Saturday, July 5, 2014

My trip to New York

On Thursday, I went to New York for the day to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  As much as I love museums, I'd never been there before, so it was a great treat to fill in this gap in my museum experience.

My excuse for going was an exhibit on Southeast Asian art called "Lost Kingdoms."  The show featured Hindu and Buddhist sculpture from the 6th - 8th centuries.  The kingdoms that produced this art are long since gone and little is known about them.  This is really a once in a lifetime show that is making no other stops.  Once it's over at the end of July, the art will be returned to the loaning institutions in various countries (Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos).  The chances of it touring again any time soon are very slim.  So if I wanted to see it, this was my only opportunity.

To be completely honest, I don't much care for New York.  It's too crowded, has too many skyscrapers and is just too big.  On the plus side, it does make me appreciate my home here in DC that much more.  Nevertheless, my dedication to museum-going knows no bounds, so off to New York I went.

I took an Acela train from DC and arrived within five minutes of our scheduled time.  Kudos to Amtrak for getting me on my way in an efficient fashion.  Deposited at Penn Station, I managed to find a machine that would issue me a card good for riding the city buses.  I then found the bus stop, located only about a block from the station, and took the M4 bus uptown.  Rather than bury my head in a book, as I do when taking DC public transportation, I spent the ride looking out the window, taking in the sights of Madison Avenue.  Getting out at 83rd Street, I walked over one block to 5th Avenue and there was the Met.

One thing you have to realize immediately is that the Met is HUGE.  I mean, really big.  Like Louvre big.  A friend told me to expect crowds on the font steps and in the entrance hall where you buy your tickets, and he was 100% right.  I managed to pay my entrance fee (another difference from DC, but one for which I was prepared) and walk into the museum.

Even with a map, I found it very hard to orient myself and got lost several times.  You have to allow lots of time to get from one place to another, especially if you need to go to another floor.  Finding a restroom was a 15-minute proposition.  Eventually, I did find the "Lost Kingdoms" show and set about walking through it.

It's very good sized; I spent 1.5 hours looking at everything.  The set up was quite good - muted colors for the walls and dim lighting.  I suspect the latter was in deference to the age of the pieces, but it helped to discourage loud talking and made the space quiet serene.  Although there were crowds elsewhere, this was a haven of few people, a bit of tranquility in the midst of the hustle and bustle.

Many of the pieces are quite large and set on pedestals to raise them above floor height, so I found myself craning my neck to see them, yet another disadvantage to being short.  I can only assume that this was done to protect them from unwanted contact and to give a sense of how they would have been viewed in a temple.  No photography was allowed, due to copyright issues.  That was a surprise, as I had assumed it was due to issues of preservation.

All in all, a very fine show, and one I'm happy I was able to see.  On my way to "Lost Kingdoms," I noticed that the Garry Winogrand show that had been on at the National Gallery was now here.  I considered having a look at it, just to compare presentations, but with limited time, I decided against that idea.  With more space than the National Gallery, they were able to have a more splashy entrance area, that much I did notice.

I had lunch on the rooftop, which I heartily recommend on a nice day.  The views are lovely, and the sandwiches are quite good.  Even if you decide to eat elsewhere at the museum (other places have much larger menus), make a point of going to the rooftop to look out on the city and Central Park.

I then made my way back to the entrance hall for the 1:30 highlights tour.  Our guide took us around the first and second floors, and we stopped at several works for an in-depth description.  Of course, with only an hour, you barely scrape the surface, and although there were items I noticed as we walked around, I knew I'd never be able to find them again, so gave them up for lost!

I ended my trip with a visit to the gift shop, which is also huge.  In addition to catalogs for the shows on at the Met, they also have catalogs for shows from other museums, several of which, I'm proud to say, I've seen in DC.  I picked up a catalog from a show on guitars (that I didn't have time to see) for my husband, and a bookmark for myself and bid the museum good-bye.

The M4 bus stop to go back to Penn Station is in front of the Met, so I had no trouble finding it.  The nice thing about the one-way streets is that I had a different view from the one coming uptown.  Fifth Avenue is certainly the place for very upscale shopping.  I also saw the entrance to the New York Public Library, another place I'd like to visit if I had more time.  Back to the train station I went and on to the Acela to return to DC.

This is where things really fell apart.  Terrible weather caused us to stop for about an hour in Wilmington, DE and we then crawled at a snail's place to Baltimore.  A trip that should have taken 2 hours and 45 minutes took about 6 hours.  I did manage to commiserate with the folks sitting around me: three twenty-somethings and a nun.  I know that should be the start of a joke, but it's the truth.  I finally got home about midnight and fell into bed exhausted.  Happily, I have a three-day weekend in which to recuperate.

What would be nice to do is take a whole weekend to see much more of the Met and be able to take a bit more time walking around.  As much as I saw, there was so much that I missed!  If you're in New York with some time to spend looking at great art in a magnificent setting, the Met is the place to go.

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