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NYC itinerary and notes

(This is to accompany the photographs in previous posts.) Friday morning was MOMA, pictures below. After Matisse and coffee in the sunny sculpture garden, I walked many blocks up Broadway, window shopping and watching the crush of humanity, to get to Harry’s shoe store where I’ve had luck finding shoes for my big feet on sale, but not this time. I love the Upper West side, where my grandparents and Uncle Edgar lived – it feels much more simpatico than the chichi East. I noticed that in midtown, none of the countless kiosks selling cigarettes, candy, and lottery tickets stocked newspapers and magazines any more; they used to be jammed with them. But further uptown, on the west side, there were some. Still not many, however. No one reads on paper any more. Also noticed many closed shops and restaurants and desolate vacant storefronts. 

From there, very hot and tired, I walked over to the park and rested under the trees – watched a group of pre-teen girls play Red Light Green Light, just like we all used to decades ago. How focussed they were, following the rules, freezing, running, freezing! Came out of the park by the Metropolitan Museum on 5th Ave. and went in the special side entrance to avoid the crowds. Such a marvellous museum, so much to see, just a matter of time and energy. 

Collapsed at Ted’s, went out later to look for dinner, passed the endless array, ended up buying lobster corn chowder at Citarella’s, a fabulous deli chain where I used to go with Uncle Edgar – the one on the west side. Heated up soup and raided Ted’s fridge for white wine. Spent the evening flipping through his hundreds of channels, a lot of commentary on the Queen including from the BBC; discovered a channel that only plays the old Law and Order. Why go anywhere?

This morning ran smack into the 3rd Avenue street fair. Then, I confess, walked down to Bloomingdales. The last two times I’ve been in NYC, I went to the French designer Gerard Darel’s shop there and found well-made pants on sale. So I headed through the razzledazzle to Gerard Darel, where the snooty saleslady was not interested in the shopper who was only interested in the sales. Flipping through, found very small or very big sizes. And then, the only pair in size 42 – one size bigger than last time- fitting perfectly, exactly what I needed, originally $240, reduced twice, now $80. Sold. Cash. The Canadian dollar is so low, I raided my US bank account so I wouldn’t put anything on Visa and have a nasty surprise next month. Escaped the palace of glittering consumption. 

Went to get the subway down to the Morgan Library, an elegant, tranquil place where there are always interesting exhibitions. But the downtown subway platform was jammed; something had delayed the trains. It was hot, packed, and uncomfortable underground and made me nervous; there’s something in the air, it’s September 10. I turned around and got the uptown train instead, bought shish kebab at the street fair and went back to Ted’s for lunch. Wanted to stay walking distance from home. 

Out again to walk to the Frick, temporarily where the Whitney used to be on Madison Ave. while the Frick mansion is being restored. What a treat; one of the nicest museums in the world now reduced to its essence, its greatest hits. I walked into the room where Bellini’s “St. Francis” was hanging by itself – and burst into tears. It is a perfect work of art. I sat on the bench in front, completely alone, taking it in – noticed this time how the saint has kicked off his Birkenstock-like sandals under his desk; that perfect humble donkey, the grape leaf bower, the moss, twigs, branches, ivy, flowers, the olive tree. I saw the stigmata on his hands for the first time. The light. Exquisite. Perfect. 

Photography not allowed, a blessing.

And then to other favourites, particularly the gorgeous Holbein portraits, serene Thomas More and surly Thomas Cromwell, and of course, best of all, Vermeer. Bruce and I on our travels together always try to find a Vermeer or two. Here were supposed to be three, but one was out on loan. I have the “Maid and Mistress” framed at home, my own personal Vermeer, the servant tentatively handing her mistress a mysterious letter. What is happening here? “Girl interrupted at her music,” looking straight at us from 1658. Again, I was alone in the room with two Vermeers, the museum nearly empty, no distracting architecture and furniture as in the mansion. It was heaven. 

A delicious cappucino in their outdoor café and then over to the packed park for a wander home. I’ve done far less this time than on any previous trip. One plan involved heading down to Times Square today to go to the TKTS booth and get a cheap ticket to a matinee. For the first time ever, I did not go to a play or musical. Just could not handle Times Square. Or much else. Did enough – some great art, some family, and a pair of French pants.

A few things I saw: a bike courier with two huge bags of fortune cookies hanging from his handlebars. There’s a lot more biking than before, with bike lanes and Citi bikes for rent. As a Toronto bike rider, I cannot imagine the courage it would take to ride here.

The Church of the Redeemer draped in purple and black, with a sign, a service of remembrance for the Queen next week.

In a shoe-store selling orthoepedic shoes, an elderly East Side couple, a shoe-salesman’s nightmare. Their voices and tone – the word is querulous. Nothing is ever right. 

An Australian couple, according to their accents, she in skintight workout wear as are many women here, FaceTiming as they strode along. “So are you in L.A. or Arizona?” he asked. 

In the park, a blonde man followed by his five blonde children, all on scooters. Behind them, a Goth couple, head to foot in black with spiked white hair, taking their daughter in an ordinary little dress to the playground. 

As I said, the level of consumption here – and I know, I should not point fingers with my pants clutched to my breast – is mind-boggling. Including the city’s small consumers, its children. I thought, watching these East side kids, that if the end of the world comes, they’re doomed. They have no idea how food is made, how to survive. My grandsons have been camping often with their survivalist father; they help in the garden. It’s comforting to imagine they’ll find a way to forage and get through, when their peers in New York are standing on ruined Park Avenue, waving their arms desperately for a cab.

It’s a nasty thought. But I had it.

It’s 7.15. I’ve had my lobster chowder, checked in, filled out my complicated ArriveCan form. Today at the street fair, a woman at a Democrats for Democracy booth assailed me, and I told her I was Canadian. “We apologize for our country,” she said. I can’t wait to get home. 

There is kindness here, and beauty, and magnificence. But it’s also, as they said in the film My Dinner with André, a concentration camp built by the inmates. In the park, as sirens wailed and horns honked outside the gates, the harsh high cry of a hawk. Nature, somehow, survives here. For how long? 

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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