Date of Trip: January 2009
I’ve reported on my day trips to NYC before. We live in Miami Beach, and take advantage of Ft. Lauderdale-based (FLL) Spirit Airlines, their wonderful on-line $9 Club sales, and the fact that they have a VERY early morning – 5:10 AM! – nonstop to New York’s LaGuardia (LGA). Nowadays, my wife and I go together. We’re in Manhattan by 8:30 to 9:00 AM, and our departing flight leaves at 9:00 PM. That leaves about nine hours to do our thing before heading back to LGA.
Sunday, Jan. 11, we parked as usual at Park’n’Fly – they cost a little more than airport longterm parking, but you can reserve a space and pay for it on line. and their shuttles are constant and quick, and they have a system of taking you right to your car when you return – no need to search for it. As usual, the floor of the waiting area in front of the still-closed security gates was half-covered with sleeping travelers. Finally passing through security, the “puffer” was being used on some of the passengers; persons who had taken their shoes off had to put them back on to go through it and then take them off again – fortunately, I was not chosen for that!
Usually, I bring quarters to take advantage of a lower cash fare, but this time we’d be using subways, so we bought one day MetroCards, went out and caught the M60 bus to 125th street. Usually, we get off at Fifth Avenue and take the M1 bus to the Metropolitan Museum, but, as Monty Python used to say, “now for something completely different.” We debarked at Amsterdam Avenue instead and took the train to the Broadway/Nassau station in lower Manhattan. It was chilly, and there was very little snow, but plenty of slush and ice. New York in winter.
A year ago, I read Ron Chernow’s wonderful new biography of Alexander Hamilton – his closeness with Washington, his rise to greatness, his brilliant creation of our entire economic and monetary system, his emotional difficulties in his final decade and, of course, his tragic death in the 1804 duel with Aaron Burr. “Oh Burr, Oh Burr, what hast thou done / Thou hast shot dead great Hamilton / You hid behind a clump of thistle / And shot him dead with a great hoss pistol!” I had decided to honor him by going to his grave and, in recognition of his accomplishments, leaving a dollar bill upon it. Yes, I know, his picture is on the $10 bill, but I wasn’t feeling quite that generous!
The Broadway/Nassau station contains three extraordinary tiled murals of maritime NY-area history scenes and a magnificently decorated gate. We exited at Fulton and Broadway. In front of it was St. Paul’s Chapel – actually a full Episcopal church – and, to one side and behind it, the cemetery. And directly behind that was the vast flat sea of metal roofs where the Twin Towers had once stood.
St. Paul’s Chapel dates from 1766, and is where George Washington and his retinue went to pray after he was inaugurated nearby on April 30, 1789. My daughter and I had been there in January, 2002, one day after the 9/11 observation deck was opened. The fence in front of the church had been totally covered with memorials of every kind – heart wrenching letters and “have you seen…?” pleas, photos, flags, teddy bears… People had written things on every available writing surface in the area – sawhorses, poles, temporary wooden walls. The church itself was being used as a base for rescue and recovery workers and volunteers, and was closed to the public. When the Towers came down, literally next door, not one gravestone was damaged and not one of the church windows was even cracked.
Now, the wrought iron fence was just a fence – the sawhorses, wooden walls and platform were gone – the neighborhood was back to normal, if that word is even suitable. The church was open; we went inside. The interior was beautiful, by no means huge yet spacious. There were no pews save those that had belonged to Washington and to George Clinton, who served as governor of NY State for a total of 21 years and as vice-president for seven years. Wooden chairs were arranged around a central area, and a friendly young priest said I could take photos until the service began in 20 more minutes.
All around the interior were 9/11-related memorials, memorabilia and photos. Both the victims and the countless volunteers and recovery workers were memorialized and commemorated with explanatory signs, photos and other things. I almost “lost it” when I came upon a vast collection of the same things that had once lined the fence out front. I thought I recognized one of the photo. The church had set out a table of bagels, croissants and such. We had eaten a big breakfast at McDonalds before boarding the subway, but I took a bit of a bagel simply for the sake of participation.
