Waiting for the half naked Facebook friend in MOMA

 

 

David Hodgson

View from my room

View from my room

 

My second day in New York the sun came out.   I pulled on the little white dress and ‘Bowie flash’ earrings that I thought appropriate to meet a man profiled on Facebook half naked, who was either arty or somewhat dodgy, and says he was at school with me.

Was he though?  I didn’t recognise his torso (his eyes were hidden by his arm and boys at school weren’t that hairy).  I hadn’t admitted that when he contacted me on Facebook and said “I live in New York, shall we meet?”; it didn’t seem polite.  However his name did seem a bit familiar, and I was curious, and even though time was short I called him up and we agreed to meet at the MOMA entrance.  We’d eat somewhere else to avoid a superfluous $20 entrance fee for him.  From that I deduced he was busy the rest of the day, which might be a good thing in the circumstances.  8 flights down, and less than a hundred yards around the corner and I realised I had completely blown the dress code when the wind sliced past my shoulders and reminded me it was September. I puffed back up the 8 flights and changed, annoyed at myself for wasting precious time.

Map in hand I made my way uptown towards Macy’s.  You have to shop when you’re in New York don’t you?  Especially when you are 5ft 2ish and this is a country full of small latinos with narrow feet who have whole floors of department stores devoted to them.  Only I couldn’t shop.  It was overwhelming.  So much choice, and actually, if I thought about it, so little need, or enthusiasm.  I searched my way out of Macy’s (Mazey’s?)  and back out into the streets.

The soundtrack of New York is shouting policemen, sirens and traffic honking.  It’s mad on those streets; wonderfully mad.  And down at the bases of all the pointy, shiny buildings the people are ants, and look particularly mad.  Every other person appeared to be talking to themselves, gesticulating wildly.  Not quietly either.  They weren’t, of course, they were on ‘hands free’.

Backtracking, having overshot, I headed south.  I soon worked out that there was no point in hurrying, the traffic lights are set to average walking speed.  Speed up and you only get bossed ‘DONT WALK’ over and over again. I’ve crossed the road in Guangzhou and survived, it makes me pretty nifty, but it didn’t make a lot of difference here.  (Is this a subversive way to get people to slow down, help them to chill a little?  Or is the universe trying to tell me something)  I marvelled at the skyscrapers, the impossibility of them, the sheer brazenness, the confidence of architects that could design buildings like that.  From my small experience in a sandpit, I can’t understand how they stay up.  I loved the way remnants of a past-life New York intermingled, the deco touches, the reflections shimmering.  It wasn’t dark and claustrophobic at all.  Sky and sunshine were everywhere.  (In a good way I hoped, not like that new skyscraper in London that set light to the carpets in the building opposite and melted people’s cars.)

Getting a peep at the Empire State building I formed a plan to go up it at sunset.  I’d once made the mistake of queuing for hours to shuffle up to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, only to look at the view from the top and think ‘OK. It’s Paris.’  Now everyone flies, views from the top of tall buildings need more than just height to excite. I like to watch London as the sun sets from the giant wheel on the embankment.  It’s pure magic as the lights gradually come on over town as the wheel slowly turns.  You can even get a sneak peak of Buck Palace’s enormous gardens.

When I eventually arrived at MOMA, neck-aching,  I went straight upstairs to lust over my favourite artists: Edward Hopper and Georgia O’Keefe.  Edward Hopper was, I think, a bit of a peeping tom.  Just look at this picture.

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Edward Hopper

 

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Edward Hopper

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Hopper again

 

 

I can empathise. There is something quite thrilling about looking into people’s homes when they are not aware.  The top deck of London buses at twilight, before people remember to close their curtains, is a particularly good for this.  (We British build hedges around our front gardens for privacy, unlike Americans, and then we make buses that can peep over. Don’t you just love that?)   Hopper’s models stare dreamily into the distance. It gives me food for their thoughts, as does his silent presence in the room painting away.

Pressure built though as I looked around the galleries.  So little time.  Two and a half days?  Was I crazy?  It wasn’t long before I was to meet the mysterious David Hodgkin and there were floors of the gallery left to explore.  I should have logged all the artists to inform you, but oh well….  However, I’ll share some of my favourites, and hope it inspires you to visit and find out who did them:

That last one reminds me of the excruciating pain I get when I suffer from iritis.  I could get a knock-off of the Mattisse dancers in a local furniture shop in Nailsworth (painted in China for the indiscriminate British shopper) but I think I’d rather gaze at the original in MOMA.  At some point I managed to let go of the enormous pressure of having such a brief time to enjoy New York.  I would come back.  Of course I would.  New York was under my skin.  They might not have adopted me (what happened to that proposal I sent to the New Yorker eh?) but I had adopted them.

