Sunday, May 31, 2015


The Inconstant Traveler does NYC

Okay, I'm a beach girl. I don't know from the city. I'm not like my friend, Vivian, who used to panic if she couldn't feel concrete under her pumps. Just thinking about the fast pace of city life exhausts my brain.

Nevertheless. Although Old World cities like Paris, Prague, Vienna, and Bern might be more to my taste, the phenomenon that is New York City ought to be experienced at least once in a lifetime.

Art Boy and I had a chance to take a whirlwind 3 1/2-day trip to NYC earlier this month. Our good friend, Marta, grew up in the area and still visits several times a year; she decided she and her husband, John, should play tour guides and show us the sights. We secured a rental apartment on the Upper West Side, boarded the Jet Blue red-eye out of San Jose late on a Sunday night, and arrived at JFK around 7:30 in the morning, NY time.

I don't really sleep on planes. (Sitting upright for six hours with eyes squeezed shut is not the same thing.) Still, we knew we had to hit the ground running on such a short visit. And we had to be selective: we couldn't just wander around bug-eyed. We had to have a plan.

Glorious: The Woman In Gold
 The first order of business was the lengthy drive via car service into town—sadly, under a layer of fog that obscured the fabled NYC skyline. However, we discovered our apartment on W 52nd Street offered a spectacular view (see above), as soon as the fog cleared off.

Next, it was time to buy a good bottle of French champagne for my Francophile agent, to thank her for negotiating such a sweet deal for my upcoming Beast book. But my visit to her downtown office wasn't scheduled for a couple of days, and in the meantime, we had a city to explore!

Art museums were high on our list, and we'd done our homework online. So we knew Monday would be our only chance to visit the Neue Galerie, which has recently become famous as the permanent home of "The Woman In Gold (Adele Bloch-Bauer I)," masterwork of the great Gustav Klimt.

In honor of the recent movie The Woman In Gold, the Neue's current exhibit displays Adele as the jewel in a lovely setting that includes another four Klimt paintings, as well as furniture, graphics, silver, photographs, and objets d'art from Klimt's era, the glorious Viennese Secession movement.

The real Starry Night—better than a coffee mug!
But the centerpiece is "The Woman In Gold." And no matter how well you think you know a famous painting from books and print reproductions, there is nothing like seeing it in person. The complexity of Adele Bloch-Bauer's face and hair, the rich, intricate fantasia of Klimt's patterns, and all the gold leaf-on-gold detailing are simply amazing. (Up close, you can also see the variety of the initials "A" and "B" worked into those patterns.) She's worth a trip to NYC all by herself!

Adele is on permanent display, but the rest of The Woman In Gold show runs through September 7. If you're in the city between now and then, don't miss it. (And don't forget to stop by one of the two Viennese coffehouses in the building, Cafe Fledermaus or Cafe Sabarsky, for kaffe drinks and tortes—including the special Klimttorte, hazelnut cake and dark chocolate. Yum!)

The same sense of renewed awe I felt in the presence of Adele washed over me again the next say at the Museum of Modern Art when I saw Vincent Van Gogh's "The Starry Night." I don't care how many coffee mugs and tote bags you've seen with this image on them, seeing this painting for real is extraordinary. There is no substitute for standing three feet away and seeing the brush strokes and the fierceness with which they were applied, noticing how the work was evidently done in such a fury (of creativity? Hyperactivity? Possession?) that the paint doesn't even always stretch to the edge of the canvas. Talk about someone in the grip of his muse!

Bertold Loffler: oddly charming hybrid of styles
And speaking of painting in a fury, we saw a great show of outsider artists ("naive" art makers so compulsive, they are often only one step away, if not already in, an institution) at the American Folk Art Museum. This is a splendid little space on Lincoln Square that all art lovers should know about.

It has a terrific collection, hosts wonderful shows like the one we saw, When The Curtain Never Comes Down, and has a gift shop that offers not only the usual educational toys, books, postcards, and reproductions, but many pieces of genuine, original folk art, as well. Paintings, little boxes, wooden carvings, really cool stuff. Admission is free, although I encourage you to donate to the tip jar on the way in.

I had a lovely chat with my agent, the invincible Irene Goodman, first thing Wednesday morning. Her agency on the West Side is housed in a warren of small, cozy rooms with books literally stacked up everywhere—my kind of place!

Afterwards, Art Boy and I headed off for The Met (the art museum, not the opera house)—a plan only momentarily jeopardized when we flagged dow the only cabbie in NYC who doesn't know where The Met is! Fortunately for us, John and Marta (who were heading off elsewhere) were still standing curbside, so I rolled down the window and asked her to give our cabbie directions. (Hey, it's not like WE know the street address!)

Maurice Denis: weirdly evocative, even without faces
But we finally did arrive, grabbed a map and plotted our course, finding our way up to the 19th-Early 20th Century paintings exhibit. Besides the usual suspects—Picassso, Matisse, Gauguin, Renoir—we made some cool discoveries.

The decorative Vienna Secession-meets-the Pre-Raphaelites of Austrian artist Bertold Loffler's "Youth Playing the Pipes of Pan," 1912. Odilon Redon's pastel and mystical "Pandora." And the sketchy and dreamy "Springtime" by Maurice Denis, a French Symbolist artist neither of us have ever heard of.

We probably spent an hour or two wandering around, until our eyeballs couldn't absorb any more, and what we saw was maybe one twentieth—probably lots less—of the Met's exhibition space. It makes a person weep to look over the brochures, once back home again, 3000 miles away, to see all that we missed—from Greek pottery, Egyptian art, and medieval manuscripts to The Met's fabled Fashion Institute costume exhibits. *Sigh* But who had the time?

One thing we did have to make time for—Marta insisted we couldn't leave NYC without sampling them—were pastrami sandwiches from a New York deli. And they were great: paper-thin pastrami (and plenty of it!), soft rye bread, mustard and a whole pickle on the side. So NYC!

Back home in Santa Cruz, I can't really say I miss the Big City. It's nice to take life at a slower pace, to wake up to birdsong in the lemon tree outside our window instead of honking traffic, and to have cats and flowers around again. And stars! There are too many city lights to see the stars at night in NYC, which disappointed my inner Van Gogh.

On the other hand, the NYC skyline at night is its own dazzling light show. We don't get this view in Live Oak!


  1. At this late date, I'm beginning to suspect I'll never experience New York City in person (although we did do Boston a couple years ago, so who knows?).
    Thanks for taking me along in your blog.

  2. Thanks AC! In the immortal words of fats Waller, "One never knows, do one?" You might get there yet!