Here I am again at Penn Station, on my way back from what has become an annual excursion to the Big Apple. The trip was shorter this time, though somehow it felt longer. I was even bored at points (!), or maybe just immobilized by being unsure of how best to use my time in such an overwhelming place. I feel a bit worn out, no doubt because I’ve walked more in three days than I normally do all month. This is probably why I saw so few portly New Yorkers. And they must blow through shoes every few months. I’d say that I’ve surely lost a few pounds, but then I remember how much I’ve eaten. New York is second only to cruise ships in constant food availability.
My trip consisted mainly of opera performances, two days at the museum, and several dinners with an old friend. My hotel was – interesting. I was trying to keep things affordable, but I might choose to pay up the wazoo next time. You don’t get what you don’t pay for. Hot water would be one of those things (but, presumably, I paid for that).
The individual rooms were decorated (I assume for free) by different artists. Mine looked like someone ingested pea soup and then projectile-vomited it all over the room. Everything was slathered in a thick coat of slimey green. A plaque on the wall informed me that the color was called “arsenic.” How fitting. The pukey decor was augmented by images of someone’s trip to uninteresting parts of Asia, complete with paper lanterns and Christmas lights strung from the ceiling. I felt like I was either in a teenager’s bedroom, or a Martha Stewart nightmare. The room was very hot and noisy, with no way to control either affront to my senses. Sleeping a full night was impossible. It was akin to a night on a park bench in Times Square, except there wasn’t the saving grace of a cool breeze. Of course I didn’t come to New York to sit in my hotel room, but it will be nice to get home to my own digs. Comfy. Quiet. No snot-green anywhere.
When I did leave my room, it was to much more grand surroundings. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is amazing. It would take a week just to give everything even a cursory look. I gave it two afternoons. I was amazed at times by the great detail artists were able to give their items (plates, pottery, figurines, furnishings) long before modern techniques to paint or mold them existed, and with the great condition items were in that were hundreds of years old. I frequently asked myself “how did they do that way back then without modern conveniences?” Astounding how talented and creative people can be when they aren’t filling their every moment with mindless electronic distractions.
As for the operas, always a treat. The Met orchestra is top notch, and while there aren’t superstar singers the likes of Pavarotti or Callas these days, the singing is far better than I’d hear most other places availabile to me aside from my own (massive) mp3 collection.
And speaking of Callas (whose voice I adore), my friend (the one I supped with) gave me a biography of her as a gift. I was very touched. And bemused. The thing is huge and weighs about five pounds (it’s hardcover and full of delicious pics), and here I am trying to travel light, knowing I have luggage to lug through the streets, stairwells, and subway tunnels of New York. Good thing I didn’t fly here, as I’d have to buy a seat for the book on the return trip.
Spring is blooming in the city, and the landscape is full of mass plantings of tulips and hydrangeas, as well as cheery clumps of flowers ringing sidewalk trees in the only garden space most residents have. Space is at a premium, and everyone makes the best of it. I had wanted to spend some time in the fantastic green (yes, green!) vistas of Central Park, but it didn’t happen this time. At least I wasn’t rained on the whole trip; it was just dreary and gloomy, kind of like my room.
Again, like last year, I didn’t see a single person who I felt threatened by during all my subway rides and street walks. I’m not sure what to make of this. I kept near crowds of regular shmoes like myself, tried to blend in and look confident and blase (“hey, I do this all the time!”), and never felt afraid. I’d be more concerned walking around certain dank areas back home. Here, there are people everywhere at all hours in a city that never sleeps, most of them just going about their business. Kids, moms, tourists, working people, largely unfazed with their surroundings or the hour, interacting more with their smartphones than the people all around them. Just like me (I’m typing this in the waiting area at Penn Station). See how nicely I blend?
I got out of my comparatively rural surroundings for a few days into one much more cosmopolitan. I heard foreign tongues everywhere. I sat next to a young man at the opera who appeared to be, like me, alone, and during the intermission I asked how he was enjoying it. He was European, and had seen the opera (Aida) many times in Vienna and other European cultural centers. I noted that during the performance he didn’t have his seat translator on, so he was likely multi-lingual, unlike my boorish American and unsophisticated self. It was a bit humbling.
So while it was nice to get away, it will also be nice to get back to my version of Kansas where I (unfortunately) fit in better. This city knows I don’t really belong here, as much as I may aspire to. But I’ll keep trying it on for size nonetheless, and hope it doesn’t take much notice.