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.
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?
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.
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?