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The Big Reveal

[NYC, Nov 3, 2018]

After an amazing Friday visiting the One World Trade Center and a delicious dinner at Daniel, our Saturday was much more chill. I still didn’t know what B had in store for the evening, but we had the day free and he let me choose what I wanted to do. But first, we had breakfast in the form of left-over cronuts.

High on my list was a return visit to the Metropoiltan Museum. On my visit in 2012, the Sackler Wing was closed and I did not see one of the Met’s most prized items – the Temple of Dendur.

My only glimpse at the Temple of Dendur in 2012. The Sackler Wing was, unfortunately, closed that day!

We arrived at the Met shortly after its opening time of 9 am. The weather had turned cold and windy – my first taste of autumn! I couldn’t help my excitement as we approached the instantly recognizable facade of the museum.

The Met is huge. In order to maximize your visit, you can either do some research ahead of time or ask for recommendations once you arrive. The map you get on arrival will list the highlights of the permanent collection, but seeing them all usually requires that you traverse the entire museum. I’ve done this at the British Museum in London, but that’s half the size of the Met. Alternatively, you can just meander around until you get tired. 🙂

B hadn’t been to New York or the Met in a long time, so first we wanted to see the Greek and Roman art wing. There, we found a special exhibit called Dangerous Beauty – Medusa in Classical Art.

If you remember your Greek mythology, you may recall that Medusa is the snaky-haired Gorgon whose gaze turned men into stone. Her depictions in art range from grotesque to beautiful, and other mythical creatures such as sirens and sphinxes have been used to represent her. As a matter of fact, one of my favorite art pieces at the Uffizi gallery in Florence is Caravaggio’s Medusa. In it, Caravaggio painted himself as the Medusa, gasping as he observes his own hair of live snakes.

We meandered through a few other halls as well, which mostly housed European sculptures.

Finally, we made our way to the Sackler wing, which houses the Temple of Dendur. The wing is named after the Sackler family, which has been donating to the Met for more than 50 years. Its relationship with the Met recently became a focal point of protest because the Sackler family earned its wealth through Purdue Pharma, which developed the drug Oxycontin. This drug and the way it’s been prescribed has been blamed for the opioid crisis in the United States. The Met has tried to distance itself from the media coverage, highlighting that its relationship with the Sackler family predates the opioid crisis. A very good article about all this can be found at the New Yorker.

The gate of the Temple of Dendur

The Temple of Dendur, I learned, has a fascinating history. The temple is one of a dozen that could be found along the Nile river in the southern part of Egypt, close to its border with present-day Sudan. The region was then known as Lower Nubia. The Roman emperor Augustus commissioned this temple, although it was built in Egyptian and not Roman style. It was completed in 10 B.C.

In the late 1950s, Egypt and Sudan realized that the building of a dam north of these temples would result in their submersion. Egypt and Sudan worked with UNESCO to save the monuments and the Temple of Dendur was relocated in 1963. The United States contributed greatly to this effort. Egypt gifted the Temple of Dendur to the US in 1965 in gratitude for the help. In 1967, following the recommendation of a commission, President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded the temple to the Met. The Sackler wing was built specifically to house the temple, with the pool in front symbolizing the river Nile. The Sackler wing was completed in 1978.

Three other temples were donated to countries assisting with the relocation. In case you are curious where to find them, here they are:

  • Temple of Debod (Madrid, Spain)
  • Temple of Taffeh (Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden, the Netherlands)
  • Temple of Ellesyia (Museo Egizio, Turin, Italy)

A museum like the Met is bound to have a few other priceless possessions.

Picasso, Woman Asleep at a Table, 1936
Picasso, The Dreamer, 1932
The subject of this sensuous painting was Marie-Therese Walter, who became Picasso’s lover.
Salvador Dali, Crucifixion, 1954

I especially loved seeing Georges Seurat’s final study for his monumental painting, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte (1884), which I’ve seen at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Coincidentally, Chicago is also where I saw my first Georgia O’Keefe, and I was delighted to see the Met had one too. This one is a lot more representative of her style. She was famous for her series of paintings of abstract flowers, which caused a stir – I am sure you can see why.