I went in search of another favourite, Andrew Wyeth.  His painting “Christina’s World” is iconic.  I had mistakenly thought it was painted by Hopper for some reason.  But no, it was a painting Wyeth did of his neighbour Christina, sadly afflicted by polio and only able to crawl.  She hardly ever left her house.  And here she is, on the grass, looking back at her home, and possibly wondering how long it will take her to crawl back there.  I didn’t know this at the time, I thought it was a lovely picture of a girl in a sunny field, who had just woken up, been called from the house perhaps?  It was only when I came home to the UK I saw a documentary on Wyeth that revealed his extraordinary life controlled first by his father then his wife Betsy.  He was very close to Christina. I wonder if he felt similarly hobbled?

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Christina’s World, by Andrew Wyeth painted in 1948, the year I was born

 

I gazed long at Georgia O’Keeffe’s Abstraction in Blue.  Fabulous sensuous, breath-holding, vaginal work. Looking at her flower paintings I swear she used to transform into a bee and wriggle into their folds and have sex with them.IMG_5552

Georgia O’Keeffe, Abstraction in Blue

 

There was no time to linger longer.  It was time to meet David Hodgson.  I hurried down to the entrance lobby to wait, and have to admit – with some nervousness.  Who would he be?

 

 

New York reflections: ‘Wherever you go – there you are’ (Brazilian saying)

IMG_5482Monday morning and the red-eye rumbled out of Boston with the deliciously familiar ‘woo-woo’.  I grew up with trains at the bottom of my garden, but English trains can only toot.  Whilst my fellow, scant, passengers settled down to sleep, I got out my New York guide books to make a plan for the next three days.

Why do so many of the galleries close on a Monday?  Can’t the city that never sleeps sort this one?  Travel half way across the world to see art, two and a half days to do it in…and they close for one of them?  It seemed bizarre in the extreme, until I noticed from references in one of the books that it was years out of date.  Out of the window the coastline unfurled like a map.  Marshes, beaches, inlets, harbours, boats and herons flicked my eyes.  I wanted to read but I didn’t want to miss a single thing.  It was as if every hair on my skin had super-radar, no way could I sleep despite a night fizzing with anticipation,  sore eyes staring at the ceiling.

By the time we approached the outskirts of the city I had a plan.  Always one to make the best of a bad situation, I realised it wasn’t just art I wanted to see.  I wanted to drink in all the sights, but would content myself with a few gems.    That is what I’d do this first day, Monday.    The helpful HopStop app that had shrunk the city with walking times had inspired me: Walk/Don’tWalk ? Walk of course.  Get a flavour of Manhattan. (When I travel anywhere I am like a homing pigeon circling my space,  learning about where I’ve landed, clocking landmarks.)

I was nervous about the Airbnb.   Not just the bathroom situation; would I be able to find the apartment?  What if the host wasn’t there to let me in?  Why were there two mobile numbers for me to call?  Memories of being stuck in a receptionless, skuzzy hotel lobby in Ilfracombe, locked in the building, yet out of my room, promised key-holder absent, mobile out of range, fuelled my anxiety.

Look at the woman on the right…does she look streetwise?

Look at the woman on the right…does she look streetwise?

Penn Station is huge.  There is a main exit, but it has more exits than the badger sett in my garden.  I re-checked the map for the hundredth time.   I strode out of one with a ‘I know this city, I just happen to be trailing a suitcase because I’ve been away for the weekend’ walk . Out on the street it looked just like it did on Google Earth.  Everyone in England says New York looks familiar when you get there, it’s all the films we’ve watched.  This bit didn’t, except for the above, but it wasn’t a particularly salubrious area.  It wasn’t down at heel enough for an edgy boy movie with lots of gunfire, or smart enough for a Woody.  I would say it is a typical ‘railway station’ kind of area.  (Who would willingly live next to a train station other than a train spotter?)  Nevertheless  I was reminded of the Brazilian saying: ‘Wherever you go – there you are.’  No matter how much you get knotted up about going to a strange place, once you are there, it’s where you are.  Different climate, soil, birdsong or whatever – when you’re there you’re here.

I strode on muttering to myself, ‘9th and 23rd, 9th and 23rd.  Or was it 24th?’  I checked my map again.  I don’t like doing this in a strange place.  I might as well wear a sign saying TOURIST.  Compared to Britain where roads were built to go anywhere but straight, and are wide enough to  accommodate a  horse and cart, this should have been a breeze.  Failing to see the sun, my usual standby,  I asked a stranger,  and found I was walking north, not south.    (Memo to fellow New York explorers: take a compass, it’ll save you walking a block or two to check.)

