Last month I embarked on a rather unusual journey:
1) It was a vacation – absolutely no hotel inspections were planned, and
2) it wasn’t an international trip for a change.
Though I did travel to another world, for sure!
Over the last two weeks, I blogged about the joys of meeting up with friends I’ve met on prior travels and shared photos of my explorations of the bucolic and historic region around Buck’s County, PA. I crossed the Delaware River to discover why they call New Jersey the “Garden State.” And then it was on to the famous Jersey Shore and the infamous Asbury Park.
Next: New York City, which is – surprisingly – an unfamiliar destination for me. My good friend, Susan Rosenberg, a Jersey native, had assured me that she knew the city well and, for years, has been encouraging me to make this visit. What she had not anticipated was a broken foot – but she did well with her walking cast, which enabled us to skip to the front of the line at several venues!
We didn’t stay at a normal hotel. Susan is a member of the National Arts Club, and we enjoyed three comfortable nights in this beautiful landmark building in the heart of Chelsea, just across from Gramercy Park.
The National Arts Club was founded in 1898 by author and poet Charles De Kay, the literary and art critic for The New York Times. He conceived of a gathering place to welcome art lovers, patrons, and artists of all genres when American artists began to look to our own country instead of to Europe for inspiration. After outgrowing their first building, the historic Samuel Tilden Mansion became its new home. Sam Tilden was the 25th governor of New York in the years before the Civil War and would have been our 19th president, except for the electoral college which gave the election to Rutherford Hayes. (History repeats itself!)
After dropping our suitcases at the Club, we headed to the Whitney Museum of American Art, which was hosting its Biennial.
There was much unusual artwork on display, but the most memorable was possibly the weirdest. A bedroom-sized installation featured a grid of 2,755 slices of bologna (yes, bologna!) each affixed with a miniaturized black-and-white photocopied snapshot of a person. A text mounted within the work claims that the number of slices corresponds to a percentage of New York’s population of 1,086,000 Jewish residents. There was much more explanation as to the artist’s vision which still never made sense to me. But he gets points for originality!
Susan and I were joined at the Whitney by another friend I collected in my travels. Angel was my seatmate on a trans-Atlantic Alitalia flight back in the fall of 2014. She was a delightful companion – so much so that I didn’t put on my Bose noise-cancelling headphones for the entire flight! We became Facebook friends and have kept in touch ever since. She saw one of my posts on Facebook, referencing my plans to come to NYC, so she made the 45-minute drive into the city to meet up with us! Once again – connections are the very best thing about traveling!
On Tuesday, Susan (with her walking cast) and I walked the entire (1.5 mile) length of the popular new urban park, the High Line. Originally built in 1934 as part of a massive infrastructure project called the West Side Improvement, the rail line elevated dangerous train traffic from the streets of Manhattan’s largest industrial district. For almost 50 years the freight trains carried mostly food and agricultural goods to the upper stories of factories and warehouses. Traffic ceased in 1980 and the elevated line was scheduled for demolition before some local residents lobbied for preservation of this unique space. It was resurrected in 2009 and turned into a lovely playground of landscaping, public gathering spaces and outdoor art, offering great city views from the thriving new development at Hudson Yard to the other end in the Meatpacking District in midtown Manhattan.
Then it was showtime: We got tickets to see the Broadway musical, “Beautiful.” A delightful production featuring the familiar soundtrack of my young adulthood, it told the inspiring true story of Carole King’s rise to stardom. Afterward, I enjoyed the bright lights of Times Square and a spin in one of the red plastic tilt-a-whirl chairs in the middle of it all!
The next morning, it was “Waffle Wednesday” at Big Daddy’s Diner on Park Avenue. I was well-fortified for exploration of the massive Metropolitan Museum of Art. Here, I found no bologna installations, but Susan gave me an art history lesson about the French Impressionists, who broke all rules of the conventional art world when they moved outdoors to paint with color and light to capture the momentary, sensory effect of a scene.
Up on the roof, Argentinian artist Adrian Villar Rojas created a dinner party featuring characters and objects from across the museum’s vast collection. He was inspired by the museum’s history when plaster casts of masterpieces were shown before the real artifacts were acquired. Many of the plaster replicas were included on the all-white dining tables (bathed in automotive paint to protect them from the elements), with panoramic views of Central Park and the Manhattan skyline.
Perhaps my biggest surprise in New York City was the relative cleanliness, lack of graffiti and friendliness of the locals. Most European capitals (sadly) have much more graffiti and defacing of public buildings than I saw in the city. And, while it could have been the good vibes that Susan and I radiated, I found the local people to be friendly and helpful everywhere we went.
It was a fantastic vacation … but I had one more important stop on my east coast routing:
My beautiful granddaughter, Becca, graduated with honors from high school in Jacksonville. It’s always a blast to be with family – no matter where in the world they are!