I’ve already mentioned Caravaggio once, and I have to admit he is one of my favorite post-Renaissance painters. He created the work below, The Denial of Saint Peter, in the final months of his life in 1610. Standing before a fireplace, Saint Peter is accused of being a follower of Jesus. The pointing finger of the soldier and the two fingers of the woman allude to the three accusations as told in the Bible, and his three denials. One of the things I love most about Caravaggio’s work is how he portrays light.

B insisted on taking a photo of me in front of a special exhibit featuring art from Armenia. “Look, your people!”, he exclaimed. I am part Armenian – my great-grandfather left the country on foot in the beginning of the 20th century to escape the Armenian genocide. He ended up in Bulgaria where he married a Bulgarian girl, my great-grandmother. One of their daughters is my paternal grandma Nadezhda, who I’m named after.

By this time, it was close to noon. We had spent three hours at the Met and it was getting quite crowded, so we decided to go. I wanted to stop by the rooftop garden before we left, but it turns out it’s only open from May through October.

Our next stop was Rockefeller center, where I planned on meeting a friend I knew from the time I lived in Augusta, GA. On the way there, we passed by the NBC Today studio, which I recognized from watching their morning news show. We had to take a photo at the sign for this iconic address.

Renata was a fellow Eastern European expat with whom I’d connected over a shared love of coffee and chats. She moved to Charlotte, NC during my time in Georgia, and was in NYC at the same time I was. It had been more than 10 years since we’ve seen each other, so we had to get a coffee and a chat in.

Before we said good-bye, we took some more photos at the famous skating rink at Rockefeller Plaza, in front of the Saks Fifth Avenue store as well as in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a prominent New York landmark.

At this point we were starving. B had strategically used the coffee and chat time to research where to get New York pizza, and had decided on the Times Square location of Joe’s Pizza. This pizzeria has been in business for 37 years and is still owned and operated by its founder, Joe Pozzuoli. The pizza was so good, it got devoured before any pictures were taken. If you want to check out their original location, it’s on 7 Carmine St in the Village.

At this point, I still did not know why B had picked New York for my birthday surprise, and he wouldn’t tell me. I knew we had plans in the evening and I had guessed he’d take me to a Broadway show. Our hotel’s proximity to Broadway and his admission that our Saturday night plans were within walking distance had helped me put two and two together, although he continued to shrug when I asked if I had guessed correctly.

More photos from our hotel room. I could stare at the skyline for hours!

Our dinner restaurant turned out to be another amazing place – Aureole by chef Charlie Palmer, recipient of one Michelin star. B had given me Charlie Palmer’s cookbook as a gift when we first started dating, but I had never been to one of his restaurants. Our meal was just as amazing as the one at Daniel the night before.

During dinner, I finally found out why B had picked New York. He’d gotten us tickets to see Hamilton, a musical about the life of American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton. The musical is so incredibly popular that shows sell out weeks and months in advance.

I finally find out why we are in NYC for my birthday! 🙂

The musical had become extremely popular since its first performance in February 2015 off-Broadway. It moved to Broadway that August at the Richard Rogers theater, where we were about to see it. I was so excited! I’d been looking for tickets earlier in the year in locations close to LA (Denver, Las Vegas) but he had managed to convince me to stop looking, promising that we’d have to chance to see it later. Little did I know he’d already purchased our tickets!

We were seated in the Orchestra in row 8, so we had great views of the stage.

Hamilton‘s writer Lin-Manuel Miranda did two things that were groundbreaking. He incorporated hip-hop, R&B and soul songs into the musical. He also cast non-white actors as the Founding Fathers and other historical figures. The musical achieved incredible success and is still touring to this day.  The hype is absolutely worth it. There is nothing more American than Hamilton’s story – an orphan and an immigrant who was sent to New York to get educated and ultimately became the new nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury. The songs and their lyrics grab your attention and do not let go for the entire 2.5 hours. We kept listening to the soundtrack for weeks afterwards – it is available in full length on Youtube.

We couldn’t stop talking about this amazing musical as we walked the few blocks to our hotel. We were too hyped up, so we grabbed a drink in the hotel bar and people watched. We went to bed that night with full hearts and Hamilton songs stuck in our heads.

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