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Monday, June 20, 2011

NYC: the Met, Andean tunics, McQueen, subway art, the High Line, family& friends. and, oh, the Ad Club Awards dinner.

Here in NYC, or rather at my mother’s apt in Yonkers. My mother has lived here 40 plus years, my siblings spent at least part of their teen years here, but I never really lived here, except for my last few months of high school, and about nine months in between living in Paris and subsequently in New Mexico. So I have never really considered this home, although it was my parents’ home for many more years than we lived in the Bronx.

This trip has been prompted by the Westchester Ad Club’s annual dinner, where they present awards in about 2 zillion categories, capped off by an award presented in honor of my dad, It can be a long evening, mitigated by the great food and the cleverness of the mc. pro bono work, Last year the Norm Liss Service Award went to a group that designed the annual report for the Lemur Conservation Organization, this year to a company that designed invitations for the for the Norwalk Aquarium’s annual fundraiser. I believe this is all work done pro bono.My dad's work was mostly for large corporations, like Topps, Renault, etc. but I appreciate that whoever created the award made it for service for a non-profit.

This is the third time I’ve attended, and I believe the 12th year the award has been presented. My mother goes every year, and each year they have her stand next to the mc and present the award.

This time, I related the story of the lap sitting contest my father created on college campuses to promote his client, Burlington Menswear, and their crease proof slacks, culminating in bringing the winner, a lanky Texan, to appear on the Johnny Carson Tonight Show, and break the record of nine coeds on his lap.

I, and nine of my high school friends, were the lap sitters, or sittees, or whatever. Johnny Carson actually picked me up and put me on top of the pile. This remains one of the highlights of my life, or, as I told the audience of ad and pr professionals, my 15 minutes of fame. Even though it was probably less than five minutes. Does that mean I've got another ten left?

I told the story not just because it’s such a great story,bud because I thought it demonstrated my father’s ability to create offbeat ideas and events, and make them happen. I realize that in the audience each year there are fewer and fewer people who remember my father personally. And it’s important to me to have the award be something more than an award in the name of someone they know nothing about. Last year one of the people at our table told me how she had considered my father her mentor. This year, someone else who knew was retiring, so one less who actually knew him.This is why it's important to me to participate, and let people know a little bit about who my father was.

Several people came up afterwards and told me what a great speech it had been, (and I had been worrying that I spoke too long at the end of an already long dinner.) Someone asked me if I was in "the business." I had similar feedback last year, which I’m sure was part of what encouraged me to do it again.

My mother and sister would never consider speaking in front of a crowd. I, and I think my brother, thrive on it, as did my dad. I am beginning to realize just how much I enjoy speaking publicly. I always enjoyed doing my cultural programs for school audiences. And now, presentations about my volunteer stints abroad, and also, my work in the Legacy Project, where I present the story of Sarah Miller, a Massachusetts woman who is a Holocaust survivor.

Is it too late, I wonder, for me to consider a career in some type of public speaking? I think I am just a very late bloomer!

It was also very gratifying, a few days later, to see, on the company's website, a reference to the award and to my father, how he'd been an inspiration to many, etc. Even if it is, in the end, all pr.

So, the awards dinner was the motivation for my trip down here. But no trip to NYC, in my book, is complete without at least one museum visit and some other New York type adventures, which to me can consist of just wandering around the city, as in other great cities I like to spend time in.

Wednesday was the bus trip, Greyhound this time, from Boston, then a two hour stroll, wheeling my suitcase, around Manhattan and then the express bus up Madison Ave. to Westchester. A long but pleasurable day capped off by the awards dinner. My walk took me through the theatre district, rather crowded as I expected as it was matinee day. A little difficult to negotiate, especially in the extreme heat, with my suitcase. Many many tourists, but nothing like Venice, or at least the sheer size of New York makes it able to better absorb the numbers.

I did have a mission for my hours between bus from Boston and bus up to Yonkers. In DC we’d seen a small exhibit of murals and mosaics designed in the early 20th century by a woman named Hildreth Meiere. There were several in New York, including some at Radio City, one at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, some supposedly in the underground corridor at Rockefeller Center, and more. So, suitcase in hand, I went in search of them. I found the Radio City medallions, although it took a couple of tries, because you can only see them from the opposite side of the street. I walked some of the corridor, but never located them. St. Patrick’s was under renovation, the doors were closed and I didn’t see anyone enter or exit, just lots of people sitting on the steps. And as I was hot and tired, didn’t relish the idea of hauling my suitcase up the steps, and didn’t know if they’d let me in with it anyway, I abandoned that idea. I wasn’t particularly frustrated, though, since it had been a minor mission. Nothing on the level of my quest for Canaletto.

