“We can do anything you want when you get here,” Carol said. “Anything! We can knit in my house… we can decouppage… we can watercolor… or we can sit on the couch and not talk.”
That last thing is exactly what we did when I visited one time– her husband Matt came home from work to find us seated at opposite ends of the couch, reading magazines. We had been so used to talking on the phone and writing voluminous letters– this was YEARS before the Internet– that we didn’t know what to say to one another in person anymore. Not that we had anything NEW to say; we long ago grew accustomed to repeating the same stories that convulsed us the FIRST time we told them. Why not stick with what you know? And now that we’re older, we often forget that we’ve told one another these stories already, so everything seems fresh and new again… and we laugh and laugh !
For our trek into Manhattan, we arranged to meet on the De Kalb Avenue platform in downtown Brooklyn, which is the subway stop generations of friends have used as a meeting place since the first steam train plowed its way beneath Brooklyn. When they reconfigured this junction, they closed the Myrtle Avenue stop nearby; I’m not sure about these days, but when we were younger you could see that ghostly, shuttered station in the gloom as your subway car passed it by. (And, by the way, the transit authority has switched some train numbers / letters; eliminated others; and severely reduced service on a lot of lines. Everyone is in an uproar. The suits and skirts in charge don’t have anything better to do, nor do they care. Why should they? THEY don’t depend on the buses and subways for THEIR means of transportation, I am quite sure. And don’t get me started about Mayor Bloomberg being a subway rider)
Carol had never been to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, an Episcopalian monolith up in Morningside Heights, so we got on the 2 (or was it the 3?) and took it to 110th. Street. Then we walked and walked, because we were lost and confused. We even walked in a circle! It’s one of the biggest Cathedrals in the world, we cried; how can we miss it? But then we collared someone who gave us explicit instructions, and we found it eventually. How could anyone miss this? And this is only part of the front door!
It’s practically impossible to get a complete photo of the entire giant edifice without getting back on the subway and then emerging at the next stop to try and take a photograph from that distant vantage point, and so I think there are a lot of photos of the front door in people’s collections.
We then went to the Museum of Arts and Design to see an exhibit called Dead or Alive: Nature Becomes Art. It was fascinating. The artists had gathered all these dead things– insects, flora, and fauna– and then recreated them as mesmerizing and creepy art pieces. My favorite installation was the gray fabric that Alastair Mackie fashioned from mouse fur which he gleaned from owl droppings, along with the bones of the ingested and digested mice. He arranged the bones in a neat, white pile, and then wove the fur on a full-sized loom into fabric. I asked the docent what it felt like– I was dying to touch it– but he said he hadn’t been allowed to feel the finished product, but that he had heard it felt like cashmere. Needless to say, there was no picture-taking allowed. And you know what else fascinated me about this museum? Translucent inserts built into the floors allowed you to look UP or DOWN at people walking on the floors above or below; I’d suggest that ladies leave their hoop skirts at home if they’re planning on strolling through this intriguing place. And surrounded as I thought I was by sophisticated, arty New York gallery types, I did overhear one woman say “looks like a friend of mine” when she passed an armature of a horse covered completely in long, frizzy, black hair.
Being seasoned New Yorkers for many years, we didn’t re-visit any of the things that we’d grown up with; we wanted new and quirky, and so that led us to the Manhattan Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints… aka the Mormons.
You can see the Angel Moroni overlooking everything as he wields his golden trumpet. Suggestion: this being Manhattan, why not have Moroni play well-known selections while he’s standing up there with his horn? String of Pearls, maybe, or something jazzy by Louis Armstrong; and maybe when the sun goes down he can play Taps. Bwaa-bwaa- bwaaaaaaaaaaaa. MUCH nicer to fall asleep to than the din of a million voices screaming “CAN’T YOU FRIKKING DRIVE?!?!” in a thousand tongues. We did go inside the temple building, but– as non-Mormons– we were not allowed onto the elevator which brings the devout into the temple precinct itself. We were not worthy!! But the manager guy did greet us and ask if we had any questions– “Nope!” I replied, even though I had a hundred– and then he gave us a little card with a picture of the Salt Lake City temple pictured on it, along with a phone number: we could call and request a copy of the Book of Mormon OR have a missionary stop by the house for cocktails if we so desired. And then he said “well, at least it’s much cooler in here,” and I said “yes, it’ s wicked hot outside… I mean, extremely hot.” And he and the lady peering at us from an office laughed, and that ended our visit to the Mormons. But I’m still dying to get on that elevator, just to go upstairs and see… I wonder if they have a gift shop? St. Patrick’s does!
