Friday, January 1, 2010

New York Blocks

I have just returned from three nights in New York to celebrate Allyson's 62nd birthday. We walked and walked and walked. One day I was on my feet for over five hours. That is 15 exercise blocks in my system. There is no way I could have done this before I started my program. So it seems that even though I have not been doing any exercise blocks lately, I have a residual level of fitness that is remaining.

The Bolt bus took seven hours. It was the Sunday after Christmas and there was bumper to bumper traffic from the southern border of New Jersey all the way through the Holland tunnel. We were sitting in the front seats, across the aisle from each other, among a group of middle age travelers. It appears the young and hip go to the back of the bus and immediately plug into their electronic devices. We entertained ourselves with lively discussions, at first with the woman New Yorker to Allyson's right. The conversation centered on saving money at Christmas by shopping for bargains throughout the year. I affirmed that I would be on the look out for cool stocking stuffers for Christmas 2010 during this trip. Allyson mentioned re-gifting the body lotion I had given her because the scent of gardenia was way too strong. With this, the lesbian couple just behind her abruptly entered the conversation, "We quite like gardenia," the woman on the aisle said with a heavy British accent.

We saw five very intriguing museums in three days: the Museo del Barrio, the Guggenheim, the Neue Gallery, the Hispanic Society of America Museum, and the Frick. We used the bus system to go up town to Spanish Harlem and loved looking out the the window onto the city sidewalks and store windows as we crept along. We met a professional window dresser looking for work in an ill-conceived Hallmark Store, who claimed he had done the Christmas windows in Bloomingdales and Barneys. As the bus inched by we got a good look at his work, a disturbingly macabre, Victorian view of the holidays. I missed miniature trains and Santa's foot appearing and disappearing up a chimney.

Allyson is a professor of Spanish and Latin American Studies, so our visit delved into Spanish and Latin American culture with an intensity that I would not have been able to generate on my own. The most unusual place we visited was the Hispanic Society of America Museum with its imposing statue of El Cid in the central courtyard. The wind chill was nine degrees and our leg joints barely worked as we attempted to cross Broadway at west 155th. We thought the gallery door was locked because the wind made it so difficult to open, but a doorman suddenly pulled it open from within. He guided us to a large cloak room which was furnished with amazing Spanish antiques and hung with a fascinating group of Spanish and Latin American paintings. The art immobilized us before we even had a chance to begin to unwrap our layers of protective clothing. Allyson, who is cold even on a mild day, was either suffering from hypothermia or dumbstruck by the art because she was rendered speechless for the first 15 minutes of our visit.

We used the rest room which was down a winding narrow staircase paneled, as is the rest of the museum, in rich hardwood. It was a huge, cavernous room, with a single, modern, metal toilet stall in one corner and an old, shallow, washtub type sink in the opposite corner. Along one wall was a large, pragmatic wooden dining table, with brochures including one for a Spanish language children's theater. Upstairs, the wood-lined galleries were packed with treasures from Spain and Latin America, all displayed in dim light in rooms with a feel of the 1700s. Everything smelled of mothballs or some other type of wood preservative. The collection, which was put together by the philanthropist, Archer Milton Huntington, was assembled with one aim -- to collect pieces that are in anyway connected to Spain or the Spanish language. Allyson and I were some of the few viewers, so we got personal attention from a women seated in a dim corner selling booklets and postcards in the most casual style imaginable for a public institution. When we asked for specific information she rummaged around in a dark, tall closet behind her only to extract the most beautiful booklets and facsimiles of the fantastic works on display. The museum has some Goya masterpieces, but my favorite is a painting by Velasquez, painted in 1644. It is a painting of a young girl that looked as if she could walk off the canvas into the 21st century.

We also saw the Kandinsky retrospective at the Guggenheim, which was well worth the hour line which snaked around the block in the bitter cold. The sheer quantity and intensity of Kandinsky's work and its display in the building he helped inspire was mind blowing. After an hour of slowing circling upward with my headphones, dutifully listening to narration and contemporaneous classical music composed in no key, I felt as if my brain was pleading for a rest from too many neural firings, not to mention that my legs were begging for a rest, burning from exertion. We retreated to the wonderful restaurant on the main floor where, remarkably, there was no wait to sit at the common table. We were surrounded by Italian visitors, who agreed with us that the food was exquisite. I savored the baked parsnip and cauliflower soup with a string of port. Hats off to the chef, whomever she/he may be.

Now I am home and feel as if I can walk anywhere. If I ever feel stymied by walking blocks again, I will just hop a train to New York.

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