Here’s the funny thing, though. I had looked on the Meiere website to locate her works in New York. Then, out of curiousity, I looked to see if there were any pieces in Massachusetts. There is, just one. Guess where it is? That’s right, Beverly!!
In the 42nd street subway there were incredible mosaic tile murals depicting city folks in a carnival like setting, and others that looked like giant marbles or colorful bubbles. One wrapped around a corner. Another framed the restroom entrances. The background was the traditional white subway tiles, they looked like the old ones, but they must have been new because the mosaics were integrated into them. I need to research this subway art more.

On Thursday, I headed back into the city. THE CITY, as New Yorkers say, (and I am one), as if it were the only city. And for many New Yorkers, that is the case. Think early Woody Allen, before he actually left New York, and truth be told, myself too. I truly thought New York was the center of the world, until, that is, I saw Paris. Hmmm, maybe Woody Allen, the creep, and I have more in common than I thought.

I went to visit Nancy, my high school friend, and her husband Jim. We had kept in touch for a while after hs, but had been out of touch many years until she hosted a reunion of our high school class a couple of years ago. They live in an elegant apartment overlooking Central Park West. In high school Nancy was a poiticall radical, participating in the Columbia riots, and later, being involved with the infamous Chicago Seven. (Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, etc.) Her politics are still pretty left, but now they are in the position of being able to financially support political candidates, etc. They have also become orthodox Jews, which still somewhat throws me for a loop. I have yet to talk to them about how they came to their religious commitment, but will be very interested to do so at some point. One thing about Nancy, whatever she commits herself to she does with full force.
Nancy has been a lawyer and literary agent for many years. Jim was a hedge fund director, but has closed that fund. He is now working on a major project that would involve developing a material derived from hemp that could be used for low cost housing. He is trying to establish pilot projects in Haiti, Bolivia, and Mali, where the crops would be grown, building materials produced, and housing built.

While I was there, Nancy received a call she’d been eagerly awaiting from a California producer or agent. Their older son has been working for quite a while on a screenplay, and they have been working with him on trying to get the film made. Nancy would be one of the producers, they were looking for some help on raising funding, and getting the actors and director they wanted. They were throwing around names like Daniel Day Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Mira Scorvino ( have I got that right? Natalie Portman’s nemesis in the Black Swan) and apparently the guy on the California side was interested and amenable to all Nancy’s ideas. So, who knows, perhaps there will be a film soon in the works. The story is based on a true one, and is quite compelling. It takes place in two time periods, World War II and then in Bosnia in the 1990’s, has two intertwined stories, and deals with people making the decision to risk their lives to attempt to save the lives of others.

On Friday, once again the express bus down. This time, my destination was the Met. It’s a double treat to go there, one, because I get to see my other friend Nancy, and also because I get to see the museum. Nancy, who I actually know from Massachusetts, moved to the city (see?!) more than 20 years ago, to take a job at the Met. And despite lots of gripes about the way the museum treats its employees, she does still seem to thrive on her work. She is a conservator in the textile department, always working on some interesting project. I enjoy going into the bowels of the museum to visit her lab. Right now she is working on restoring a Duncan Phyfe sofa. It makes one marvel at all the behind the scenes work that goes into just one individual piece. The last time I visited, Nancy was working on several small boxes for a soon to open exhibit called Thinking Outside the Box. I was thrilled to know that the exhibit is still there, through October. The ones Nancy was working on were made of an intricately patterned straw. They were too fragile for the insides to be on exhibit. But I got to see them open in Nancy’s lab!

The exhibit was on a small scale, although not all the boxes were small. They were all from the Museum’s collection, and, if I remember right, none of them had ever been exhibited before. It boggles my mind. I wonder how much of the Museum’s collection hasn’t ever been on exhibit. The boxes ranged from the 1500s to the 1900’s, were in a variety of materials including wood, mother of pearl, ivory, the aforementioned straw, and more. Some were travelling cases, one was a games box, some were what were called necessaires, containing items for a woman’s toilette, etc. It’s an exhibit I may well have passed by, just because of the overwhelming wealth of objects at the museum. But I certainly wasn’t the only one perusing it.