At the front end of the church, raised up and against the interior wall, was a tall colorful sculpture called ‘Glory.’ It has been described as “a rendering of Mount Sinai beset by clouds and lightning, with the Ten Commandments, as delivered by ‘YHWH,’ featured at the base.” The letters were in Hebrew. It was weeks after the trip when I read that it had been designed by Pierre Charles L’Enfant. Yes, the same French emigre who also designed the city of Washington, DC.
We stayed for part of the service. It was a sweet service, partly sung by a woman who also read prayers, with a short sermon delivered by an African-American bishop in magnificently colored garb.
Exiting, we entered the cemetery, which had also been closed to the public when I’d last been there. Most of the stones and memorials were very old, some barely readable, some not readable at all. Many of the burials had occurred before 1800. On a stone pedestal was ‘The Bell of Hope,” a large church bell, similar to the Liberty Bell, and cast by the same British foundry. It had been presented to the Chapel and to the city by the Lord Mayor of London and the Archbishop of Canterbury on September 11, 2002. It’d’s rung every September 11, and was also rung on the tragic occasions of the London and Madrid terrorist bombings. Next to the rear wall of the church is a huge and carefully preserved and cleaned sycamore tree stump and root. This tree, a century old, had been knocked down on 9/11.
I stepped back and looked out across the cemetery and, adjoining it, the space where the Towers had stood. Then I looked up, as if I could visualize, up there in the clouds, the restaurant, Windows on the World, 102 floors up, where, 20 years earlier, I had treated two of my three daughters to a late evening dinner and an unbelievable view of the city.
Trinity Cathedral, part of the same Episcopal Diocese as St. Paul’s, is four blocks south, at the foot of Broadway – and of Manhattan Island. It is truly a cathedral, and services were in progress. I went through a door and into a rear area where their museum was – it was closed – and was hustled out of there quickly after photographing a magnificent memorial plaque to Hamilton.
My wife and I took a pew near the rear. A woman in front of us kindly helped us to find the right pages for the hymns and prayers. We’re Jewish, but we sang and spoke along with what wasn’t specifically Christian. After all, wasn’t Jesus a Jew as well?
The rear door I’d gone through earlier opened and a ceremonial procession emerged, led by children and then by lay men and women and clergy, many carefully holding tall religious symbols. It was wonderful to watch – they passed right by us, and back down the middle aisle.
After a short while, we left, and entered the cathedral’s cemetery. It was time to pay my respects to Mr. Hamilton. His memorial, just inside the fence by a street, is close to that of Robert Fulton, inventor of the steamboat. Just under Hamilton’s memorial is a ground-level stone for his wife, Eliza, who survived into the 1850s, a living remembrance of the founding of the nation generations earlier.
I took out my dollar bill. My wife expressed embarrassment even though there was no one else around, but I had to do it. It was breezy, so I tucked it under a fallen branch on the pedestal, amidst the frozen slush. She protested that someone would take it. I said, yes, I know, it will probably end up either with a homeless person or in the church donation box. Either, I told her, would be fine with me.
We exited and walked west along Battery Place. To our left was a large park and then the harbor waters. We quickly came to Castle Clinton, former fort, immigration processing base – from 1855 to 1890, after which it was replaced by Ellis island, which served into the 1940s and processed my wife’s and my grandparents, among others, and then served as the city aquarium from 1896 to 1941. In 1950, it became a national monument. Inside are large renderings of the city from the early 1800s, the late 1800s, and the 1940s. Even in the late 1800s, the skyline was still dominated by church spires. Close by were the ticket office and docks for boats to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.
A little farther along in the park, and set well back from the street on a pedestal, was a large, battered-looking brassy object that I recognized immediately. It was “the Sphere,” the Fritz Koenig sculpture that had stood in the courtyard of the Towers for 30 years and then was indeed battered when they fell. It was taken down to this park and mounted, kept just as it was. It has also become a memorial, and will probably be restored to the area of the Towers someday.
