Saturday, 2 June 2012

Where was I? Oh yes, The Met.

I love the Met. In all four visits to New York I’ve still not seen all of it but the two constants have been the Impressionist Wing and the apple martinis on the balcony overlooking the grand foyer. As far as first impressions go this not so humble ticket hall certainly sets the agenda for everything else you see/do/consume/bow down before while here. I remember reading years ago that a wealthy widow bestowed a considerable chunk of her fortune to the Met on the proviso that it was spent filling the foyer with enormous arrangements of fresh flowers every week. So Upper East Side. So fabulous.

Anyway, Lovely Boy to his credit was well up for some culture and his genuine astonishment at the calibre of works on display, never mind the fact you could get right up close to them, was just brilliant. He couldn’t believe what we were looking at and kept trying to tally up their collective monetary value only to run out of zeros. I mean it really is like wandering through a greatest hits catalogue from the late 19th century and the thrill and the awe aren’t dampened by repeated views.

After a spin through here, a very civilised cocktail that was even BETTER than I remembered and another spin through the temporary exhibit of Matisse, Picasso and the other Parisian avant-garde’s that had been collected by Gertrude Stein and her brothers, we headed for the roof and Tomas Saraceno.

Tomas Saraceno, Galaxies Forming along Filaments, like
Droplets along the Strands of a Spider's Web
, 2009. Venice Biennale
Saraceno is a contemporary Argentinian artist whose practice over the last decade has explored the interrelations between art, architecture and science through a series of habitable sculptural installations. I first saw his work at the Venice Biennale in 2009 and that first memorable encounter remains vivid. Cloud City, on the Met’s roof garden is part of his wider “Cloud City/Air Port City” series and if I had to describe it I’d say it looked like something between an enormous chunk from a DNA strand and something you might use to land on the moon. 

Tomas Saraceno, Cloud City, 2012. 
The interconnected geometric modules are made from transparent and reflective materials, offering a kaleidoscopic view of yourself, the city skyline, Central Park and whoever happens to be inside the City at the time. On a beautiful Spring afternoon, the sun shines even brighter, bouncing off the mirrored surfaces and while you sit and sip your Artini (a cosmopolitan that takes in views of art) the shifting reflections and refracted images capture so succinctly the brilliance of New York in any given moment.

We didn’t rush ourselves here, despite the fact we hadn’t been able to get tickets to actually clamber inside Saraceno’s creation. I even tried the whole “But we’ve come all the way from Australia just to see this” line to no avail. Instead we sat and admired the exterior. And the views. And the ambience. And, well, you get the idea.

That night we met up with an old family friend – in fact my mum’s godson – and his girlfriend for dinner on the Lower East Side, at the Brazilian/South American bistro Esperanto on Avenue C. I had fish tacos to die for and probably more wine than was necessary. Drinks chased dinner as we went from one bar to another before realising it was now 1am and too much of a good thing was heading towards just plain messy.

We spent a demoralising 20 minutes trying to hail a cab on Houston St only to be variously told “No”, “No chance” and “Please step away from my car” when asking to go to Brooklyn. Apparently at that time of night the chances of a return fare are slim to none so no one wanted to waste their time helping us get home. So we took the subway and said a small prayer of thanks that at least in this world-class capital city the public transport runs past midnight....

The brownstones of Park Slope, Brooklyn.
Saturday was our designated Brooklyn Day and it got off to a gentle start with an amble through Park Slope towards the Brooklyn Flea. This institution of glorious tat wasn’t around 10 years ago but it’s since become known as one of the better flea markets in New York and it didn’t disappoint. Despite the brief I set myself to find interesting old photo frames for some of our wedding photos, I came away with a 50s floral fabric handbag and an extraordinary flapper-esque necklace with black faceted Czech glass beads and chain fringing. The thrill of the purchase still lingers that’s how superficial I am.

Lovely Boy was an amiable companion throughout the trawling but it wasn’t hard to keep him happy with all the food stalls about. Our eyes and stomachs both caught sight of a donut stall and being self-restrained we decided to share one. Oh My God. This donut was the best donut I’ve ever eaten. EVER. It had the lightness of fairy floss, the dough conceding delicately and sumptuously between your fingers with the recent warmth of the oven and crunch of cinnamon bringing the whole thing together in a calorific orgy of heaven. We were literally physically unable to leave without having another one.

The best donuts IN THE WORLD.
It was a gastronomic experience that set the tone for the afternoon as we made our way to hipster Williamsburg to check out Smorgasburg, the weekly gourmet food market held in a dusty car park on the East River with a ridiculous view of Midtown. By the time we got there it was teeming with people and I was getting fidgety whiny with the heat. There was no way I was going to stand in a line for 40 minutes to wait for a brisket sandwich like certain other members of the travelling party did. Even if I liked brisket I would have bristled at the indignity of the wait. So I sat with my fancy pants piece of pizza and enjoyed the breeze and the view. And the people watching. Honestly, it made the Bondi promenade look quaint. Quaint. I loved it. Sitting as I was behind my new sunglasses…

Smorgasburg, Williamsburg
The line for brisket....
The view from lunch.
We wandered around Williamsburg for a couple of hours, poking our noses in shops and cafes before retreating home for an afternoon nap. Continuing our Brooklyn theme, that evening we went to the Old Can Factory on 3rd Avenue to see a documentary - part of the Rooftop Films summer series. Despite the hot day, the evening was decidedly fresh and by the end we were bloody freezing - being completely underdressed for a night sitting in the breeze on a roof. The documentary though, was really quite incredible. Peter Nicks’s The Waiting Room spends 24 hours in the Emergency waiting room of Oakland’s Highland Hospital in California and is a profoundly sad and incredibly damning look at the problems faced by those US citizens who can’t afford health care. It sounds grim and a lot of it was quite hard going but the humanity, humour and tenacity of the hospital staff was both humbling and inspiring. And you know you realise how totally fucked up a situation is when you start to become grateful for the NHS.

By the time the film ended (it was pointlessly preceded by an eye-clawingly awful, overdrawn musical set by this hipster idiot with a toy keyboard – oh New York...) it was too late to find anywhere decent to eat. Still shivering, we took a seat at the bar of an old school diner for burgers and beers before heading home to crash.

Sunday was a his and hers day. Lovely Boy headed to the Bronx for a day at the baseball and I went to the Hells Kitchen Flea Market in search of treasure. While LB was imbibing beer and eating all sorts of processed meat I looked for can’t-live-withouts. Turns out I can’t live without two near-identical gold necklaces… the peril of market shopping being you can’t return something when you find something else. Not that I was overly distressed with the plurality of the problem… Before moving on to the 6th Ave Annex and Antiques Garage at W25th I also managed to pick up a Gunnie Sax cotton top and this maxi skirt in the most brilliant print. Couldn’t tell you how old it is but safe to say it’s older than me. 

At the Antiques Garage I picked up another couple of necklaces and a silver belt before beating a retreat back to Brooklyn for dinner with one of the friends I made on my masters course who's now living in New York. It was so lovely to see Bethany and to catch up on the last couple of years over a bottle of sparkling wine and a great meal – so lovely the restaurant eventually had to ask us to pay and leave because they were closing up.

Hells Kitchen Flea Markets
While I was gadding about in Brooklyn, LB came home via a stroll through Central Park, which turned out to be fortuitous because when we woke up on Monday – designated day for walking the High Line – it was beyond pissing down. Pouring, bucketing, SOBBING. It was unpleasant to say the least…..

Especially as we still had so much left to do. 

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