From Nancy, I knew about the Alexander McQueen exhibit, of which she spoke a bit disparagingly. (The whole mega show issue.) The name was slightly familiar to me, but I didn’t know much about him or the exhibit. I did wind up going to it, but before I did, I was delighted to find there was another exhibit on “The Andean Tunic.” I It was just a stroke of luck that I saw it mentioned in the flier about special exhibits. In retrospect, I am surprised that Nancy didn’t mention it to me, as she well knows my interest in things Peruvian and Andean, and she herself has been to Peru several times on textile related trips. It may be just a matter of her being much more oriented to the behind the scenes work and what is upcoming rather than what is currently on exhibit.

Anyway, we spent about an hour and a half together, eating lunch in the employee cafeteria, and then a visit to her lab, and then she left me to wander the museum on my own, as usual when I visit her at work. It is amazing how much catching up we always manage to do in just an hour or two.

Since I have bombarded myself with museum visits lately, between the Dale Chihuly exhibit at the MFA in Boston right before we left for Italy, Venice, Washington, and now here, I was planning a brief laid back wander through. Fat chance! (I wonder where that expression comes from.) It turned out the museum was open that night until 8, or was it 9, and I wound up staying until 7:30. Who knows, I may have stayed even longer if I hadn’t had to catch the last bus back to Westchester. I was at the museum for nearly eight hours, including the time I spent with Nancy, six hours of exhibit visiting and museum store cruising. I believe that may be a record time for me of museum visiting in a single day, even on a day, like in venice or DC recently, of visiting more than one museum in a single day. Yikes! And this at the end of a month of marathon museum visiting. When will it end? I think I need a break. But I said that a week or two ago, too.

I’m not finished yet, still have to describe the Andean and The Alexander McQueen exhibits, too very different shows , but having the common thread (haha) of being related to textiles, and apparel.

First, the Andean. I saw it before the other, and am glad I did. After being bombarded with the McQueen, I am not sure I would have been able to absorb much more.
The Andean pieces ranged from 400 bc, or bce which I should try to adopt, to 1800 ae. I forget what these stand for, but I know they eliminate the orientation to Christ, which is certainly more appropriate for a nice Jewish girl and/or atheist.

Some were pieces from Paracas, along the coast south of Lima, where we have been, some were Wari pieces from inland in the mountains in the Ayacucho area, where I spent several weeks working with street kids, and which has long been a center for weaving as well as other crafts. They were all exquisite, and more varied than the Peruvian textiles I’ve seen before. One was all white, or off white, cotton, almost lacelike in appearance. Two were tie dyed, and I thought of Max and Carolina. I didn’t know that ancient Peruvians had done tie dying. One was a miniature piece, as if for a doll, but there was no information about what it might have been used for. One had brightly colored dots around the other more traditional patterns, and had an almost contemporary look. The exhibit had a no photos sign, but I took some anyway.
Then, onto the McQueen. All I knew was fashion, mega show, outrageous. There was a line to enter, but it moved quickly. While I was still at the Andean exhibit, a couple walked by me, and the woman said, I probably would have preferred this, wish we’d stopped here instead of the McQueen, but now I’m too tired. That’s how it often is, isn’t it? That what you’re looking or turns out to be not all it was cracked up to be, and something else you stumble upon is exhilarating.

So, I was prepared not to like the McQeen exhibit, having not had much for expectations, and the comments by Nancy and the unknown woman passing by me. As I entered, strange music blared, the walls were painted faux grey brown bricks, the room was dark, and a black costume flared out, propelled by an unseen fan. We edged forward as a group. I couldn’t help but be reminded of a haunted house, a rather tacky one. Throughout the exhibit, the feeling never fully subsided. Despite the tackiness, however, I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibit. Think Tim Burton, with whom McQueen had actually collaborated on some of the collections. Or Lady Gaga. And Princess Beatrice’s hat.The fashions were creative and bizarre. McQ himself described himself as a romantic at heart, and I could see what he meant. Leather and lace, but also a skirt resembling a balsa lattice fan, with slits through which the light shone and formed shadows. McQueen also created, in 1994, the bumster, extremely low rise pants, that I guess inspired the subsequent trend in half falling down pants, or trousers, as they would say in Mcqueen’s native England. (pants meaning underpants there, as I once found out to my embarrassment.) The exhibit quoted McQueen as saying the butt was the most sexy part of a woman’s body. I did find his pants very appealing.