We then went to St. Bartholomew’s, another huge Episcopalian church, this time on Park Avenue. I’d wanted to see its architecture for years, and I finally had my chance. And Carol is so game; she was just as curious as I and so, sated with coffee, soda, and soft pretzels, we found St. Bart’s– and the dome crossing was sheathed in scaffolding! Oy. It was like when I visited the Sistine Chapel in 1984– I flew four hundred thousand miles to see art, and it was covered in scaffolding. They’re very chatty inside St. Bart’s; I notice that about Episcopalian structures. They want you to come inside and get acquainted with all their programs and social services, as they are very dedicated to their surrounding neighborhoods. And St. Bart’s sold ball caps emblazoned with the Episcopalian logo– we were tempted because they looked so preppy and sporty.
It was very ornate inside– sometimes those Anglicans are more Catholic than the Romans!–but none of my photos of the fabulous stained glass windows came out. And it’s interesting that it’s plopped onto Park Avenue like that, its Romanesque-ness surrounded by bland glass and steel. I mean, you know it’s St. Bart’s, but I couldn’t tell you what the surrounding buildings were!
Here are some other buildings that caught my eye, any of which I would move into if they would have me:
Some nice French Empire going on here. I’m not a particular fan of mansard roofs, but I liked this design.
It may say Met Life, but I still call this the Pan Am Building. Fittingly and emphatically.
Something marvelous down near the Strand Bookstore. I stared and stared at this building.
I don’t remember ever being to the Strand, but Carol and I disappeared inside for quite some time. The way we enter bookstores is that we go in as a couple and then immediately separate and head to different sections. I like obscure things like ancient languages– the Reader’s Digest printed in Albanian, e.g.– and so I am always sent to the basements of these stores, which is where they keep the obscure stuff. This time, when I asked for Foreign Languages, I was told “down in the basement under the staircase.” And there I headed, perfectly happy to immerse myself in the dust and gloom, where I found an ancient copy of Candide… in Swedish! Carol was somewhere upstairs, in the light and fresh air, and I eventually met her so that we could touch and remark upon every item they were selling in their little gift area. We almost bought canvas totes, but demurred for some strange reason, considering our track record: years ago we went to EPCOT in Florida and spent $40 on incense at the Japanese pavillion… which Carol ended up throwing away twenty years later.
We didn’t have a sit-down meal– too many pretzels– but Carol and her husband had already taken me to dinner the week before at an Italian restaurant in Park Slope, Brooklyn, called Scotto Ditto. NICE! I had a Manhattan– maybe two?– and a very good meal. I spoke Italian to the non-Italian waitress, who looked at me with that polite New York face that says “I have no idea who you are or what you said, but I’m a professional and so I have to put up with you anyway.” But she was a lot of fun, and we had a memorable meal. (Why do we always say “memorable meal?” I have no recall of what we ordered and consumed, only that it was excellent.) Carol never knows what to have in restaurants, and I usually don’t either, and then I forget what it is that I did finally order… so it’s always a surprise when it shows up. “Oh, look! Scampi! How nice!” Matt, of course, is efficient and well-prepared, but still loses precious minutes of his life due to our indecision and inability to come to conclusions.
Afterwards we had complex coffee drinks at a non-Starbucky local bistro staffed and patronized by local hipsters, among whom WE looked like Edna, Stan, and Joe from Indiana. But WE were comfortable and un-self conscious, and whiled away the time wondering where their hair ended and their wool hats began. Query: why wear a wool hat when it’s six thousand degrees outside?
They saw me off on the subway to Bay Ridge late that night, and I wasn’t even nervous; the trains are busy at all hours now, often with people playing tambourines, tubas, or three-card-monty. You can choose to either ignore them all… or dance!