And New York is the most beautiful city in the world? It is not far from it. No urban night is like the night there…. Squares after squares of flame, set up and cut into the aether. Here is our poetry, for we have pulled down the stars to our will.
– Ezra Pound, expatriate American poet and critic
On our fourth day in New York, we changed our itinerary when we found out that our friends Jack and Fay Beaudoin, who live in Maine, were in town for the premier of their daughter’s play. More on that later. So we opted to see the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (1071 Fifth Avenue), on the Upper East Side neighborhood of Manhattan. The Guggenheim Museum, which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, is home to a growing collection of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, early Modern, and contemporary as it rises to the top of its ceiling skylight – is meant to convey “the temple of the spirit.” When you walk into the atrium, you are immediately taken by the lightness, the sun through the skylight, and the spiraling whiteness that seems to lift you up as you begin your journey.
The museum’s namesake belonged to a wealthy mining family and collected traditional works from the old masters going back to the 1890s. When he met artist Hilla von Rebay in 1926, she introduced him to European avant-garde art, he changed his aesthetic. When his collection outgrew his Plaza Hotel apartment, he established the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in 1937 to “foster the appreciation for modern art.” We took the audio tour, and I have to admit that many of the interpretations struck me as pretentious. I’m not what you would consider a true art aficionado; I like what I see, which is the way our artist friend Gary Stutler told us many years ago we ought to view art. At any rate, I recognized many famous artists, including Constantin Brancusi, Marc Chagall, Vasily Kandinsky, and Piet Mondrian. At least I could appreciate them, thanks to my college art history class. At any rate, here are photos of interesting paintings and exhibits.
And now for the more recent art installation pieces. Two exhibits struck me deep. Untitled (Ghardaïa) by Kader Attia, who was born in France but works in Algiers, Berlin, and Paris, was installed in 2009. According to the information on the piece, “Attia sculpted a model of the Algerian city of the title in couscous, a regional culinary staple. The fragile and ephemeral structure is accompanied by two prints portraying foundational Western modern architects Le Corbusier and Fernand Pouillon, and by a copy of a UNESCO certificate that officially designates the city of Ghardaïa a World Heritage Site. Attia’s work calls attention to the fact that both designers borrowed from and reworked the Mozabite architecture native to the city of Ghardaïa, and to the ancient Mzab region, without acknowledging their inspiration, itself derived from France’s 19th century colonization of Algeria and subsequent exploitation of its resources.” Wow, what a powerful statement that resonates in today’s dangerous and sad world.
The other exhibit that really caught my attention was Flying Carpets by Tunisian artist Nadia Kaabi-Linke. The following is background information on her inspiration for this stainless steel and rubber artwork: “Illegal street vendors – primarily of African, Arab, and South Asian origin – often congregate at Il Ponte del Sepolcro in Venice to sell counterfeit goods to tourists. To avoid unwanted encounters with authorities, they are often required to scoop up their wares in the rugs that they use for display and flee across the bridge. This journey to temporary safety is not only physical but also metaphorical insofar as it encapsulates both the whimsical orientalist fantasy of the flying carpet and the harsh realities experienced by undocumented immigrants who cross the Mediterranean in search of better lives. The proportions of Kaabi-Linke’s sculptural meditation on this scenario – a complex assembly of suspended grids – come directly from those of the vendors’ rugs.” After having read the backstory, I saw her installation – at a glance, just steel and rubber – transform before me and take on a deeper meaning that is, again, so relevant and heartbreaking in today’s world.
We decided against eating museum food and instead hopped on the subway to get to the Grand Central Terminal (the out-of-towners say Grand Central Station) (89 East 42nd Street) and take pictures of the famous station. The terminal was built in 1903 in the Beaux Arts architectural style and is made primarily of granite. According to a 2013 article in World Nuclear Association, because the building is made with so much granite it actually emits relatively high levels of radiation. Good thing we are only passing through! In 2013, 21.9 million visitors passed through the terminal, making it one of the world’s most visited tourist attractions. Grand Central Terminal covers 48 acres and has 44 platforms – more than any other railway station in the world. The other interesting fact about the terminal is that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority does not own it – private firm Midtown TDR Ventures.
We were also advised by a number of friends to eat at the famous Oyster Bar. Instead of sitting down at the bar, which resembled a 1950s luncheon counter, we opted to eat in the restaurant. The food was good, reminding us of Spenger’s Fresh Fish Grotto in Berkeley, which has a 1950s ambiance to its decor. Let’s just say that this was the most expensive meal we had in New York! But our seafood was fresh!
After our late lunch, we decided to take a leisurely walk to where we were going to meet Jack and Fay. First, we headed to the New York Public Library (5th Avenue at 42nd Street), which is a grand building. Founded in 1895, the NYPL is the largest public library system in the country, comprising 88 neighborhood branches and four scholarly research centers. With 51 million holdings, including books, e-books, DVDs, and important research collections, NYPL serves more than 17 million patrons yearly, and millions via online access. Behind the library is Bryant Park, home to Project Runway’s runway finale. From there, we hiked to Times Square for a brief sprint, just so the kids could see where everyone gathers on New Year’s Eve. Time Square, which is located in Midtown Manhattan, begins at Broadway and Seventh Avenue and spans out from 42nd Street to 47th Street. We couldn’t get away fast enough. It was a hot day and there were too many people and cars in the area.
We kept walking downtown on Broadway, taking note of how the neighborhood was changing from the glitz of Times Square to some gritty areas. At any rate, one of the points of destination was the Flatiron Building (174 5th Avenue), which David and I had seen in 2008 but did not have a picture of since we didn’t bring a camera on that trip. At the time it opened in 1902, the 22-floor, steel-framed triangular-shaped building was considered to be a groundbreaking skyscraper. We took a little respite at Madison Square Park (at the intersection of 5th Avenue, Broadway, and 23rd Street), a.k.a. a nap, before continuing on our walk.
We met up with Jack and Fay, daughters Camille and Genny, and Genny’s friend, for drinks at Narcissa Restaurant (25 Cooper Square). We had a great time, marveling at the fact that we could end up in New York City at the same time and being able to get together.
Afterwards, since we were already downtown or in Lower Manhattan, we walked all the way back to Little Italy. I can assure you that we easily logged ten thousand or more steps that day. Our friend Sandy recommended The Egg Shop (151 Elizabeth Street, 646.666.0810) since it was in our neighborhood. Her mother, who had recently visited New York, had gone to and liked The Egg Shop. So we had a late dinner at this cute little café that serves – you guessed it – all kinds of dishes, especially creatively concocted sandwiches, made with organic and locally sourced eggs. It was a quiet way to end another packed day of walking and touring.