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Another day in the Big Apple

Author: RichardNika
Date of Trip: December 2007

I live in Miami Beach, and yes, people actually do live here (pop. about 88,000) During the last few years, I’ve been making same-day visits to Manhattan to check out the museums. That is my thing. It’s easier and cheaper than ever, now that Spirit Airlines has a LaGuardia-bound flight that leaves Ft. Lauderdale at 5:10 AM, allowing a full day in Manhattan before catching their 8:00 (okay, 7:59) PM flight back. Plus, I have mastered the art of working Spirit’s seemingly absurd e mail/internet sales. I won’t say how little I’ve been paying because I like you all and don’t want to be resented!

I was there April and September, and again on December 6, and am going again later this month and in April. Why same-day trips? Have you checked Manhattan hotel prices lately?

I went as I usually do, on the 5:10 with a window seat reserved on the left side well behind the wing, so as to catch and photograph the panorama of Manhattan during the descent. I had some of the cheese and fruit I was carrying for breakfast in flight. Having discovered that the vendors around the Metropolitan Museum of Art sell everything but coffee, I grabbed one on the way out of the terminal. I bought my one-day MetroCard at a Hudson news stand on the ground floor and caught the M60 bus to 125th Street, switched to the M1, and was at the museum before it opened at 9:30. For those of you who don’t know, the museum allows you to pay what you wish, although they no longer have a sign saying so.

The museum offers free one hour tours on various subjects every day, so I took one. The theme was objects made of wood, and focused at first on African art, including some fascinating and intricate objects and statuettes. We then went into the large Oceanic Art galleries, opened 3 weeks earlier. There are some pieces in there that are amazing, and a sort of ceiling made of intricately painted shields fitted together, commissioned by the museum and shipped from New Guinea. It was good to learn about things that I might otherwise not have looked at or even known about.

When I’d been there in September, the museum’s Dutch masters exhibit had opened, but was only for members. But now it was open to everyone. It was arranged not so much by artist and period as by when a specific collection had been donated to or acquired by the museum. All the paintings were from the museum’s own collection. I took the opportunity to put on my reading glasses and inspect one of the Rembrandts from only inches away. No other artist lays on thick strokes of paint the way he does.

En route to other second floor special exhibits – modern European painting and work in silver, I paused at a room showing British photographs on paper from the mid 1800s. Downstairs was their famous Christmas tree, decorated with antique Neapolitan carvings. Photos were not allowed, but I snuck one anyway. Almost all of the museum allows photography, as long as you don’t use a flash.

I had an errand in Rockefeller Center, so I took the bus, ran my errand and saw the country’s most famous Christmas tree. I looked for the skaters, but only a few were out.

I then took a bus uptown to 77th and Central Park West and to one of my favorite haunts, the N.Y. Historical Society. They featured a gripping display on 9/11. including portions of the wreckage, wrecked fire and police vehicles, and even an aircraft landing gear. Most compelling, however, was a room filled with thousands of amateur photos, all printed out on 8 by 11 sheets of paper. There were photos of the buildings, of the wreckage, of nearby sites, of signs, of memorials, of people showing astonishment, horror and grief.

There were two other special exhibits. One dealt with General Lafayette’s triumphal return to the United States in the 1820s. He spent over a year here, touring most of the states and countless cities and towns. there were drawings, paintings, and hundreds of original artifacts. He was a true celebrity, with plates, cups, spoons, articles of clothing and many other things decorated with his face and something about his tour. It was bitter-sweet – he was opposed to slavery, and on display was a notice warning African-Americans in one southern town not to even approach the route that he would be taking on that day.

Another exhibit consisted of perhaps 100 paintings of the “ashcan school.” These were produced by American artists in the late 19th and early 20th century, and portrayed primarily life on the streets and in taverns, clubs and places of amusement. They had a rough yet skillfully real quality to them.

As usual, I took the bus back to 125th street and the M60 back to LaGuardia. In ’05 and ’06, unlike the incoming bus in the morning, that late afternoon bus had been greatly slowed by rush hour traffic. But, for whatever reason, that is no longer the case, and the fact that some drivers on this route drive like wild men makes the trip even faster. As usual, I experienced virtually no delay at LGA security, and although the flight was an hour late due to heavy air traffic, I was able to retrieve my car from FLL’s Park’n’Fly before the 24 hours were up.

Spirit Airlines is a low cost carrier, and uses new planes, but be prepared for what low cost means – tight seating, no headsets, no movies or gadgets, and you pay for EVERYTHING. They no longer even provide free glasses of water – UNLESS you say you need the water to take pills, and in that case, you’ll get a very small glass! Solution? bring an EMPTY bottle with you, take it through security and then fill it from a water fountain. Or buy bottled water inside the security area.

If there is no space between your knees and the seatback in front of you, then I strongly recommend advising the person in that seat that there is no room to recline it and, if he or she insists on their right to try to smash your kneecaps, advise them that that will result in a lawsuit and possible assault charge. One woman tried to do that to me with a heavy push backwards, knowing there was no room, and hurt me. I don’t usually curse in a woman’s presence, but, well…..

A warning about one of the weirder aspects of Michael Bloomberg’s efforts to turn his city into the ultimate nanny state. The police are now trying to entrap people by leaving wallets or small bags or boxes containing electronics on the floors of subway stations. If someone picks one up and fails to immediately hand it over to the nearest uniformed cop, immediate arrest will follow. I am not making this up.

I’ll be back in the Apple later in January and again in April and intend to visit some other museums that I like. There is the Whitney, the Guggenheim, the Frick, the Jewish Museum and the Museum of the City of NY, all along “Museum Mile” on Fifth Avenue, and, on the other side, the American Museum of Natural History and its Planetarium, with my old friends the dinosaurs waiting for me. Farther afield is the Museum of Modern Art, the Morgan Library, the Folk Art museum and the excellent Brooklyn Museum.


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