Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Cloisters (and the Met)

2010-06-22 Tuesday.

This was my day to wander around, unsupervised, in New York, so I chose to visit The Cloisters. It had been about a decade since I'd visited last.

I managed to navigate New York transportation from Suffern and arrived at The Cloisters at about 10 AM. Along the way I helped a Japanese tourist buy a fun pass, navigate the turn styles, and find the right train to Times Square (which is big, because I normally am Geographically Impaired). Fortified with a Pepsi, I ascended the long stone ramps and stairways into the mediaeval collection of art.

I know you're going to ask: did you see the Unicorn Tapestries? Yes -- but I find them heavy, dark and depressing, so I only saw them for a few moments.
What I love about the Cloisters is all the over-the-top art. My favorite objects tend to be either sculptures or stained glass or silver. While I was there, I thought I'd hunt for foliate heads. I also planned to attended a mediaeval garden tour.

I saw the life-sized carving of Balthazar ("You Better Work!") presenting myrrh, and the painting of a slightly mutant camel. I didn't see the Bronze Bird Walking Stick in the treasury, which was a pity. But I did see the old playing cards, some manuscripts -- probably the Very Old Translation of Thomas Aquinas had the most Historical Wowness -- and a capitol carving of a dancing demon which reminded me of the time Mark posed in imitation of its vaudeville stage stance.

What it cool about the Cloisters is that there is some miniature work that astonishes me, especially the paintings on a 3 by 5 piece of vellum. Considering they were probably done in a dark room with a single goat's hair as a brush instead of with ray-tracing software and a 500 dpi three-tone printer, they are even more miraculous.

Okay, and the Saint-Guilhem Cloister is just plain cool.

Sadly, at the cafe, I mistakenly ordered a tuna-salad sandwich only to discover that Deadly Red Peppers lurked inside. So my lunch was ex-sandwich wilted lettuce leaves and an ex-tuna sandwich bun. And a Coke.

Then it was off to the gardens! Which were kind of hot. And humid. Our tour guide through the gardens was a very old-school-Jackie-O-New-York woman. Her accent fascinated me because it was an admixture of Connecticut and New York (I think). Having given tours at Arcosanti, I can appreciate the balancing act of giving information to a wide variety of people.

The two things I walked away with were 1) mediaeval artists had a less complete knowledge of the world's plants and animals than we do today, with the result of depictions of plants like "strawberry trees," and 2) mediaeval folks probably used and re-used plants and wood much more than we do.

I must have dressed professorially, because afterward one woman on the tour asked me about the etymology of "paradise" (it's Persian from "pardes") and another asked me about the soil composition of the plants (I said I didn't know). I guess dressing in a nice shirt and knowing how to harvest a mandrake root is a great way to meet people in The Cloisters' gardens.

The foliate head quest only yielded one or two. I guess the rest are still in England where Lady Raglan found them. I did find some wild men on top of some ewers.

I wished Mark had managed to come, because there's nothing quite like running the ragged edge of sacrilege and divine campiness that so many objects in the Cloisters inspire with one's spouse. Every time I looked at a particular object or painting, I could see Mark striking a similar pose and saying something like, "I know, we need some kind of spiritual contraption; like Heaven!" Or the two of us would admire some flowing robes together.

By early afternoon, I discovered that I'd seen everything that I wanted to at the Cloisters. This surprised me because I thought I'd make a day of it. But there's only so much people being dragged off in chains into the living Mouth of Hell by pretty cool-looking demons can do to offset all the heavy, ponderous Crucifixions. After a while it just gets depressing. Madonna and Dead Jesus after Madonna and Dead Jesus. I mean sure, there's some relief offered by the paintings of St. Andrew causing the Wicked Mother to be Killed by Fire from Heaven, or St Andrew saving a Bishop from The Devil in the Guise of a Beautiful Woman ("She looks like she's smoking a ciggi!" Mark would say), but then we're back to Jesus, Our Man of Sorrows, who is simultaneously Dead and Alive. To quote Monty Python, "It's like those psalms, they're so depressing."

I figured I could sneak to the MET on the A train before rush-hour. So I did.

When I got to the MET, I had about an hour. So I went to the Egyptian Wing and the Ancient Middle Eastern Wing. I love saying hello to my favorite pieces and discovering objects I haven't seen before. I still love the Diadem of the Harkonian Princess and the Silver Elomite Cow.

After the MET, I just happened to stumble into a la Maison du Chocolat, where I made a new best (French) friend simply by using the words "merci" and "autrefois" in the correct context and later admitting that I knew almost no French. I probably got extra points for the wistful "Marie de France" sigh prepended to the autrefois. Yes, I did think about singing "La Petite Lapin Fu-Fu"; No, I restrained myself.

Through a series of text messages, I managed navigate through thousands of women lining up to do Yoga In Central Park (okay, and a few Fine Looking Men Jogging) and hook up with Lime Green Larry, but not before making even more New Best Friends at the bar of the restaurant we were meeting at (Larry was delayed).

My solo New York Adventure ended on a soggy note as one of the biggest rain storms ever hit The City. I still can't believe I didn't see yoga devotees being washed away.
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