The Cloisters

Earlier this summer, a friend was in New York for a business trip, and I jumped on the chance to hang out with her. She came up a day early on a sunny, hot Sunday. We agreed to meet at her hotel with another college friend.

First to arrive, I sat in the snazzy hotel lobby. A bit later, I received a text from my friend saying that she had arrived and how about we meet in ten minutes? I looked up and saw her checking in at the reception desk. Not wanting to scare her or interrupt her conversation with the receptionist, I creepily stood behind her at the distance you’d stand behind the customer at a post office counter when you’re next in line (in the U.S. I mean… in France mosey on right up behind that stranger).

We went up to put her bag in her hotel room, which to her surprise was stylishly decorated but did not feature a desk. Considering she was there for work and would need to use her laptop several hours a day, she called reception to inquire about it. They responded that she hadn’t requested one. We were baffled. Even in low-cost motel rooms, I have always seen a bed and a table.

Our friend joined us, and after a leisurely lunch and animated chat at a restaurant in the neighborhood, we took the subway up to the Cloisters, which is built from stone and materials from four French medieval abbeys. It contains art, objects, and tapestry from the Middle Ages. There was a surprising lack of signage leading to its location in Fort Tryon Park. We followed somewhat inclined paths surrounded by trees and plants before reaching the fortified structure. 101_1003

You may recognize “The Unicorn in Captivity” (1495–1505).

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You’ve probably never seen this guy, though. He is an aquamanile from Germany (ca. 1425-50), used for handwashing at the table.

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This stained glass window from the cathedral of Notre-Dame in Rouen (ca. 1200-10) depicts a scene from the Legend of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus.

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The gardens were lovely. 101_1009101_1010

There was an entertaining garden of plants grouped by use in medieval times: magic and ceremony, arts and crafts, brewing, medicine, vegetables and salads. Plants had funny names like wallflower, scarlet pimpernel, mandrake, common foxglove, catnip, and butcher’s broom.

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A couple of trees reminiscent of pipes or menorahs stood against a wall. 101_1050

Our visiting friend had chosen the perfect museum for her trip because she spent time looking at every object and artwork in the building. Meanwhile, our other friend and I sat in one of the peaceful gardens for a while after looking through the Cloisters until she joined us.

On our walk out of Fort Tryon Park, we took a different meandering path and found a small cave.

101_1055We topped off our day with dinner at an airy restaurant near our friend’s hotel. Old friends and the even older Cloisters, a delicious Sunday indeed.

When I Said À Bientôt to Paris

Last year I said goodbye to the people I knew in Paris. I remember in the weeks leading up to my departure, people asked me how I felt, and I felt really fine because I had lived every moment during my time in France and it was my own choice to move back to the States. I already felt lucky to have soaked in every nighttime golden bridge, both with others and by myself. I had doubts about what the transition would be like since there were uncertainties in my immediate future, but I accepted that as a necessary part of changement.

My last night, as I parted with a friend across the street from Invalides after our ride on the bateaux mouches, I was confused by a sudden feeling of sickness that overcame me. I hadn’t eaten anything in the past few hours, so it wasn’t that kind of nausea. It wasn’t that I was hungry, either. I didn’t believe it was post-seasickness, if that is even a thing. It took a few minutes of me standing there and descending to walk a bit along the Seine in the direction of home to realize that my body was catching up to the knowledge that I was leaving and reacting in its own involuntary way. Perhaps I was fine in the weeks and hours prior and would be fine later that night, but I didn’t feel so in that moment.

During my stroll past the people enjoying the summertime air on the berges, a friend called me. We had already had our “goodbye for now” a couple of months prior since he lives in another part of France, so we didn’t have to have one now. He was just calling to see how it was going and to wish me off well. I was feeling better at that point and was further bolstered by his comforting and encouraging words.

The next day, a good friend came over to say goodbye before my SuperShuttle to the airport. We had meant to meet up the day before after an afternoon party I attended, but due to my usual lingering at events, by the time I headed to the bateaux mouches that friend was on his way to another get-together with his friends, and we missed each other.