The exhibit also featured films of many of his runway shows. They were really performance pieces, and appropriately outrageous. Much more interesting than your typical runway show, outrageous but not particularly creative. The show, that is. The fashions certainly can be.

I knew McQueen had died, just a couple of years ago, but didn’t realize until googling him later that he’d committed suicide. Some might say it isn’t surprising, given the darkness of some of his creations. I don’t particularly see it that way, but would like to know more. There does seem to be a connection between creativity and depression. At least that's what I try to tell myself when I am feeling depressed.

I took the last bus home again, felt like a regular, from the same stop in front of Mt. Sinai hospital as the previous night. There was actually a much closer stop, at 84th st, which I somehow missed entirely. When I couldn’t find it, I walked all the way up to 99th, nearly a mile, all the while concerned that I’d miss it and be stranded in Manhattan overnight. Well, I’m sure I could have stayed at either Nancy’s house, but it didn’t prove necessary. I was actually quite early for the bus. On the bus were some of whom I’d figured were regulars the previous night, becauses they’d all been chatting, with the bus driver, about the state of education, most of the way up. This night some of the same folks were there, different topic of conversation though.

Saturday I’d reserved to get together with Bonnie and Chico. When I called they had several ideas, all in the city, all of which sounded good. One was to visit the High Line, a relatively new elevated park built along the tracks of an abandoned freight rail line. I’d previously heard of it, and in fact there’d been an article in Sunday’s Times (the feature sections are printed and distributed on Saturday) that very morning. There is a similar park in Paris, the Promenade Plantee, which I have visited, and I believe this one is partly inspired by the Paris park. When I told the volunteer, later in the day, that I thought this one was even better than the paris park, he seemed very pleased, of course.

We all loved it, as it seemed did all the many others strolling the 10 block length in spite of the drizzle. I only wondered, and later asked the volunteer, what it was like on a sunny day. He said they actually had to time visits, which was sad to hear, but he thought it was just temporary since the extension had just opened very recently. The Times article, by the way, was about how, contrary to expectations, there had been no issue of crime at all at the park What I didn’t know is how late it remains open after dark.

There were various sculptures and creative kinds of seating along the length. The ones with which I was most impressed were the sculptural bird feeders that seemed to echo the city architecture, the framed window on the street against which one could lean, and from which below on the street gave a wonderful image of the folks framed above, and the talking water fountain. This was straight out of Candid Camera, except for a more electronic sounding voice. It had various messages, about water conservation, but also about making sure not to touch your lips to the metal, etc. The first time we walked right by it, not noticing that it spoke. While we listened and drank and giggled, others walked by, clearly wondering what we were laughing about. This is my favorite kind of art, something interactive that provokes reactions, in a playful way, and appeals to folks of all ages.

Also wonderful were the views of the city, an entirely different perspective than one would have from the street or from buildings. One of the best was a multilevel car garage, the kind that has an elevator to bring the cars to the different levels. We were looking down on the open garage, and also at the back of a billboard frame.

At 30th street the park stops, there is a chain link fence, and the abandoned and overgrown tracks continue on. I am not sure whether the plan is eventually to extend the walk. I kind of like it the way it is, where you can see the transition and what it had been.

The plantings were actually the best part of the park. According to our friendly volunteer, the original concept was to use the same plants that had been growing wild. But as many of those were invasive, the eventual idea was to mimic the wild feeling of the previous growth but more appropriate plantings. There are all kinds of flowering plants, and grasses, many just coming into flower. I imagine it will be even more beaurtiful in another week. But, of course, also more crowded. There was a whole calendar of scheduled events, including an urban dance performance that very night. But it wasn’t clear, with the weather, wether that would actually happen. And we had plans, anyway, to join my mother and sisiter’s family for dinner. I, and also my family, have known Bonnie since she and I were 11. I consider her my oldest friend, even though I have now reconnected with some from further back in elementary school. And though sometimes we are not in contact for even a few years, I have never felt out of contact with her.