IMG_5447In no time I found the building I was after, but not the smart apartment lobby I expected.  I called one of the numbers.  “I’ll come down and help with your case”, he said.   I soon learned the meaning of a walk-up.  I can’t say I wasn’t warned,  I’d checked out that it would be doable with a newly fixed knee. Relieved of  my small case it was still a challenge, especially behind a sprite young man, barefoot in teeshirt and boxers, who does this regularly.  Two flights for every floor, eight floors up.  I wanted the authentic New York experience: I was getting it.  It wasn’t quite what it said on the tin… The stairwell had dun coloured walls, with dark brown scuffed doors, repaired in places with metal sheets.  The carpet was threadbare and stained, but the apartment door needed a good push to open it and a kick to close it (just like home).

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“No spare keys, don’t lose them” said Adam, leading me into the corridor where I nearly tripped over a skateboard.  Monosyllabic to the point of rudeness, he led me into a sitting room (which looked smaller a lot of stuff had been photoshopped out of the ad). “Room’s not ready, won’t be ready till  2 0’clock.”  I’d not entertained that possibility, and forgotten it was only 10.30 in the morning.

” Can I leave my case somewhere safe?”

“Over there?”  he pointed to the corner of the room.

“Nowhere I can lock it away?” I asked acutely aware there are potentially 7 other guests.

“Never been a problem before, none of the rooms lock”.  I hadn’t wanted to carry my iPad around with me, but decided I probably should.

“Oh well, I’m out for the day anyway, I might be back late, can you show me where my room is?”

“Down there.”  He pointed down the corridor that ran at right angles – and sloped off to his room muttering.  “Just knock if you need anything” and that was it.

I knocked.  “Loo?  I mean, bathroom?”  “Over there.”  As he angled his shoulder out of the room  to point I saw a bed filling the room, piled chest high with stuff, and small computer table.  It had all the charms of a student flat, and he had the social skills of a 14 year old.  Far from the ‘meet the friendly locals, stay in a real home’ ‘Friends‘ kind of environment that I was expecting I found that, yes indeed, I was truly going to do New York on my own. Or possibly, not quite.  My nephew had deputed an old friend of his to spend the evening with this ageing English Aunt.  I didn’t know Bernt, but he sounded like he’d be fun, and I would at least have a native to show me the ropes on my first evening in New York.  I’d planned to go to a cocktail bar that had live jazz, I’d also heard that the Duplex Club in Greenwich Village (where  performers off Broadway go to unwind) was a wild place to spend the night.  Much as I thought I ought to give it a go, the thought of going there on my own didn’t really appeal.  My friend Tori said that it’s different in New York, strangers would talk to me – but considering my experience with the duplicitous Mr Prong in Bangkok I don’t have a very good track record.   And what about bedtime?  I’m not a three o’clock in the morning kind of person and my next two days would be packed.  10 o’clock and a hot water bottle is more like me.  I’d wait and see if Bernt called.

There was another contact.  Someone from my old school had seen my blog and said ‘hey, I live in New York City, are you going to come and see me?’  I was intrigued.  His picture on Facebook was a black and white picture of a hairyish man, naked to the waist and hiding his face with his arm in an arty kind of a way.  It didn’t give me a lot to go on.  I’d asked for a better picture, but still his face didn’t ring a bell.  I gave him a call.  I didn’t recognise the voice either, though the English public school accent fitted.  I described my tight schedule and arranged to meet the next day outside MOMA.  We’d have lunch together.

Out on the street, the sun didn’t shine, but I told myself that’s sometimes better for taking photographs.  If I understood my map correctly I could start my day with a visit to the wonderful Highline, a mile long linear park developed on a section of the former West Side Line railroad spur.  It was just around the corner. Inspired by the Parisian Promenade Plantéé it seemed to me to be the best use of an urban railroad track ever.  I wondered what it was like living next to nosy people like me getting a peek into your flat.  I bet Hopper would have loved it.  More of him later.

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I could have spent longer walking the Highline, admiring the subtle planting, but conscious that it was just one of the many things I wanted to see had to drag myself away from the breeze swishing the grasses and busy bees working the flowers.  I took a horizontal street, to make my way to the Flatiron. This impossibly svelte high rise, shaped like a Dairylee cheese wedge, is snuck into the pointy triangle between Broadway and Fifth Avenue. How it stays up is a mystery to me. No one in their right minds would design a building like this, but Daniel Burnham did, in the 1920s.  When it was finished it was the tallest building in the world and it started a trend.  I loved it.  I loved the pictures I’d seen of it.  I loved the story that when it first went up men used to hang around the outside waiting for  the winds it created to lift the girls’, skirts and show them a bit of ankle.  (My how times have changed.)

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Seeing it in the stone, unwavering, made me fall in love with it even more.IMG_5461Then I saw that the first room in the pointy bit at the base had been set up to advertise a special exhibition of Edward Hopper’s drawings at the Witney.  Two of my favourite things melded into one.  How cool was that?

