The Casual Blog

Tag: Museum of Modern Art

In New York — FOSS, museums, Broadway, and the marathon

A window table at Stella 34, with the Empire State Building in the background

A window table at Stella 34, with the Empire State Building in the background

New York City is still the greatest! It’s so energizing. I went up Thursday night to attend the Software Freedom Law Center’s fall conference on Friday, and for the weekend we did some fun city things – museums, Broadway, sports, and food.

The conference at Columbia Law School was in part a celebration of how far free and open source software has come, but also discussed less pleasant things, like copyright trolls and security. I enjoyed seeing a number of business friends from leading tech companies and catching up.

Jocelyn picked out some fun places to eat, including Stella 34, which is on the fifth floor of Macy’s. The Italian food was good, and we had an epic view of the Empire State Building.
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On Saturday morning Sally and I went to the Metropolitan Museum and saw two special exhibits – Kongo: Power and Majesty (art of central Africa), and Ancient Egypt Transformed: the Middle Kingdom. After our recent Africa trip, I’ve been listening to African music, and was eager to learn more about its art.

Slavery and horrendous colonial exploitation is what I think of first when I think of central and western Africa, but the exhibit demonstrates that there was an elaborate and well-developed culture and artistic tradition before Europeans arrived. There was extraordinary craftsmanship in their carvings and weaving, and something powerful in their religious objects. If you can’t get to the Met, you can see all the objects here.
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As for Egypt, the Middle Kingdom ran from 2030-1650 BC and from the 11th through the 13th dynasties. This exhibit also changed the way I thought of this society. It’s strange, of course, to think that pharaohs were viewed as gods, but all religions have their quirks. I’d thought of the sculpture as normally cold and formulaic, if well crafted, but was struck by how tenderly human and individual some of it was. Here again, you can check it all online.
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I’ve generally avoided museum audio guides, on the theory that it’s good to struggle with finding the message of objects than to be spoon fed. But it was well worth using the Met’s audio guide for these exhibits. The commentary was usually intelligent, and it was helpful to hear the pronunciation of the unfamiliar African and Egyptian words.
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Afterwards, I went down to the Museum of Modern Art to see a special exhibit of the sculpture of Picasso. Apparently Picasso did not think of himself as a sculptor, but used sculptural tools for exploring new ideas. These were often witty and lively works, in a variety of styles and media. Picasso is really inspiring in his never-ending curiosity and energy.
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That evening we went to see Hamilton, a big hit on Broadway about the life of Alexander Hamilton told in the hip hop vernacular. Jocelyn had seen it twice off-Broadway, and was hugely excited about seeing it again. Her enthusiasm had motivated me to do a bit of homework beforehand, including reading the Ron Chernow biography of Hamilton, listening to the cast recording, and listening to some of the big hip hop hits of the last three decades.

I really liked the show. Hamilton’s life story is richly dramatic, and his achievements were extraordinary. That’s a good start, but to bring them into the present with an urban vernacular is such a great idea! At the same time, to take on some complicated history, with a spirit that is both playful and serious, is remarkable! The creator and star, Lin-Manuel Miranda is surely brilliant, and seems to understand that history is not something that is fixed, but rather always subject to reexamination and new understandings. Anyhow, it’s both a fun show, and richly thoughtful. How often does that happen?
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On Sunday morning we walked up to Central Park South to see the New York City Marathon. It is, of course, remarkable that people can run 26.2 miles at any speed, much less the pace that the elite athletes do. We were privileged to see the top finishers approaching Columbus Circle, close to the end. They looked focused, but not miserable. I read the next day that the men’s winner, Stanley Biwott of Kenya, ran mile 21 in 4:24, and only a few seconds slower for the next two miles. That is beyond amazing!

Winner Mary Keitany of Kenya, with about a third of a mile to go

Winner Mary Keitany of Kenya, with about a third of a mile to go

Thanksgiving in New York

There’s just something electric about New York City! Flying in last Wednesday, I passed close to the Statue of Liberty. Liberty! Then the splendid dense verticality lower Manhattan, and the gleaming skyscraping icons of midtown. It’s Oz!

The original plan for the Tiller clan to meet up for an urban Thanksgiving got off to a rocky start because Stuart, our dog, appeared to be dying. He threw up all over the apartment for a couple of days, and then spent several days in the animal hospital unable to eat. Exploratory abdominal surgery failed to yield a clear diagnosis, but made him weaker still. The day before we were scheduled to leave for NYC, Sally declared she couldn’t stand the thought of his being miserable and alone at the end. He’d been a beloved friend to us for eight years. So she decided to bring him home for hospice care. She urged me to proceed with the plan to meet the kids, who were already there, and so I headed north, with mixed feelings. (P.S. Stuart started improving the day after Sally brought him home and is still with us, frail but looking perkier every day.)

