As Special As Any New Yorker (“People Who Make the City” Series)

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Bernice (“People Who Make the City” Series)
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Just as Special as Any New Yorker

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From my sublet in Greenwich I take the subway from W 4th Street Station all the way to 200th, one stop from the end of the blue line. I never noticed before that the street numbers go so high. I don’t mind long subway rides during quieter times of day, New Yorkers are friendly, open people and such pause of transit usually leads to interesting interactions or at the very least fun people-watching. I come out at Dyckman/200th Street and I am in a different world. I went underground in the middle of a metropolis. Now I emerge into the centre of a well-shaken Christmas snow globe. As usual, I pull out my phone for navigation. It shows me a jagged path in an unlikely direction. The suggested route looks more like a turbulent stock-market chart than a path, but I start walking, watching my little dot follow along the blue line on my screen to verify my correctness.

It says I should go directly into what seems to be a children’s park and I do so, continuing on a path out the rear. Sharp right on a dirt or a paved path I cannot tell; it has been snowing all morning; the ground is covered and the air is still thick with snow. Where it meets another path I ignore it and take an almost about-turn sharp left. The jagged-path is having me climb a hill that had been obscured from view. The route makes sense now.

I slip my way back-and-forth through what seems like a very unlikely direction towards anything whatsoever apart from maybe getting lost in a hill-side forest. Higher-up I pause at a vantage point and from my phone map I can tell that I am near the edge of the Hudson River and I should be looking across to New Jersey but all I can see is grey. I think I see the lights of traffic, there may be a roadway lining the river just below. The snow muffles vision and sound, it quiets the air in a magical way. A very heavy structure comes to view as I approach driveways and parked cars. It’s out of place. Is it an old prison? I approach the great structure and go exactly the wrong way. Had I turned left, the entrance was just around the corner. Turning right, I entirely circumnavigate the collection of attached buildings before gaining entry only a few metres from where I started.

Phew. I made it. So, where am I? Part of the benefit of keying an address into one’s GPS and blindly following it is the fun surprise of where you have actually taken yourself.

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I quickly ascertain that I have come to a place called The Cloisters. I now understand this to be a collection of European medieval architectural features brought to Northern Manhattan by Rockefeller and reassembled into one great structure. Original doorways, entries, windows and specific structures are labelled with their original dates and places or origin, reassembled into a new situation here during the 20th century. Medieval artworks flank the walls and adorn antique tables and stands.

I did not attend the Cloisters to see bits of Medieval Europe within the convenience of a Manhattan subway ride. I had never even heard of this venue, an offshoot of the Metropolitan Museum. I have come here to attend a Baroque Christmas concert by the Waverley Consort, that is the address I have navigated to. It had prices for tickets online and more expensive at the door. Online all it said was, “tickets are unavailable” so I assumed I was too late for that discount purchase. Nope. More accurate may have been, “Tickets Are Sold Out,” because that is what I am told when I approach the ticket desk. “You might get lucky and someone might return one though,” a friendly woman informs with cringed face at my reaction of making such a trek to not see a concert. I would have gone to Tosca, and that would have been a lot more convenient, I think to myself. Well, here I am. “Is there a cafe here?” Not in the winter, there is one nearby. I satisfy myself with a water fountain and pay entry into the museum, fingers crossed that in 75 minutes I will be nestled inside a cozy medieval chapel enjoying what is perhaps my favourite kind of music.

The main feature within the Cloisters seems to be a collection of tapestries, “Hunt of the Unicorn”. The poor little unicorn. There he is all riled-up surrounded by chaos with his horn prostrating a hunting dog. In the end, he is captured and they have surrounded him by a tiny little fence. Sad.

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Back in the foyer a grumpy man has arrived without his partner and I excitedly give him $45 for his spare ticket before remembering that he would have paid $25 online. He greedily accepts and makes a dash. His guilty dash is what reminded me of the two prices, because it was odd-enough to make me think about it. This suited man literally took the money and ran. I smile at him when I join the queue for entry and he looks away. Never mind, the concert was fantastic.

Departing for the subway I join a nice couple, both musicians, and a gentleman from Mexico. We decide to navigate the slippery trails together. Most of the patrons will get into their parked cars or wait for a shuttle bus to deliver them to the subway rather than risk breaking fragile hips or twisting tired ankles. I prefer to walk rather than wait on most occasions. The Mexican fellow studied English in Toronto so we chat amicably about that until he changes trains at 168th.

Knowing smiles whenever I mention being here from Toronto, our mayor now being a one-man freak show that has even come-up on my US cell phone as the number two news story by Fox on my mobile feed. I like to think that people only elected him to break our straight-laced stereotype. That he is accomplishing very thoroughly. With any luck he won’t completely destroy the city. Anyway, Americans seem to quite enjoy him. “The joy we get laughing at Mayor Ford almost makes-up for Beiber,” suggested one late-night talk show host. Poor Beiber. You grow-up poor, become uber-famous as a kid, make unfathomable amounts of money, and try not to have any issues. A completely predictable outcome, hopefully he is in a phase he will come-out-of okay. Ford is just a selfish moron who loves attention. And people like to give it to him so his parade may be quite long.

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I am joined by Bernice, a largish black woman in her fifties who appears to have been doing some shopping today. “I was visiting my son and my grandchild today,” she happily offers, “I let them have my Manhattan apartment and moved to New Jersey.” We chat about Christmas and American Thanksgiving. She’s having an easy Christmas this year, it’s her sister’s turn. Three of them take turns hosting.

“When we get together, time passes and suddenly it’s time to go home,” she shares, reminiscing about the bond she has with her siblings. “I got there for Thanksgiving on Friday night, we were having such a great time and were so involved in conversations that we actually forgot to go to bed. We had to take naps on Saturday.” I tell her of my upcoming visit with my sister, who will come here for Christmas and New Years with her Dachshund, Andy. Andy is my pride and joy, which is a bit pathetic when I think about it. Apart from my pride being a dog, and my joy being a dog, he’s not even my dog. Of course I pull-out my iPad and show Bernice (who claims she does not like dogs, but I will not accept this) a slideshow of Andy photos which I am sure she thoroughly enjoyed before she jumped off at the Port Authority Terminal. I hope that really was her stop.

New York is a special place. A forty-year-old man showing a slideshow of his sister’s Dachshund to a large black woman who doesn’t like dogs on the subway – probably makes me special too.

Yes, I could probably call this home.

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It was a strange feeling entering the subway in Greenwich/West Village and exiting into a winter wonderland. I didn’t know where I was going, I just keyed in the address of the performance space and followed GPS.

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And if you see this view, turn left and the entrance is right around the corner.

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I would not have believed such a photo would be taken in Manhattan, unless it was in Central Park.

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I believe this collection of tapestries to be the most famous of the Cloisters holdings.

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The sad finale of the series, Hunt of the Unicorn.

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This is what I was making my way towards. The rest of it was all unexpected.

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I have to show you a few pictures of Andy, then you’ll know that really I’m very normal.

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I showed this one of my Facebook. My sis had gone to Ireland and I was taking care of Andy. After our walk I had been doing emails and the tv was on and finally I wondered, where’s Andy? I went around the corner and there he was. In silent pain. “How could you forget my treat?” He had just been sitting there, desperately hoping I would remember without making as much as a peep. So of course I ran for the camera to capture the moment and then gave him two treats.

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Sometimes he poops. He doesn’t mind me showing you this photo because he’s a dog.

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From Christmas Day in NYC. You can see more pics from that posting.

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