This is much delayed and so many things have happened since (all of which will be offered up in due course – something to look forward to), but I have had blog problems and I have been slightly dejected by same. However, all may now be well, so we struggle onwards.
Wednesday, March 22, 2022
As covered previously, I have not been to America since 2007. You know what, it’s a long way away. However my journey was without incident and I arrived safely at my hotel where I had what I think of as a typical New York hotel room view.
I was just off Washington Square and I went out for a wander and to find somewhere for dinner. I thought New York was pretty grubby. When I go to other European cities, I think how filthy Dublin is but in New York I found myself thinking Dublin was sparkling clean.
I went to a nice Italian for dinner. The food arrived with a speed that seemed positively alarming. This appears to be a feature of New York dining, they must think waiting times in Europe are extraordinarily lengthy. It was good but expensive. I had been warned that New York is expensive and, of course, the dollar is strong against the euro at the moment, but still and all â‚¬100 (including the sales tax and mandatory 20% tip) for a plate of pasta, a dessert and two cups of tea struck me as…excessive. Alas, not untypical.
Feeling obliged to get full value from my trip, I walked uptown for a look at the skyscrapers. Very exotic to someone from low-rise Ireland.
Look, a grating with steam escaping. The thrills. Also, what is a plow and why does it need to be raised? Foreign mysteries.
Thursday March 23
I decided that I would go to the Pain Quotidien for breakfast. New York is swimming in them. I know I ought to have gone to an authentic American diner but I have been pining for the PQ since it shut up shop in Ireland during the pandemic.
I thought I would read the New York Times over breakfast. Well, I could think again. I went into loads of places looking for a newspaper – any newspaper really – but nowhere had them. New Yorkers sympathised but could only direct me to a closed news stall. I actually asked a woman I saw reading the paper where she got it and she told me, apologetically, that she got it delivered. This is the future and I do not like it.
There was a PQ very close to my hotel but when I got there after my futile newspaper quest, was I feeling lucky? No.
I found one of the other ones and it was open and I was delighted. I paid, if not gladly, then resignedly, the hefty bill for breakfast. On the bill they give as standard suggested percentages for the tip and the options are 18%, 20% and 25%. I was psychologically prepared for it this time and coughed up with barely a whimper.
I very much enjoyed overhearing New Yorkers speaking on their phones as I went about my touristy business. There was a lady on the on subway platform bellowing into her phone â€œinstall the thing so the rats donâ€™t get into the commercial spaceâ€- surely something you might have thought merited an indoor voice. A quite elderly lady with a turban was walking briskly along the street saying loudly and, understandably, gleefully â€œthe doctor says I have the heart of a fifty year oldâ€. Meanwhile, a young woman was shouting to her friend down the phone, “So I told him, ‘hire me!'”. She was so forceful, it is hard to know who would gainsay her.
Off I went to the Met ($30 in, I’ll have you know). I made it just as the rain was starting, very gratifying. I think I have been here before but humiliatingly, I am unsure, look it was a long time ago. It is enormous and extraordinarily busy. Mercifully a number of rooms were closed.
I liked this picture of Irish actress Elizabeth Farren (later Countess of Derby which is an impressive example of social climbing for someone both Irish and an actress) by Lawrence. Seriously, check out the muff.
And look at these adorable little girls, also by Lawrence. Apparently he was very pleased with them and I am not surprised.
Very enjoyable reaction shot of the unveiling of David’s famous coronation of Bonaparte by an artist called Boilly with whom I was previously unfamiliar.
There was also a wonderful picture of Lavoisier and his wife by David. When I was a child my mother used to tell me about how after his head was chopped off by the Revolutionaries he told his assistant that he would continue to blink as long as he could and that the assistant was to observe and count. She was a chemist herself and obviously admired his dedication to science. Sadly, I can’t see any reference to the blinking incident on his wikipedia page. But the story does have a life elsewhere.
Big clock made by an Irishman makes its way to the Met.
I would say importing this from Valladolid was a big job.
I enjoy the American vision of importing large things bag and baggage into their museums like, for example, this former bank building.
Or this room from a house in Bordeaux. In fairness, I have seen rooms reconstructed in museums before but generally not from quite so far away.
Exhausted from my preliminary efforts, I went for lunch in the absolutely vile eatery in the basement of the the Met. Windowless and with dull and, in the case of the pizza, unpleasant food. I would not be rushing back. But fueled up, I went back on my art odyssey.
Sculpture of St Margaret of Antioch, unsurprisingly says the label, patron saint of pregnant women. I think it’s a bit surprising given that her feat was emerging unscathed from the innards of the dragon. Anyway, I always thought that the the patron saint of pregnant women was St. Gerard Majella which explains the numbers of men and women of a certain age in Ireland called Gerard and Majella.
I do enjoy sculpture and this one by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux is a good one.
This one is not particularly remarkable.
But the back story does make it worth a closer look.
The Met has a good line of Chinese camels. For example, take this late 7th century guy from the Tang dynasty and his friend below (also Tang dynasty).
I thought that the FabergÃ© things were delightful.
They had some of those painted Greek sculptures which I have seen in the Ashmolean as well, apparently, all the sculptures from antiquity that we thought were white were actually brightly painted. I dunno, it looks a bit odd.
It was the busiest museum I’d ever been to. Sure, if you go to the Grand Gallery in the Louvre or the big hits in the Prado or the National Gallery in London, it will be busy but you can go to lots of parts of these galleries where you will have rooms and rooms to yourself. Here, however, even the dullest rooms are full, full, full.