Wednesday afternoon I rendezvoused with Gabe and Jocelyn at the Hotel @ Times Square, a modestly priced (by NYC standards) but clean establishment at a great midtown location. Jocelyn was just back from two months backpacking in Columbia, Ecuador, and Peru, and I was delighted and relieved to see her. Not a day went by during her trip when I didn’t worry about her being kidnapped or worse. She seemed very chipper and glad to be back to the land of flush toilets and hot showers. Gabe came in from Colorado looking handsome, hale and hearty.

I was so glad to see them, and so glad to be back in NYC! When I lived there in my twenties, I could ordinarily not afford taxis, and it was satisfying to take many cab rides with the kids to share some of my favorite places. We went to the Metropolitan Museum and I introduced them to some of my favorite paintings, including the Vermeers. We checked out the amazing holiday windows in the shops on Fifth Avenue, and maneuvered through the mobs of people at Times Square.

On Thanksgiving morning, we’d planned to go to the Macy’s parade, which was passing just a block and a half to the west, but Jocelyn’s left eye was hurting badly, possibly from an infection. We watched a couple of big balloons (including Horton) go by, and then we went looking for medical care. With my iPhone I located an urgent care clinic close by, but it was closed, and the next one we tried was closed as well. We ended up in the emergency room of NYU Bellevue. I expected an endless wait, but it was not so bad. They got us in and out in a couple of hours, and Jocelyn started to feel better soon after.

For Thanksgiving dinner, we went to the upper west side and shared a fine meal with Sally’s brother Bill, his wife Mary Jane, and their daughter Carmen. Everyone was in high spirits, and I was most grateful that they provided delicious non-meat food. Bill was eager to hear more of Jocelyn’s South American journey, and she had some good stories of jungle adventures with snakes and spiders and marathon bus rides. Carmen, now thirteen, seemed amazingly grown up and well spoken. She’d just applied to an arts high school for both acting and piano performance, and played her audition piece, a Haydn sonata.

On Friday, we got a personal tour of the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange and ate lunch in Chinatown. Late that afternoon, Gabe and I went to the Museum of Modern Art. Gabe was interested in Picasso and Van Gogh, and I never get tired of them. I also spent some time with the J. Pollocks. The big big drip painting finally clicked for me (goose bumps). We met Jocelyn and her friend Pam at a little Italian restaurant on the east side. Pam is an art world person and aspiring critic, and amazingly articulate, warm, and friendly. Gabe mentioned Andy Warhol, and it turned out Pam had some dense but fascinating ideas about him.

On Saturday afternoon, I took the kids to their first live opera at the Met, where we saw Carmen with Elina Garanca in the title role. She was smoking hot! Everything was truly wonderful — singing, sets, costumes, orchestra. And the story is still a bloody shocker. I was a little worried beforehand that the kids might not like it, which, especially in view of the ticket prices, would have been a bummer, but was not — they enjoyed it.

Gabe and Jocelyn had an early flight to Colorado on Sunday, so I was on my own for the last day. I went back to the Met in the morning and spent some time with the Greek and Roman antiquities, looked in on an exhibit of the work of Jan Gossart (Dutch Renaissance), and looked in again at the beloved Vermeers. Then I went to Lincoln Center to see the City Ballet’s Nutcracker.

After many Nutcrackers, I thought I was pretty much nutcrackered out for life, but it turned out not. Somehow it hit the sweet spot of pure joy and wonder. The dancing was delightful, the stagecraft was impressive, and the orchestra sounded great. The child dancers had more-than-usual charisma. Jennifer Ringer as the Sugarplum Fairy seemed a little flat at first, but was gorgeous in the pas de deux. Ashley Bouder was an exquisite Dew Drop. A few weeks earlier I’d ordered a piano version of the Tchaikovsky score and played through parts of it for fun, so I was particularly attentive to the music. It is a masterpiece.

After the ballet, I took a cab to 46th and 12th and visited the aircraft carrier Intrepid, the submarine Growler, and the Concorde. Impressive machines! The Intrepid is a proud veteran of WWII that played a significant role in the Pacific theater and survived some kamikaze hits. The sun was setting at the end of my tour, and the view of Manhattan was beautiful.