Battery Place curved north, and then we entered the modern-looking building that houses the Museum of Jewish Heritage. Unlike the Jewish Museum at 92nd and Broadway, which covers all of Jewish history and is also an art museum, this facility deals almost exclusively with modern-era persecutions, ghettos and, especially, the Holocaust. There were two special exhibits that day. One dealt with Irene Nemirovsky, and the other with the mass shootings of Jews in the Ukraine by the Nazis.
Irene Nemirovovsky was a writer in France between the wars. She wrote books and the script for a well known movie. Her family was Jewish but she converted to Catholicism, possibly to avoid anti-semitic violence, perhaps for other reasons – no one is sure. She was married and had two daughters. I’ll provide the short version. Despite her conversion, she and her husband were both murdered by the Nazis in 1942. Her two daughters were sheltered, largely by nuns, and survived. One of her daughters saved a suitcase containing a manuscript which turned out to be a novel, “Suite Francaise,” about the German invasion and occupation of France. The exhibit featured the original manuscript, the aforementioned suitcase, and dozens of memorabilia as well as photos and videos. I’d started to read the novel earlier but had stopped because I found her fate so depressing. Now I am determined to finish it.
The Nazi invasion of Ukraine was fast and brutal. Their instructions were to murder all Jews immediately – no work camps for them. The topic was so depressing that we mulled skipping the exhibit, but in fact, there was also a great deal about the history of Jews in the region – it wasn’t all death and destruction,
My wife and I have been to the Holocaust museums in Washington, Jerusalem and Paris, and my daughter and I have been to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. All were impressive, but none of them had nearly as many original artifacts as this museum did. Clothing, uniforms, yellow stars, ration and ID cards, ghetto coins and currency – the list goes on. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed, but we were permitted to take pictures through the upstairs windows, which had incredible views of New York harbor, the Hudson and the Statue of Liberty.
We backtracked to the subway station at the foot of Broadway, trying not to slip on the ice, changed trains, and finally made a return visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. There would be time for only one special exhibit there that day, so we chose the one honoring the 30 years of service of just-retired museum director Philippe de Montebello. We’d been advised to rent the audio guide, so we did. What we saw was basically the museum itself, but drastically downsized and in miniature. The exhibit consisted of acquisitions made during his directorship, and consisted of a little bit of everything – an ancient Egyptian figurine, Van Gogh’s ‘Wheat Field With Cypresses,’ a Rubens painting of himself, his young wife and one of their children, a Congolese “Mangaaka Power Figure,” a Gauguin drawing of “Tahitian Faces,” a strange French dress and/or coat from 1919 made of silk, wool and metallic thread, and a German guitar that had been used by Segovia.
We usually carry our food with us, not because we don’t want to pay for a restaurant meal, but because we don’t want to take the time for one. Also, it’s good to bring your own food when you fly. This is especially true on Spirit, which sells nothing but candy, muffins, beer and wine, and – well – spirits. However, I can’t resist buying a hot potato knish from a sidewalk vendor and having him slice it lengthwise and fill it with mustard. Only in New York.
Then it was back to LaGuardia via the Madison Avenue bus and the M60. We regretted missing several other special Met exhibits, but caught up with them two weeks later.
When we landed at LaGuardia the morning of January 25, the weather was bell-clear and freezing – 16 degrees. The previous trip, the splendid view of Manhattan from the left side of the plane had been obscured by fog. This time, it was clear and sharp. It’s always striking to see the skyscrapers suddenly appear – sadly, missing what was once the two tallest – and then seeing the “saddle” effect – tall at the southern tip, tall in mid-Manhattan, much shorter buildings in between. As always, we stopped on the way out to get coffee. There was a long line at Dunkin Donuts, so we got it at Au Bon Pain instead. It was just as good. We caught the M60, then the M1 down Fifth Avenue. The Sunday crowd waiting for it to open was small because of the cold.
