New York, New York In Three Parts

Thoughts From the Met

I am in the Egyptian hall, moving on to others, and I cannot help but marvel at the fact that here, just four thousand some-odd years later I am gazing at these remnants of the past.  Four thousand years ago hands as capable, as limited, as incontestably human as mine crafted these stones into walls and chiseled stories and illustrations onto their sides.  These walls formed buildings and those buildings stood for centuries, until, through some uncommon twist of fate they found themselves here in the present, puzzled over by people none to different from those that they were crafted by.

In these glass crates lies all that remains of a people who were once as much as I am now.  Here lies all there is to remind us they once were: personal belongings which point not to the individuals who owned them but to the societal collective of those who owned all such items.  Yet these things are profoundly personal.  They belonged to people not to a society.  Only one Egyptian owned that bowl, only one African wore that mask, only one Incan wore that necklace.

I wonder if a few thousand years from now, similar artifacts will remain from today.  Will the objects I use daily, or ones similar, inspire the same awe in some other young person?  Might they too wander through a museum to gaze at the belongings of someone like me and wonder who might have owned them?

Confronted with these possibilities I begin to feel vaguely disconcerted.  Someone wore that necklace in the case beside me; those rings gripped someone’s fingers; that mask hid someone’s face.   I would hate to see similar possessions of mine in such a collection.  Even the ornate dishes and furniture in many of these galleries, though certainly art, bear an undeniable, uncomfortable intimacy.  So many of the things we consider art and artifacts were once a part of someone else’s daily life, and a part of me has to wonder how they would feel to see their most intimate possessions encased in glass and simplified by wall plaques for all the world to ogle at and puzzle over.  It seems a sorry end for many of the world’s most powerful and fascinating civilizations to have been watered down to the spectacle one finds in most museums.  Yet at the same time, I can think of nothing I would rather do with this particular afternoon than explore the Met, taking in all that I can of what remains of the past.

One last observation, and a somewhat paradoxical one: I feel a lot more comfortable photographing the artifacts than the art.  If a painting or sculpture catches my eye, I take a picture of the placard.

Thoughts from MoMA

Not enough time!  Not enough time! Not enough time!  Must get back, must pack bags, must catch plane!

 Relax.  Breathe.  Enjoy.   You have two hours.  It will have to be enough.

Still I find it hard to breathe, swept up in panic induced by lack of time and raucous, tight-packed crowds.  How many people can possibly come to see a gallery on a weekday?

Too many people!  Too many damn tourists!  I’m a tourist!  How can one possibly enjoy a gallery in such a crowd with such a din?

 Somehow, despite my panic and The Persistence of Memory being out on loan, I find I enjoy myself immensely.

A Couple Of Notes About New York

I have been to this city three times now, and each time has been something altogether new.  This time I had only a day and a half to enjoy the city, which made for an interesting visit.  I visited two museums, (unless the lobby of the Guggenheim counts as a museum on its own, then three) but only managed to spend four hours in the first and two hours in the second.  I’m definitely of the day-per-museum philosophy, or barring that, at least 5 hours.

I really like New York.  I have often said that if I ever have to move to the States, I would like it to be to New York City.  To be honest, I think the best way to see NYC is probably to live there rather than to visit for just a couple of days, but unless that dream of mine is realized, I’ll make do with what I can get.

My two days in the city this time around were the first two I’ve spent there on my own, part of a stint of world-travelling in between high school and university.  Although it’s always nice to travel with other people, in a city like New York I really appreciated being able to pursue my own agenda.  It was also great to have a chance to spend some time with my cousin who is at school in the city.

If ever you go to New York, I’d recommend taking some time just to walk through the city, and a great deal of time to simply walk through Central Park.  I would also, of course, recommend that you see the museums.  Aside from that, I personally think that tourist New York is a little overrated.  A Broadway musical is probably (definitely) worth it, but you can do without seeing Rockefeller Centre or the Empire State, at least in my opinion.

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About Helen (etaunknown)

An undergrad at the University of British Columbia, studying Anthropology and all the kinds of history they didn't teach me in school (concentrations in Indigenous and Environmental History(s)), my blogs are mainly places where I talk about academia, travel, and writing. I've been blogging in one form or another for the last 7 years, from angsty teenage poetry (no, I won't link you to that particular blog) to thoughts on religion, books, music and academia. I've been writing for as long as I can remember, and while I use my two main wordpress blogs as places to post a lot of my writing, I'm also busily at work on a novel (or three), some longer narrative essays, some short stories and as ever, some poetry. If you want to know more, please email me at etaunknownwrites@gmail.com
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