The Diner by Hopper in the Flatiron

The Diner by Hopper in the Flatiron

Now I had arrived.  I was well and truly ‘here’.

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Provincetown, Queen of Cape Cod, with knobs on

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Oh my.  The phallic tower of the Pilgrim Monument announces Provincetown appropriately.   Arriving there is like being launched into a gay pride march, only, thrill of thrills, the day we arrived happened to coincide with the Lambda Car Club rally.  Not just any vintage car rally, a rally of the cars of my dreams.  Since I was  about eleven I have swooned over Elvis and I dreamed of owning a car with wings, preferably pink, but anything pastel would do.  The closest I got was a series of Morris Minors (which are not really a car for a soggy country; I know of a man who wrote his thesis on the flora and fauna of a Morris Traveller, the half timbered variety) but they have a particular charm, a certain smell, and an unmistakeable voice of their own.  This rally of 50s American cars made me almost weep with envy.  Pink, sky blue, orange – winged, bedecked with rainbow flags, and fabulous guys dressed to match.  If the drivers of the orange car with the blow up model in a headscarf in the backseat wish to replace her with flesh and blood, I’m your woman.

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My only beef was the beef who kept getting in the way every time I tried to photograph these gorgeous hunks of metal.

I play a ‘which would I steal’ game in galleries and museums (though in truth I could no more actually do it than steal a paperclip).  This sky blue one is a strong contender, closely followed by the pink winged.IMG_5184

These guys were having such fun.  My friend says ‘every mother should have one’ (about her gay son) the pride is all hers.  I can see why. Nowadays, since most straight people have grown up and got over themselves, gay men are having a blast.  It was not always thus (I recommend Stephen Fry’s excellent documentary on the history) and Provincetown seems to be their mecca.  The population statistics are telling:  3,562 residents in winter, 30,000 summer visitors.  Not all of them are LGBT of course.  We all want to have fun.

The accessory du jour In Procincetown is what I call ‘armpit warmers’.  Little dogs that once upon a time would have snuggled into arm pits clothed in mink, downing cocktails with ‘mummy’.  Pampered pooches  have reached new heights of indulgence in the gay community.  Cooed over, beribboned, collars a-sparkling, you wonder if some of their little paws ever reach the ground.  I saw several being wheeled around in dog carts, some even had prams,Image

see the green one in this picture?  It might contain a child, but that’s not what’s in there.  All I can say is that I wish them walks.  Mud.  Waves to splash in, and bones as big as a fist.

Talking of fists, bend your arm and take it out to your side.  Now make a fist and curve it right over.  This is the shape of Cape Cod, sticking out of the East Coast of America somewhere between Boston and New York.  Provincetown sits in the curve of the thumb where it joins the palm.  Behind it are rolling dunes; pure Edward Hopper landscapes, with lone lighthouses, and windswept clapboard houses.  (That is, Edward Hopper in his beach-time holiday mode, not his peeping-tom city mode

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Now I haven’t cycled for quite a few years, though my last bike did have gears (rather inconveniently placed somewhere low on the frame).  It rested in the shed, a promise of a fantastic arse and super-fitness, but really just a rusting guilt trip.  However I was up for a bike ride on the dunes, as long as I could walk up all the hills (but probably best not to tell the surgeon who hoovered out my knee a few months back).

What better way to cool off after a long ride through cranberry beds (Nick: yes, they’re cranberries.  Me: are you sure?  I survived, so I suppose they were) than a dip in the ocean on the north side of the fist.

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Then Jane saw this sign.  But why would we let a silly little thing like a Great White Shark spoil a lovely dip – especially as I’d missed out on one off the boat in the middle of the atlantic.  Besides, I didn’t think a Great White would mistake me for a seal considering my neon-bright costume.  (Thank you Sandra Dee, it was a good exchange for the scrape on my new car.  She does mail order lingerie by the way, and for all those trannies among you, she can accommodate all shapes and sizes).

Funnily enough, there were very few other swimmers. Do you hear the music?
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Back in town, knees intact, butt intact, and relishing the thrill of once again defying death (Vee: I’m not coming on holiday with you, you court danger)  We loaded up on pizza and chilled beer with a slice of lemon (bet that’s making a few englishmen cringe)  and planned a fun night out.  Would it be Lip Schtick ‘One Boys Journey to Fabulous and Back’ or Electra ‘Living the Legend’ at the Post Office Cabaret? It’s obvious now, but I hadn’t realised Bette Midler was a gay icon.  Electra did a very fine job of impersonating her, though it would have been a lot more electrifying if I’d known some of Bette’s songs, been a little less straight, and the seats a little less hard for a saddle sore bum.  However we particularly liked the bit at the very end when Bette morphed into Elton John.  How clever, we thought, then remembered he was a man. Watch a drag artist long enough and you forget.

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Lip Schtick

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Electra, Living the Legend