Everything we most wanted to see was on the second floor. First was “Art and Love in Renaissance Italy.” The focus was on love, often unrequited – usually a man spurned by a woman – marriage and childbirth. Paintings, plates, enamels and ceramics abounded. There was a colorfully painted ceramic inkstand with busts of a loving couple, a tin-glazed earthenware bowl with an image of unrequited love – this showing a woman seated outdoors, moping – a wedding ring with the couple’s names inscribed, a jewel with gold letters spelling “AMOR” (“When the moon hits your eye, like a big pizza pie, that’s AMORE” – remember the Dean Martin song?) , tempura on a small panel with a reclining nude Venus, a childbirth bowl, a lovely carved infant cradle, and a Titian painting of Venus and Cupid. There were a number of objects each showing a woman gruesomely killing a man, and there were two rooms containing some rather erotic scenes and suggesting that parents preview that section before bringing in their children. I was reminded of the two rooms in the Archeological Museum in Naples which contain far more explicit art, all found at Pompeii – as I left those rooms, a female teacher was leading her class of grade schoolers into them.
The next exhibit was “Beyond Babylon – Trade and Diplomacy in the Second Millennium BC.” The artistry shown here was extraordinary for that era – some items were more than 4,000 years old. There was a carved statuette, of bronze, gold and silver, circa 1760 BC, of a kneeling worshiper. A superbly engraved axe of precious metals, semi precious stones and wood from the 1600s BC, a beautiful inlaid pendant with semiprecious stones from around 2000 BC, and a nude female figure from about 1300 BC, of bronze overlaid with gold. Among the most interesting – to me, anyway – items were some ancient seals, mostly Sumerian, from the second millennium BC. These look like tiny stone cylinders, less than an inch long and not much wider than a cigarette. Roll one in wax, photograph the resulting impression with a good contrast and enlarge it, and you have some amazing art and ancient script. The Morgan Library on 36th street has quite a collection of these.
Then to “Raphael to Renoir,” a collection of drawings from the Renaissance to about 1900. Having taken several drawing classes and often attending drawing workshops at the South Florida Arts Center, I always enjoy from such exhibits, and also learn from them – for example, how to shade with thin close lines and/or cross hatching. Many are so simple in design, yet so exquisitely done.
“Reality Check: Truth and Illusion in Contemporary Photography” featured many seemingly ordinary scenes shot in unusual ways. One photographer specializes in newly-constructed buildings and facilities not yet put to use; his shot of a new, unoccupied gas station at night is eerie. Many other photos focused on the deserted, the unoccupied, the unused, the empty. Two of the most haunting show collapsed ground next to homes after a California flash flood, and an urban warfare training center in Israel – a fake city with fake “buildings” of all kinds, full sized but movable.
By then, it was mid-afternoon, and I realized there would be time for only one more, smaller museum, preferably in the same neighborhood. We settled on the Frick Collection, a museum consisting of the mansion built by mining mogul Henry Clay Frick about a century ago at Fifth and 70th Street, and his large, impressive, selective and eclectic art collection. We walked via Madison Avenue, peering into windows of mostly closed-for-Sunday commercial galleries. It had “warmed up” into the 20s. Some of you may know why so many girls nowadays are named Madison. It originated with a scene in the movie “Splash,” when mermaid Darryl Hannah encounters the avenue of that name.
Mr. Frick bought what he liked, regardless of the medium, so the galleries are filled with paintings, drawings, furniture, boxes, porcelains, vases, plates, even jewelry. There is almost no American art, almost nothing before the Renaissance, no primitive art and almost none of what we think of as modern art. Almost everything is from western and central Europe. Nevertheless, the variety of media is fascinating, We arrived at 2 PM only to discover that the admission fee was waived on Sundays – from 11 to 1. Oh well. After an introductory video, we each took an included and user-friendly audio guide. We had about two hours before closing, and that was just enough time. There are many rooms and hallways, all containing art, situated around a center roofed courtyard with gardens, water and benches. One unusual aspect of the museum is that nothing is kept under or behind glass or ropes or any other barriers, except for a few exceptionally fragile items. For this reason, children under 10 are not permitted; those ages 10 to 16 must be accompanied by an adult.
The Renaissance and the Dutch and Flemish of the 17th centuries are well represented. Frick was especially fond of Van Dyck, but the collection also includes Rembrandt, Vermeer, Rubens, and Hans Holbein. The best English painters of the 1700s and 1800s are present, including Turner, Reynolds, and George Romney – probably not related to the 1960s former Michigan governor who fathered former Massachusetts governor Mitt.