Luck was on my side, because he offered to stop by my place midday before going to his office. Lucky because everyone else I knew was working since it was a Monday, but his schedule that day permitted him to come by. Lucky because we were then able to open a nice bottle of champagne that one of my bosses had given me and that I would have otherwise left behind. It went well with my last opéra pastry that I offered to split with him but that he declined, leaving me to eat the whole thing by myself (pas de souci).

Half an hour later, as I gazed out the window of the shuttle van during the ride to the airport, I was glad that we had sipped a little champagne. I have a low tolerance, so even the light bubbly made everything just hazy enough so that I didn’t think think think during this bonus tour of the city, but dreamily observed neighborhood after neighborhood, each containing memories made and absorbed into my being.

I Finally Watched the Final Five

Yesterday my summer cold kept me out of the office and in bed, which means I finally got to watch a bit of the Summer Olympics… only two days after the closing ceremony. I watched some men’s and women’s swimming and women’s gymnastics, just a couple of hours in all. The ever-reliable Bob Costas commentated on NBC, the American TV channel that airs the Olympics. Like his entertainment counterparts Ryan Seacrest and Nagui, he is ubiquitous, sometimes a bit cheesy, and a complete pro. He’s hosted the Olympics since I started watching them.

Two weeks prior, I was standing on the subway platform after a night with Klimt at the Neue Galerie and wine with two friends on a friend’s rooftop when I realized that I had forgotten to record the opening ceremony, which was airing at that moment. I enjoy watching the opening ceremony—it’s the time when the inevitable controversies leading up the Olympics are set aside for a brief moment for people from different countries to come together, feel inspired, and soak in the atmosphere of something greater and longer-standing than themselves. I love seeing the variety in attire, looks, and sizes of the teams as they wave their flags and their countries are announced in English, French, and the host country’s language. It’s the beginning, where hope reigns before wins and losses have accumulated and more scandals have broken out due to drug use or misconduct (lying about being robbed, really? Way to represent the USA). Every participating group gets a chance to showcase their best athletes. We finally see what the host country has been spending its money on and how it wants to present itself to the world. I didn’t watch Rio’s this year—tant pis.

I guess I’ll never be as excited for the Summer Olympics as I was when the Magnificent Seven competed in 1996. The U.S. women’s gymnastics team, they were seven teenage girls, all a few years older than me, and I knew all of their names. Shannon Miller, Dominique Dawes (“Awesome Dawesome”), Amy Chow, Dominique Moceanu, Amanda Borden, Jaycie Phelps, and of course, little Kerry Strug, who vaulted into the spotlight by clinching the team gold while injured. There was a lot of talent, a lot of drama, and a lot of tears during those games. There’s nothing quite like being a kid and looking up to these amazing athletes who now look like kids to me.

Small Talk

The line to see Klimt’s Adele snaked around the block outside of the Neue Galerie across from Central Park. It wasn’t as much of a hassle as it seemed. The wait was only twenty minutes and brought me this nugget of conversation with the employee who manned the line as I snacked rather discreetly, I thought.

“What is that, bread?”
Mouth full, “And cheese.”
“Yeah, it looks good, you’re killing it over there.”

Ten minutes later, as he waved me through to the next section of the line, with a feigned warning look even though I had nothing in my hands:
“Put the bread away.”
“It’s all gone, in my stomach.”

I was eating just sliced wheat bread, nothing special, and I’m pretty sure he couldn’t see the cheese. What does killing it even mean in this context? Sometimes we just make conversation for the sake of it, I think. I’m down with that.

Mad House

Recently two friends and I visited the exhibit “Studio Job MAD HOUSE” at the Museum of Arts and Design at Columbus Circle in New York City. I’m always a bit unsure about suggesting modern or contemporary art exhibits to people who aren’t already interested in those periods or who express bafflement over why a blank canvas is in a museum. I am not a fan of all contemporary art—it is so varied—but I am open to seeing something new and if I don’t like it, all the better to discuss why afterwards.

Entrance to MAD is free on Thursday evenings, so I figured that this would be the perfect time to visit it for the first time with a college friend who enjoys art and a friend who is from France, living in New York for two months, and interested in being introduced to the city.

The exhibit is a collaboration by Belgian artist Job Smeets and Dutch artist Nynke Tynagel.

Welcome to the MAD HOUSE. 101_0940

You may have seen artist René Magritte’s late 1920s painting featuring a pipe and the words “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (This is not a pipe). When I studied it in college, we talked about how the pipe was not an actual pipe, but rather a painting of a pipe. According to the label for the above piece at MAD, the “cast-bronze sculpture plays with the same idea, that all visual representations are inherently abstract; it is neither a table nor a pipe.” Isn’t it a table, though? Concept aside, it was aesthetically pleasing.

101_0942101_0946My friend asked me to take a picture of him in front of this eye-catching tower, made in 2013-2014. “Over twelve feel tall, this clock and lamp features a cast-bronze King Kong, covered with 120,000 Swarovski crystals, scaling a silver-leafed Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest building, in Dubai), which projects from a cast-bronze Petra, the ancient city in Jordan).”

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This is a replica of the Chartres cathedral turned on its side. It also functions as a closet.

As you may expect, the Chartres cathedral isn’t actually these colors. There was something sinister about seeing the black church laid on its side.

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To my delight and slight surprise, my friend who claimed to dislike modern and contemporary art loved the exhibit. We all enjoyed walking around the pieces and pointing out quirks only apparent upon further examination. The rooms of sculpture-objects that combined form and function were whimsical and weird, light and heavy, solid yet fantastical.

At the exhibit, I saw two separate people that I knew wandering around. I was pretty surprised considering that the museum wasn’t that crowded. One of them joined us later for a casual hearty dinner outside near Rockefeller Center. At one point, one of the French guys in our group looked up at the towering skyscrapers around us, smiled, and said, “This is so New York.” I could practically see the stars in his gaze. The other guy agreed enthusiastically, and they relished it for a while. I suddenly saw myself in Paris and how I must have looked to my friends when we crossed a bridge at night and I sighed, “I love bridges here.” Romance in the eyes, awe in one’s exhale. Not to say that I don’t love New York or where I’m from—I do—but I would never say something like “This is so New York” in the context we were in. I’d be more likely to say that if I accidentally bumped into a stranger on the street and they cursed me out.

Love, Actually

I know I’m not the only one who feels like the world is going down the tubes. I can’t even keep up with all the bad news. Pain and violence rule the news, and it’s not sensationalism, it’s what’s really happening.

In spite of it all, I’ve had some happy events in my own life in the past couple of months, and I hope you have too. To celebrate a recent achievement, I ventured out into the summer heat to treat myself to a bottle of perfume I have had my eye on for a while (i.e. years). It wasn’t so much that I didn’t have money in the bank to purchase it. It’s just not in my habit to buy luxury items. Plane tickets are different—I expect them to be expensive and have naturally incorporated travel into the purchases that I consider “essential.”

As I stood in front of the counter at Jo Malone and watched the employee pull a long piece of ribbon from a roll and snip it to tie up the classy cream and black box, I was reminded of the scene in “Love Actually” where Alan Rickman agitatedly watches Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean) take eons to wrap up an expensive piece of jewelry. After placing it in a box and tying it up in ribbon, he puts it in a clear bag, bends down to scoop up small roses from the drawer behind the counter and drop them into the bag with a flourish (twice), adds some lavender sprigs, and crushes some of the lavender over the whole mix. The final touch is a cinnamon stick. Well, almost final. When Atkinson takes out a big “Christmas box” to place the whole thing in and puts on a yellow glove to prepare the holly, Rickman flips out and rushes away, having to get back to his wife who cannot find out about this gift not meant for her.

Unlike Rickman’s character, though, I thoroughly enjoyed the wrapping process, as the perfume was not meant for a secret lover, but for myself. Nothing like celebrating guilt-free.

On my walk to the boutique, I chose a path that would lead me by Stonewall Inn, which two weeks prior President Obama had designated a new national monument after the shootings in Orlando. There were police officers standing across the street—more than usual—and people sitting the small, quiet intersection park nearby.

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A block or two away, a billboard above an old-fashioned storefront promoted a message of harmony and diversity. What a simple concept that seems so hard to practice universally.

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Make Music New York

Fête de la Musique was my favorite day of the year in Paris. Last month I made it a point to seek out events in the States. It was nothing like dancing like crazy in the Marais with a good friend, but I made do.

Here it was called Make Music New York. None of my friends knew it existed, but it is a legit event all over the city. There was a web site listing lots of outdoor concerts in numerous neighborhoods, and you could filter by area, time, and genre of music.

I invited a friend to check out an experimental piano concert in Greenwich Village during lunchtime. Unlike in Paris, we didn’t run into musical performances along the way, but we did find the pianos set up in the middle of the street. It definitely was experimental, not at all classical pieces or contemporary songs. Not necessarily my cup of tea, but it was nice to sit on a ledge on the sidewalk in the summer weather. That is kind of how Fête de la Musique can be anyway, hit or miss, though ideally you see enough performances that some of them are awesomely soul-filling.

That evening, I handpicked an a cappella group to continue the Fête and cobbled together a group of three friends, old and new, who had never met each other. We joined the small audience sitting in front the group. I have a feeling that I enjoyed the performance the most, although they did make positive remarks afterward. I just really think there are few things better than live music outdoors. We were surrounded by tall buildings and a sky that began to pinken.

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Poetry in Motion

If you step on the New York subway, you may notice the Poetry in Motion series. Generally a subway ride is not very poetic, so all the more I appreciate a piece that makes me cock my head and feel something.

What Do You Believe A Poem Shd Do?

by Ntozake Shange  b. 1948

quite simply a
poem shd fill you
up with something/
cd make you swoon,
stop in yr tracks,
change yr mind,
or make it up.
a poem shd happen
to you like cold
water or a kiss.

Park Vignettes

I was sitting in a city park doing the metro newspaper crossword puzzle when three Asian girls approached my bench. One sat down to my right, while the other two stood to my left. I thought it was a bit strange since the seated girl still had space next to her for the other two to sit, but I looked up anyway to see if they were hoping I’d shift over. The girl seated next to me held up a half-finished Sudoku. She pointed to it, nodded her head, and said, “Yeaaah” while smiling a cheesy grin. I gave her the kind of tentative smile and wide-eyed glance you reserve for strangers who may be a little off their rocker. Odd, but okay, perhaps she wanted to celebrate our mutual success, however incomplete it was. She said, “Picture?” and gestured to her companion standing to my left. I turned and saw the friend’s camera phone pointed at us. I looked back to the girl who had spoken to me and asked, “Is this for a scavenger hunt?” “Huh?” she responded. They didn’t speak English. “For fun?” I tried again. “For fun,” she parroted, nodding, though it wasn’t clear that she actually understood what I had asked. Giving up, I did the only remaining thing to do– smile for the camera while we both held up our puzzles. They went away happily while I was left wondering what had just happened.

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A week later, in the park again, I chose a shady bench to read my book. In spite of its position under a towering tree, the bench was spotless. I wasn’t reading for very long when I heard a splat. One foot away from my foot, there was a fresh splotch of bird poop. While slightly perturbed, I delighted at my luck to have avoided it. If I had sat just slightly to the right, I would have been running to wash my foot at that moment. I’m not naive, though, bird poop can come in a series. I ran my hand over my hair and, finding it untouched, again congratulated myself on my narrow escape.

Half an hour later, I was sitting at my desk, happened to look down, and what did I see but… bird poop near the bottom of my skirt. I ran to the bathroom and frantically grabbed paper towels and repeatedly scrubbed my skirt with soap and water. Satisfied, I returned to my office with a big water stain my skirt. No matter. I had planned to go see a colleague with a question, but it could wait half an hour while the water dissipated.

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Sometimes even I marvel at my glamorous life.