Autumn in New York

[NYC, Nov 4, 2018]

And just like that, our last day in New York was here! Our flight was in the evening, so we still had a whole day to explore. The New York marathon was that day, and we knew lots of streets in the upper part of Manhattan as well as Central Park would be off limits. I had friends running the marathon but it was unlikely I’d get to see them. Still, I wanted to spectate at least for a little bit. It just so happened that the Guggenheim museum, which I really wanted to visit, was right by the marathon course on the Upper East side of Manhattan. Our plan was to visit the museum, grab lunch with a friend of B’s, stop by the marathon course for a little while and play the rest of the day by ear.

The Guggenheim museum bears the name of its founder, Solomon R. Guggenheim, a businessman and art collector. In 1943, he commissioned famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright to design a new space to house his ever increasing modern art collection. The building was finished in 1959, about 10 years after Guggenheim’s death.

The museum is the shape of a cylinder, which is wider at the top than at the bottom. On the inside, a ramp takes visitors from the bottom to the top along the walls of the cylinder, creating a spiral and ending underneath a giant skylight at the top.

The unique architectural design of the museum attracted a fair share of criticism. Many people thought the architecture overshadows the works of art displayed inside. Others complained about how hard it was to hang artworks on the concave-shaped walls and also noted the lack of natural light. In the end, the building became extremely popular. The Guggenheim foundation established a number of other museums in the US and abroad. The full list is quite impressive.

The permanent collection had, unsurprisingly, a few Picassos.

Picasso, Woman Ironing, 1904
Picasso, Carafe, Jug and Fruit Bowl, 1909
Picasso, Mandolin and Guitar, 1904

I loved this abstract Eiffel tower. although I did not recognize the artist’s name.

Robert Delaunay, Eiffel Tower with Trees, 1910

Along the spiral ramp was the temporary exhibit Hilma af Klint – Paintings for the Future. Hilma was a Swedish artist and mystic; she was among the first abstract artists. Her paintings, which often featured diagrams, were a visual representation of complex spiritual ideas. The exhibits runs through April of this year.

By the time we were done, it was lunchtime! We chose to eat in the museum restaurant, the Wright. The area around the museum had grown more and more busy as the marathoners were approaching the area, so we figured the museum restaurant would make logistics easy. It had just opened when we got there, too. The food was delicious and we had a great time catching up with B’s friend, who met us there.

Afterwards, we made our way into Central Park to catch a glimpse of the marathon. The weather was perfect for running – sunny, 55 F/12 C (the ever elusive “not too hot, not too cold” temperature), no wind. The runners looked strong and happy. It almost made me wish I were running, but then I would have not been able to enjoy the amazing restaurants and pizza, nor stay up late to watch Hamilton.

B had made plans for a late coffee with another friend of his in Greenwich Village. The Village, as the locals and tourists in-the-know call it, is one of New York’s most expensive neighborhoods. At the turn of the last century, it was known as an artists’ haven and a bohemian capital. The Village was the original home of the Whitney museum, which was established to celebrate American modern art. At the time, American modernists were shunned by the Met and MOMA (New York’s Museum of Modern Art), which instead focused on European modernism.

To get to the Village, we crossed Central Park on foot. Doing it any other way was going to be a nightmare given the road closures for the marathon. We took the 86th street transverse – one of four subterranean roads crossing Central Park from east to west. The fact that the park planners thought about this when they designed the park in 1857, long before the advent of the car, is astounding to me. Once on the west side of the park, we kept walking towards the Hudson River. My friend Renata had mentioned that renting a bike was one of the best ways to get around town, especially if you take the River Greenway, which runs north to south along the Hudson. We had already downloaded the Citi Bike app on her recommendation. We found a bike station, hopped on and rode the bike path south towards the Village.

The 30-minute bike ride was awesome. The city and all its skyscrapers towered on our left, while the Hudson glistened in the sun on our right. As we rode further south, the One World Trade Center tower came into view. Since everyone seemed to be watching the marathon farther north, the bike path was pretty empty and we zipped right on through.

Once in the Village, we found a bike station, dropped off the bikes, and headed to Caffe Reggio. The founder of this coffee house introduced Italian cappuccino to America in the 1920s.

Look for it next time you see The Godfather II or In Good Company. It was small, tables crammed so tightly together that there was barely any room to pass. It’s exactly what you’d picture an old coffee house in the Village to look like. It was nice to end our visit in New York in a place that screamed New York.

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