . . .