I made a few friends this week in New York. In truth, I'll probably never see them again, but we connected a little and exchanged stories about our lives and to me that constitutes the beginning of a friendship. So, friends.
I met a taxi driver who was from Morocco. He asked me if I knew where Morocco was and I said I wasn't sure. This was very interesting timing because I bought a map of the world to learn all the countries. I was a little fuzzy brained from my plane ride and kept thinking he was saying "Monoco" but his accent was throwing me off. He was instantly not happy with my ignorance and I began to think that maybe I'd like to get out of the taxi, particularly when he told me about his country. The only information I know about Morocco is from a taxi driver and this driver said, "We have a king. Technically we're a democracy but we don't act like a democracy. The king has a say. When the king saw everything going on with Egypt and Syria and Iraq he said, 'You can say whatever you want, but you can't talk bad about me.' So we don't talk bad about him."
That's a democracy? He laughed. Technically, yes.
I sat next to a middle aged man at dinner. Dan was on my left and this man was on my right. He was very enthusiastic and engaging. I was trying to not think about the fact that if I were home I would be getting in my jammies getting ready for bed and not sitting here. Dinner at eight. As the night went on we shared more and more stories. And then he shared that he loved living in the city, that living in the country sounds so romantic and pastoral but who would really want to live there? I could see his point. He was a world traveler and very versed in culture. In my mind I thought this: You don't live in the country with anything to prove. There's no one to impress. You live in the country because you love nature and land and don't mind silence. You live there because you already have a strong core. I know this because I have Dan and because I have Dan I have Iowa which has introduced me to some of the most humble, smart and down-to-earth humans I have ever met. It's like they actually shun fame.
So what I said was this: "I think that if you live in the country, you have to know why you're there."
I was standing in the Guggenheim feeling very giddy. Here was a place I had only seen in pictures. The best way I can describe the overall feeling of walking through the Guggenheim is this: Draw a spring. The end.
Walking the Guggenheim was a very fluid experience. There aren't really "levels," it's more like one big ramp, though they do have a few offshoots which provide a level surface on which to see their collections. I'm pretty traditional, so I prefer the Cezannes and Kandinskys. I think everyone has their snobby side when it comes to art. If it doesn't interest me on any level, I'm not going to stand in front of a piece and try to glean something from it. I'm not there to impress anyone by my attention span. I choose about ten pieces to really enjoy and I let them speak to me. I ask questions like, "What do the colors reveal? Why is this important to the time period in which it was created?" And mostly I come away with this about the great artists: They told a good story, listened to their gut and worked very, very hard.
There was a couple walking in the Guggenheim who immediately caught my attention. They were art students, they had to be. She was wearing overalls and a red knit cap. He was wearing loose clothes and dreads tied into a bun. They were the models for the label "New York Art Student." Every few feet they would stand in front of an Agnes Martin and start making out or showing some sort of public display of affection. I began to think that maybe they were part of the exhibit. You never know with New York. They looked happy.
Later I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art which looked like it ate other museums for breakfast. It was the largest art museum I have ever seen. After buying my ticket, I asked where the restroom was and they told me to head to Egypt. This sounds kind of comical until I entered the broad entryway for Egyptian art and saw a portion of a pyramid. A real, honest-to-goodness pyramid. Inside a museum. This is definitely not something I see every day.
Painting by Esteban Vicente, "Number One," 1951
I realized very quickly that the two hours I allotted for The Met were going to need to be time budgeted. I had two goals: See the Cezannes/Kandinskys and check out the Japanese art. I didn't know how much of an art snob I was until I found the Post-Impressionist hall which is always near the Monets. As a whole I avoid the Monets because (don't hate me) I really don't like to hear all the people around me pontificating and worshipping his work. He's fantastic, I know. I just have issues. Probably because people got mesmerized by his use of color and slapped it on every surface imaginable to man until all his hard work became something ordinary. I know, I have issues. I said that. Forgive me. I should just bring noise canceling headphones to art galleries.
Eventually I saw Rockefeller Center. It was just as beautiful and Christmasy as I imagined. And it was also twice as crowded. So I saw it, marveled, and left.
Dan and I sat in a thai restaurant with very good reviews. The hostess sat us at a table that was so tight she had to slide the table out first so I could be seated. I was twelve inches away from people on my left and on my right. Both parties appeared to be in full swing. I don't think I could have even ordered dinner, it was that loud. But then, to my delight, I remembered I was in New York where they're known for speaking their mind. I pushed the table away from me. I told the hostess, "Hi! I have a hearing problem. I can't sit there. What do you have that's quieter?" And with that, she took me to the back room where Dan and I could hear each other.
We were ready to order Pad Thai but it was not on the menu. Our server came. She was young and had a nose ring. I told her, "We're kind of traditional when it comes to thai food." I might have mentioned the Pad Thai. I noticed that she was ready for my response. Something about "authentic thai food" or "fusion." I'm not sure. All I heard was, "We don't have that."
I looked at Dan. "Well, we're in a new place. Let's try something new." We scanned the menu and realized we didn't want to eat crispy pork brains. We found the most conservative thing we could. Crab with rice. It wasn't the best thing I ever ate, but the cocktail I ordered told me it was okay, that I was with good company and that mattered more. And that was entirely true.
I think some people go to New York with the idea that they will find a part of themselves that was previously lost. I didn't go there for that. As a rule, I try not to go places and expect more than what is humanly possible. Things there were beautiful, big and loud. They do a good job of welcoming many people from many places. They also do a good job of preserving culture. I'd love to go back again.
On our trip home I told Dan this: "Well, I think I'm from Chicago. That feels like home to me." And he laughed, saying, "I don't think you've ever accepted Chicago as your home." Which is true. I often make fun of how midwesterners are known for kindness but sweep a lot of things under the rug. But if that's all I can come up with to ridicule, that's a pretty small insult. I've lived in the 'burbs of DC, Baltimore and Jersey and there's much more fodder for insults. I'm accepting Chicago as my home now.
But I digress. Thank you, New York. For your many sights. For your broad doors and warm welcome mats. You were delightful. Until we meet again,