I have been to many regional museums in Brittany where the pardon was a theme and I feel I have seen many, many variants on this theme. While not at all meaning to diss the artist (Pascal-Adophe-Jean Dagnan-Bouveret, if you’re asking), I have stood alone in rooms with very similar offerings. Not so here where enthusiastic crowds were gathering. Good, I suppose.
I staggered out into Central Park, having, I felt, got full value for my $30 entry fee. The rain had stopped so I had a wander around. Spring is much further forward in Ireland but Central Park had its charms.
I noticed that although the weather was pretty similar to at home far more people were wearing shorts. Pioneer hardiness, I suppose.
For dinner, I went to a place called Lafayette near my hotel. My (very much recommended) guide book, “New York Like a Local” which I picked up in the library recommended it.
I did enjoy that when booking, you don’t have to give your credit card details which you always do in Ireland now. The restaurant was good although service was again alarmingly fast. And it was expensive, plus Ã§a change etc.
In Ireland I am always the loudest person but this is not the case in New York. An annoyingly loud person with a large group next to me humble bragged about never taking holidays. Anathema.
Friday, March 24
I took myself to “Russ and daughter” on the Lower East Side for breakfast. It was unbookable so I strolled in. It was very authentic and I felt like a proper New Yorker (reader, I definitely was not).
I was amazed that the Lower East Side on the island of Manhattan is, well, seedy and a bit rough. How is this even possible?
I proceeded to the tip of Manhattan where I explored the lovely area near the docks. This sounds like sarcasm but it is not. I went into this super bookshop and bought a couple of books. They had a big display of books by Irish authors and I told the polite, though entirely uninterested, shop assistant that one was going to be made into a film with my niece. It clearly requires more to impress a New Yorker.
I proceeded on and hired a bicycle. I set off up the West Side on the greenway. Was it easy? Oh yes it was. I felt to the manor born. I was delighted with myself. I saw the Statue of Liberty in the distance from Battery Park.
I stopped off at city island to have a look around. It is charming.
I cut inland and went to Central Park. It was a bit difficult getting out of my greenway. I hadn’t really understood before that Manhattan is more focussed inwards than outwards and there are big boulevards/motorways around Manhattan which can be difficult to get across, but that problem negotiated with some assistance from dog walkers, I found the roads into Central Park on the Upper West Side laughably easy to negotiate and far more straightforward than cycling in Dublin.
I then cycled around the park for a bit which was lovely. God, I was thrilled with myself.
One thing which really surprised me was the cavalier attitude to traffic lights. I expected Americans to be really strict (did they not invent the jay walk?) but in fact everyone (motorists, cyclists, pedestrians) regards them as advisory. I felt like an idiot stopping in Central Park but look there were red lights. Definitely more observed in the breach.
After my cycle around the park, I pushed on to the Upper East Side with a view to coming back by the East River Greenway. Again the East-West streets were fine, really safe and grand to cycle. My only knowledge of the East River was that it was where gangsters dispatched their enemies having first encased them in concrete. I was keen to see it for myself. Well, I will tell you this, they are building an amazing East River Greenway but it is almost entirely closed and unavailable to cycle along. Signs pointed to it and then other signs said it was closed. I would drop down hopefully only to find no dice and once to find myself almost run over by traffic on a very busy road/not quite motorway. There is the East River Greenway shining and awaiting its new riders but crucially not yet.
This was, of course, hubris following my earlier smugness. I stopped off for lunch near the UN. Fine but a long way from home which was preoccupying me a bit.
I finally started cycling down 2nd Avenue which in fairness was safe though profoundly unattractive.
Notwithstanding that I really should have known better, I kept going down to gaze longingly at the definitely closed greenway.
More truthful sign.
I was ecstatic to get back to the tip of Manhattan and on to a greenway. One or more of these pictures is of Brooklyn Bridge. Thrilling. Pretty sure not the one with me looking cross in a selfie though.
I got my bike back to the shop before closing time having cycled, oh yes, about 30kms which, I can tell you, is a lot on a hired bike which is not precisely made for speed, with the books you bought that morning in the carrier (sigh). Was I pleased with myself? Oh yes indeed.
I’d been pretty surprised at how many very poor, mentally ill, high and otherwise distressed people were walking the streets. I know America doesn’t have a safety net like us but I just don’t remember this so much from when I was last in New York. Maybe it was me, I was younger and less noticing or was it a post-pandemic thing? On my way back to the hotel there was a man lying comatose (drink, drugs, a fight?) on the path wearing handcuffs. There were two policemen sitting on the steps beside his prone body chatting. It was quite disturbing. I don’t think that the Guards would do that in Ireland; not with someone unconscious but maybe I am just not going to the kinds of places where this would happen (though I do live in a place which can be…edgy).
My friend arrived from Vermont. Oh hurrah. We have been friends since secondary school. She married an American and has four American children but she has a house in Cork and travels here reasonably regularly so we see a lot more of each other than you might expect.
We went for dinner in Alta recommended by my guidebook. Good but pricey. Even my friend was surprised. But I suppose Vermont is not New York. Although she did say that when they go to Kinsale her American children run around the supermarket saying “Everything is so cheap and no sales tax!”. So it looks like even Vermont is expensive compared to Ireland.
Stay tuned for part two of my New York adventures. Ah do.