The West Gallery features features Rembrandt’s stunning “Self Portrait,” his mysterious “Polish Rider,” Turner’s stunning luminous painting of the harbor at Cologne – as well as those of Antwerp and Dieppe – Goya’s striking image of workers at a forge, a 16th century French sculpture of Hercules fighting with a monster, a 15th century bronze of a nasty looking satyr with an inkstand and candlestick, a stunning 16th century Italian sculpture of a she-wolf, and Vermeer’s stunning and haunting painting, ‘The Mistress and the Maid.” This is one of those paintings that you keep going back to. What is the maid telling and showing her employer? What do each of their expressions imply?
The Oval Room includes a lovely Renoir, a woman in a park with two children who could be twins. Is she their mother or their nanny? In the Living Hall is an extraordinary huge portrait of St. Jerome, expressive and totally different from his saints-and-halos stuff I saw in Madrid’s Prado. Also, barely separated, are Holbein’s familiar portrait of Sir Thomas More and of Thomas Cromwell. The mass murderer also known as Henry VIII had More, his Lord Chancellor, beheaded for refusing to sanction his divorce from his first wife and his position as head of the church in England. Cromwell, a top aide to the king, lost his head after arranging Henry’s fourth marriage to a woman who turned out to be homely. Holbein also painted Henry himself, but that painting is elsewhere. Historians tell us that after his third wife, Jane Seymour, died, Henry began seeking a fourth wife from all the royal families in Europe. One princess reportedly responded to that inquiry by saying she might consider it – if she had two heads. This hall also contains numerous sculptures and other objects.
The Fragonard room contains many paintings by that 18th century French painter as well as numerous sculptures, vases and pieces of furniture. Frick generally liked his sculptures to fit on a table or medium-sized pedestal. There is a stunning Houdon sculpture of Diana the huntress. She is nude, beautiful, holding a bow, and balanced solely on the toes of one foot. The Dining Room is filled primarily with 18th century British paintings and 17th century Chinese vases. The paintings include one of General John “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne, painted in 1766, who surrendered to the Americans at Saratoga, NY in 1777. The Boucher room is mostly French sculpture, furniture and decorative arts. Elsewhere in the museum are four paintings by
James McNeill Whistler, a 19th century American painter, is the only American artist who Frick liked – and bought. He painted mostly people, individuals, full length rather than portraits, and four of these are in this collection. He’s best known for “Whistler’s Mother,” one of those paintings that almost everyone has seen a picture of. But it’s not in America – it’s in Paris’ huge Musee d’Orsay, where I was startled to come across it years ago. There is one other American painting here, a Gilbert Stuart painting of George Washington. Stuart painted Washington from life three times, and then made a lot of money by painting copies of those paintings and selling them. This is one such copy. The audio guide makes sure to remind you that Frick doubtlessly bought this for the subject matter rather than its aesthetic quality.
We left just before it closed – unfortunately, 5:00 PM on Sundays – and headed back to LaGuardia. It was just too cold to go wandering around. I knew there would be a lot of time to kill at the airport. We stopped again at Au Bon Pain. They sell bowls of hot soup, and excellent rolls for a dollar. with butter and jam thrown in. The flight back to Ft. Lauderdale was uneventful. We checked in at the desk to make sure we’d be seated together, and I actually slept. My wife drove home – I stayed at the terminal to catch an early flight to Atlanta in the morning. Strictly a family trip.
I have made an interesting air travel discovery. Almost everyone has assumed, as I had, that the only way to bring your own liquor on board now is to take an international flight and buy it duty free in the security area. And who wants to open a full bottle on a plane? Not so! It had occurred to me that the TSA policy allowing bottles of liquid of 3 ounces or less within a quart sized ziplock-type plastic bag might also apply to those little airline size bottles of booze, that usually cost $1 or so in a liquor store and $4 or more on board. I called TSA to ask. No problem. OK to bring more than one? Bring as many as you like. OK if they’re glass? No problem. I brought several back from Atlanta and enjoyed – discretely – two of them on board. No problem!
Our next Sunday day trip to NY is scheduled for May 10.