A few weeks ago, once we’d mostly unpacked our stuff and were getting into the swing of our school schedules, I asked Crystal if she’d let me plan a day out together without letting her in on any of the details. She agreed, so…
I planned a day in New York City.
She had no idea what was going on until we walked up to the Bolt Bus at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. And although I had the whole itinerary planned in my head, she was a great sport about letting each part of the day remain a surprise as it unfolded.
The bus trip between Philly and NYC is just about two hours, meaning that we left mid-morning, explored the far corners of Manhattan, and got back home before midnight. Cinderella would be proud.
We arrived at Penn Station and took the train uptown– all the way uptown. To the Cloisters, that is. This was the main reason for the trip– everything else was just icing on the cake.
You might remember from previous posts that I proposed to Crystal after a Janet Cardiff walking tour in London. One of the reasons I did was that listening to Cardiff’s Forty Part Motet at MoMA PS1 was one of the last things we did together before I left for Europe and we embarked on two years’ of long distance. So I knew we couldn’t miss it at the Cloisters.
I’m not sure there are adequate words to explain the Forty Part Motet, and the experience of it in the Cloisters’ Fuentidueña Chapel was transcendental. In this piece, the forty parts of Thomas Tallis’s Spem in Allum (c. 1570) are played on forty separate speakers arranged in a circle. Wandering between the speakers changes the experience of the sound. The shared experience of the raw emotion of the piece is one of the most profound moments I’ve experienced in the midst of a big city. The chapel is a constructed, modern space after the model of a Spanish chapel; it seemed an utterly fitting space for a piece of sacred music that has been re-constructed and repurposed for a modern world. The long trek to the Cloisters, in the context of the motet, felt like a pilgrimage.
From the Cloisters, we took the M4 bus down to the Guggenheim, which just happens to be the site of my and Crystal’s first date. This time around, we managed to catch the Turrell show about a week and a half before it closed.
If I were pressed to choose a favorite place in New York I might just pick the Guggenheim. If I could make that conditional, I’d say the Guggenheim when it’s empty of other people. But even packed to the gills with visitors it still takes my breath away. And for once, like with the Forty Part Motet, being surrounded by strangers while viewing Aten Reign in the rotunda seemed to add, rather than subtract, from the experience.
Finally, we headed downtown for dinner.
To Shake Shack in Madison Square Park, which– from here to Citi Field to London– has become Our Place over time. This specific location is particularly laden with memories for me, since I used to walk down from the Polish Consulate after every frustrating visa-related visit and console myself with a Fair Shake and some fries.
As an added bonus, we got to enjoy the Flatiron installation of a life-size version of Nighthawks. It’s not my favorite Hopper painting (more on that sometime in the future, maybe), but it epitomizes the essence of city life that seemed to be the theme of our day: that paradox of simultaneous solitude and communal experience. I wish we’d had time to get to the Hopper Drawings show at the Whitney, and regret not making it back to New York in time to see it.
We still have a lot of exploring to do in Philadelphia, and I feel a little guilty heading off to New York at every opportunity instead of exploring my new city. But I love the thrill of returning and realizing I still know it like the back of my hand… and can still experience it anew again and again.
Where would you go if you had eight hours in New York City?
The Forty Mart Motet at the Cloisters is on view through December 8, 2013.