New York, New York [Part 3]

I am looking back on our brief holiday in New York with amazement. Hard to believe that just a few weeks later much of the world would be in lockdown owing to the coronavirus. It seems we made our visit just in time. I’m so glad we did. Best to remember that this thing is finite and to hope that this great city will return to its busy, vibrant self, car horns and all. Here is the penultimate instalment of my blog.

Friday was to be the day for more culture and as a prelude we set off for the Astro Diner, on 6th Avenue, recommended by my esteemed friend and intrepid traveller, Peter Cheshire. I know that ‘intrepid’ is the clichéd adjective that is always latched onto ‘traveller’ but in Peter’s case it happens to be true. As always, his recommendation hit the nail on the head. This was the archetypal breakfast joint, bustling, noisy and welcoming with an enormous menu and fast, friendly service. I doubt if the place has changed much over decades. I just had to try a waffle with eggs sunny-side up and crispy bacon and breakfast syrup. This combination of sweet and savoury is unusual in British breakfasts but, trust me, it was bloody lovely. There was, of course, limitless hot coffee.

Thence, up the avenue and through Central Park to the Metropolitan Museum of New York. What a glorious temple to the Muses. It is vast and houses such treasures. It seemed as if you could fit the British Museum and the National Gallery in there and still have space. Our next move was very wise. Though our tastes in art are very similar in many respects, our priorities were different. Faced with this vast collection we could not expect to see everything in a few hours so we decided to spilt and meet up in the atrium a couple of hours later. Helen headed upstairs to the Impressionists and I headed for ‘the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome’, as Mr. Poe put it. I was not disappointed.

In the beautifully curated halls there were many stunning artefacts. I was taken by a gigantic broken head of (perhaps) an Apollo which seemed to symbolise a powerfully influential but vanished world and stood as guardian to the treasury beyond. There was a wonderful horse (prototype for the Canova print I have in my flat?) and I was stunned by a fabulous mosaic of Zeus and Ganymede which I’d love to have in my bathroom. The craftsmanship was awesome and the colouring beautifully preserved after two millennia and more. I dwelt for ages on Greek red and black figure pottery, on little Roman Lares and Penates, household gods. I was bowled over too by an ornate sarcophagus and the intricate carving in its frieze. It seemed to me to be a paradox: life-affirming in its vivacity rather than lamenting a death.

By now I needed the restroom (see – totally fluent in American English by now!) Its whereabouts was cleverly disguised by signs which took you close to your goal then dried up. I found relief eventually in Ancient Egypt.

Now I thought I’d look up some Renaissance favourites and wandered fairly randomly from room to room lapping up a Cranach Judgement of Paris, a Breughel Haymaking, and a particularly beautiful Venus and Adonis by Titian. Further on (into the Eighteenth Century now) I was contemplating a Canaletto of St Mark’s Square in Venice when Helen touched my shoulder having found me by chance. It was also a coincidence that the painter’s viewpoint was from exactly where we had stood on a trip to Venice two years ago and simultaneously uttered an expletive in wonderment at its beauty.

It was time for some refreshment and we had some trouble finding a cafe, thanks again to confusing signage and the fact that some places were closed for refurbishment. When we did find the one place still open it was absolutely heaving and Helen volunteered to join the queue while I saved a table. After a long time during which the queue barely seemed to move at all, she was eventually served. She returned bearing coffee and muffins and giggling. I asked her what was funny. Apparently, she had seen some ‘Morning Glory Muffins’ and laughed out loud. The cashier asked why and she explained that it meant something rather rude in British English. Talk about divided by a common language, eh? She had said ‘Well, I’m a lady and you are a gentleman. So let’s just say it’s something glorious that happens to gentlemen in the morning’. He got the point and sniggered.

Can’t take her anywhere.

We separated and continued our culture-vultury for another couple of hours by which time the place was heaving as if the population of a small state had descended upon the building. We were very glad that we had not left anything at the cloakroom because the queue (sorry ‘line’) for retrieval snaked everywhere. In any case we both agree that over exposure to works of art at any one time can lead to a deadening of response. We walked home through the Park, stopping off at the Astro Diner for a coffee.

Dinner this evening was in China Town which we reached by subway. For my money, it did not have the buzz of Gerard street in London, being spread in a larger area. But hey, this was mid-February and it was cold. Understandably the streets were quiet though the restaurant we chose was brightly lit and busy. We had pancakes stuffed with good things, dim sum again, beef in black bean sauce with broccoli and a brilliant aubergine dish that I’ve not seen in the UK. We had ordered was far too much as you do but it was delicious.







Back near West 46th Street we found a pleasant bar where we sat at the counter and had a couple of beers whilst we watched through spirits and liqueurs lining the window, New York traffic coming and going, horns blaring,

And the morning and the evening were the fourth day.

To be continued …


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So fun to read! I can picture it all. What glorious art to see in person. Too funny about the “muffins”. Glad you visited when you did; the city must be eerie now.

Thank you. I was delighted by NY and found the Americans I met genuine and friendly. The stereotype amongst some Brits is that the welcome is shallow and that New Yorkers, especially, can be brusque.I didn’t find that at all. People genuinely wanted to welcome us to their city. It’s possible that it’s still true that a crisp English accent still has its cachet.
In the Astro Diner on Day 5. I am paying the bill.
Well dressed American Gent: It’s great to hear a genuine New York accent in here. We get so many tourists, you know.
Me: But I am a tourist. I’m from England.
[Pause for thought]
Me: You are being ironic! Hey, you Americans are supposed to be no good at irony.
Him: Gotcha buddy!
Me: Hook, line and sinker!
Much laughter all around.
I hope you’re safe and secure. Surreal times but they will pass. Take care.

Thank you, Ian, for this guided tour through the rooms of one of the world’s great collections of fine art in one of our great cities. It’s interesting, don’t you think, to remind ourselves that there were no Europeans on Manhattan Island when almost every exhibit which you describe was created?

A curious thought indeed which touches on the debate about whether works of art should be returned to their country of provenance. A vexed subject. My view is that it is not always possible to determine the country of provenance. In many cases the country does not exist as it was. Artefacts such as these, which are testaments to human ingenuity and vision, belong to the world and are best kept where they can be best preserved and displayed. I know it means that is where the big money is, but so be it.

In some circumstances, there may be a justification for repatriation of art, but museums have a) conserved the works; b) made them available to millions; and c) preserved them in a way they would not have been in their native lands.

Many countries demanding return of art still could not look after it properly, and hey, most of this stuff was bought from willing sellers.

Controversial, I know.

H Ian, in response to your reply: sounds like a sarcastic American to me! I’m glad it all ended up with laughter, but …hm…

Reminds me of a short exchange that happened to my first (and late) husband at a gas station. He was filling-up the car, and I asked him something, to which he replied. A man filling-up near us asked in a loud manner, “Where are you from?” My husband answered, “San Francisco”. Shut the man right up.
Explanation: We were visiting my parents that day who live just north of San Francisco, where we stopped to get gas. I’m an obvious Californian, our modest car had license plate frames from a dealer in San Francisco. We were not out of place in any way, except… my husband was Iranian.

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