New York New Year's Vacation, Day Two: The Met

1) Lordy, I was a slugabed Thursday, after so little sleep the night before. I don't think I got going until after 8 AM.

2) I'll say this for the Algonquin, their provision of Beekman 1802 bath products is fantastic. Especially their goat's milk soap.

3) I thought I'd get some writing done at the Red Flame Diner (almost next door to the hotel), but I'd barely written one sentence before Mademoiselle returned with my bacon and cheddar omelette. Fastest breakfast ever!

4) After a quick stop in my room, it was off to the Met, prepared for the day's bombogenesis by wearing long underwear, layers, and hiking books. I toted along with me my journal, a notebook, a Barcelona bar from V*****, and my loafers. It had been suggested to me that tromping through museums in hiking boots might be rather wearing.

5) Now comes one of my New York traditions: going the wrong direction to get to the Met. Exiting the 86th Street Station at 86th and Lexington, I forgot - I always forget - the correct way to turn. I trudged down one block - surely Park Avenue couldn't be right? I reversed, two blocks back - well, Third Avenue was definitely the wrong direction! So say it with me people: Third, Lexington, Park, Madison, Fifth! Don't let me forget.

5a) En route I saw a steam shovel spin its wheels into a construction site (reminded me of Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel) and a taxi spin its wheels near fruitlessly in an attempt to get out of the soupy snow piling up everywhere; it almost didn't happen. Several of the doormen at those ritzy Upper East Side towers were meticulously taking care of their sidewalks. I heard one say "You welcome!" after a group of pedestrians went by without thanking him.

5b) I was wearing my new raincoat, purchased yesterday, without a lining. Even so, I'd worked up quite a glow by the time I got inside.

6) Finalmente, the Met! And three cheers for their staff sweeping off the enormous stairs in front of the museum. Sooooooo cold, and wanting nothing but to get inside, but the entrance was clogged with supplicants while the guards checked everyone's bags. After that it was ten minutes in the coat check line. Alas, I had to keep my boots on! Too late did I learn one must go directly to the bathroom to change shoes before checking anything.

7) Grateful the place was open, I paid full fare at a kiosk. Turns out that was the day that it was announced that the Met would make $25 admission mandatory for out-of-state residents.

8) I approached the grand staircase to the second floor. In hiking boots, it seems impossible to interact with a grand staircase in the grand manner. Posture is less a matter of elegance than survival. Rather than the Queen of Roumania*, I felt like a knock-kneed old nag headed for the Great Glue Factory in the Sky.


9) Saw this and immediately thought of a friend who looks a bit like him. "OK, beheading's done. What's next, b******?!"

David with the Head of Goliath , bu Guido Cagnacci, c. 1655

David with the Head of Goliath, bu Guido Cagnacci, c. 1655

10) Then, unexpectedly, a Rodin exhibition! Let's face it, Rodin has become the Monet of sculptors. And I had the wonderful privilege this year of seeing Stanford's impressive collection of Rodins, including The Gates of Hell. Lovely works in this show, many of which I'd seen before, but the first work to excite me wasn't even by Rodin! I first became familiar with Gustave Moreau's Oedipus and the Sphinx in college (I forget which class - human sexuality? Psych 101? It surely couldn't have been Sociology Through Film!) and the tension between the two captivated me. Not only that, it was the first time a saw a sphinx that wasn't Egyptian. So it was an unexpected meeting with an old friend.


11) But here's a Rodin I hadn't seen before, just to prove I was paying attention to the headliner: Orpheus and Eurydice.


12) Then another wonderful surprise. (Museums tend to be full of them.) In two small nearby galleries were photographs by the Baron de Meyer . . . including one of my beloved Rita de Acosta Lydig, "the fabulous Mrs. Lydig!" She was one of the profligate ladies of style who died bankrupt that Cecil Beaton lauded in his book The Glass of Fashion, which someone gave me for my 30th birthday. Turns out she popularized the backless evening gown in 1913 (first it was a scandal, then everyone was wearing them), so how wonderful to see her wearing one in this photograph.


13) Then the Michaelangelo exhibition, one of the things that motivated me to come to New York this winter. Well, it was great. And sweet mercy goodness, the range of collections from which this was assembled! Even HMTQ sent a few sketches. Wonderful for me to see the range of his work beyond the Sistine Chapel. My photos didn't come out very well for the most part, but this one (of his sketch of two men on horseback) didn't come out too badly.


14) Once I'd gotten through Michaelangelo, it was about time to think about lunch. So of course that meant heading to the gift shop to find something to read. A diligent search led me to Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, by Mason Currey. It sets forth the routines of creatives from B.F. Skinner to Louis Armstrong to many many others. Perfect for me right now.

15) I treated myself to a three-course luncheon at Petrie Court in the museum, and didn't have to wait more than five minutes to get the last table for two with a seat facing outside. This was my view.


15) And a delicious luncheon it was. Baby kale salad with nutmeats and very thin slices of red apple, some sort of salmon business over lentils with a gesture of greenery, and then chocolate blackout cake. Heavenly.

16) Leaving the restaurant I noticed how very long the line was (#smug) but not so much that I missed this hanging by the host's stand.

Cain and Abel

Cain and Abel

17) I passed then through the Wrightsman Galleries, magnificent French interiors lit as though by candles, and with impressively convincing fake candle flame bulbs in the chandeliers and sconces.

I want this chair!

I want this chair!

18) Time to go clod-hopping back up the staircase for more art (As Ruth Draper noted in her monologue A Church in Italy, "Well, they have Art over here, and that's what we come for.") And the first stop on this trip to the second floor was an exhibition of World War I art.


20) Then I wandered through galleries of paintings looking for my beloved Consuelo, Duchess of Marlborough, as painted by Boldini, but she had flitted away. Instead, I saw works both familiar and unfamiliar.

21) A David Hockney exhibition was also going on, and I learned more about him and his work. (Truly, I hadn't gotten far beyond some portraits, his Polaroid collages, and Sister Wendy's "David Hockney loves the male buttocks.") Some really astonishing (to me) compositions of buildings, of people (particularly Don Bachardy and Christopher Isherwood), and of some bold colors.


21a) I often "trivialize modern art" by using it as a background for myself.


22) Beautiful European paintings of the 19th century, a display of horn instruments, brass and wood, centered around a conch shell, paintings from Centuries Earlier Than the 19th, and the utter weariness that can settle on you when you're overwhelmed by Art, hiking boots, and chocolate cake.

23) Eventually, inexplicably, this led me to the Lehman Collection, which I hadn't yet seen. Full of delights, but I was wearing down.

At least I'm not about to succumb to the Stendhal Effect.

At least I'm not about to succumb to the Stendhal Effect.

24) All I can say is, that Lehman had a good eye.

25) Arrived coat check line 3:01 PM. Emerged coat check line with coat and bag 3:20 PM.

26) Trudging up the sidewalk to 86th Street, a woman asked me "And was the museum open today?" "Yes indeed, and jam packed!" She seemed surprised!

27) I'll have to continue with the evening another time.

* "Head up, chin out, tummy in. Tonight, Agnes, you are Queen of Roumania!"