Leaving the High Line, we went cruising, in the same neighborhood, a number of different art galleries, all on the same street. I believe it was 23rd. I’d been on the same block several years back with Beatrice, our Venezuelan exchange student. None of us was very impressed with the first gallery, but several down the street were stupendous and fun. There was a Jasper Johns exhibit, which probably wouldn’t have interested me much if I hadn’t known who he was. Best of all was a tiny gallery, named Carolina something, filled entirely with clear resin heads on pedestals. The heads themselves were filled with a variety of detritous, soda cans, postcards, shoes, viewmaster cards, etc. I told the woman, jokingly, that I would like just one of the molds so I could fill it myself. She thought it was a good idea, and said she’d pass it along to Carolina whoever, the gallery owner. I doubt either she or the artist would go for it , though. In the tiny office next to the gallery room were several clear bags filled with trash, and I was totally unsure whether they were actual trash or art. You couldn’t really see them from the gallery, and they were in several piles in the office. The young woman told me that, oh yes, that was the artist’s "trash bag series." The bags were resin, same process as the heads in the next room. I still wasn’t sure if they were being stored in the office or if the intention was for them to be displayed there. I should have asked her. She did say the place was a mess because the gallery owner was in the midst of doing something or other. And the only thing that seemed at all messy was the trash bag series.

We visited about a half dozen galleries, all on the same street. And we didn’t even make it to the Chelsea Art Museum. The few times I’ve tried to go gallery hopping in Boston it wasn’t very successful. Too much stuff that didn’t interest me. But here, and especially paired with the walk along the High Line, it made for a wonderful afternoon. Even in the rain.

Back home to Yonkers and to dinner with Mom, Wendy and family, and Bonnie and Chico. My mother was delighted to see them, and it took her mind at least partly away from the brake failure incident that had shaken her up so much that morning.
Sunday I left for Boston, again via Greyhound. Alan drove me to the subway, (actually the elevated, in the Bronx.) from where it was a straight shoot although a longish ride, into 42nd street and the Port Authority Bus Terminal. I had a ticket and plenty of time so was relaxed. Each stop featured stained glass art. I was really pleased to see public art in the subway, although the contrast with the peeling paint of the apartment buildings along the way was noticeable.

There were several interesting characters sitting opposite me at various points on the trip. Maybe there always are, but I am not always in the frame of mind to notice them.

Most remarkable was the Orange Lady. She was dressed almost entirely in shades of orange. Her hair was orange. Her tote bag was orange. Most impressively, she was painting her extremely long fingernails, as the train lurched along, with orange (of course) nail polish. The bottle was balanced on her purse which was on her lap. Her long fingers arched backwards ,just as mine do. She noticed me noticing her, and I smiled and said, “I’m impressed,” referring to the nail polish application. She laughed and said, never enough time. A couple of other passengers smiled too.

The bus ride down from Boston had been uneventful. The oneback was anything but. I have come to the conclusion that Greyhound is a dysfunctional company. Seriously. I had misunderstood the website when purchasing my ticket down, and wound up with two. I called customer service, they arranged for a refund, and said it would take six weeks.

For the trip back,, it took Loring about 20 minutes on the computer (I had no internet access) to find me a ticket, and I had to go to the station early because I didn’t have a printer to print it on. Spent at least a half hour on a line where every single person had a problem. Some had already missed their busses. They only had one live person handling the line, because they wanted to encourage people to use the computers. But everyone had a problem with the machines and had to come over to our line anyway. W here they were directed to the front of the line. Is there something wrong with this picture? When I got to the front, the woman looked at my conf.irmation # and said, uh-oh. That was reassuring. She said she didn’t think she could print out my ticket but would give it a try. Miraculously, it worked.

Finally on the bus, we got stuck in traffic leaving the city, because of the Puerto Rico Day parade. The driver hadn’t been informed of it. I knew about it. It seemed like everyone in the city knew about it. Then, in Hartford, he apparently missed the exit, as my seatmate called out, sir, you’ve gone by the exit. Turns out the company had informed him that there was a detour and he way to go another way. (that detour didn’t seem to exist.) The passenger next to me eventually got him to the stop, and he very graciously thanked her as he announced the bus’s arrival. I felt bad for him. He must have been both frustrated and embarrassed, but handled it pretty well.

Somehow, we made up enough time so that we were early heading into Boston, and the bus driver said we had time for a stop at Roy Rogers, which we did. Next time, I think I'll go back to Bolt, though, or try another company. Not Greyhound, or Trailways, or Peter Pan, since they are all the same company. But then again, for $18, how much can you expect?

It's amazing how much there is to say about even a short trip. And I don't even feel like I've told it all.

That brings me to the end of my New York episode. Next, next museum, back in Massachusetts.

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