The Casual Blog

Tag: Van Gogh

Our Memorial Day weekend in New York — great ballet, art, and ethnic food

The New York Palace (that's our place on the 32nd floor) and St. Patrick's Cathedral

The New York Palace (that’s our place on the 32nd floor) and St. Patrick’s Cathedral

For Memorial Day weekend, we went up to New York City to see our sweet Jocelyn and get an infusion of arts and food. I’d bought tickets to both the NYC Ballet and the American Ballet Theatre, and wanted to see the new Whitney Museum. We designated Jocelyn as the food concierge, and she booked us into some fun ethnic restaurants. After going back and forth, I decided not to lug along my big DSLR kit, and instead took my compact Canon G16, with the results shown here.

Sunset right after we checked in at the New York Palace

Sunset right after we checked in at the New York Palace

The flight up went smoothly (storage room remaining in the overhead bin, on time departure, seatmate not apparently infectious). I read a piece in the last New Yorker on Marc Andreessen, the famous Silicon Valley tech entrepreneur and venture capitalist. It was a good primer on what VC is and does, and seemed like a fair portrait of Andreesen and his firm (Andreesen Horowitz). He is, of course, intelligent and richer than Croesus, but, it turns out, sort of inexpressive and unadventurous in his personal life. (His likes watching television.) And for all his successful bets on where technology is about to go, he seems in complete denial about the big economic changes technology is bringing, like rising inequality and unemployment. Cognitive dissonance, perhaps?

We stayed at the New York Palace on Madison and 50th. This hotel opened in 1981, when we lived in Manhattan, and was known as the Helmsley Palace, with ads that featured a then-famous dragon lady named Leona Helmsley touting its remarkable luxuriousness in a loathsome way. Now rebranded (thank goodness), it is quite a fine hotel, and from our room on the 32d floor we had good views of Manhattan towers and a sliver of the East River.
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We had dinner in Curry Hill, the little Indian restaurant neighborhood at 28th and Lexington, at Chote Nawab. It’s a lively place, and the food was good, but our server was amazingly inattentive. Even so, we had fun catching up.

It was remarkably clear on Saturday morning and a bit chilly when we went down to the meat packing district to the new Whitney, which is situated on Gansevoort right where the High Line starts. It took a minute to absorb that the line to get in was a block long, and we kicked ourselves for not buying tickets in advance. But the line moved quickly, and we were inside in about 20 minutes. The place was crowded, but with a little patience we managed to get close to the pieces that interested us.

Eva Hesse's last work before her death at 34

Eva Hesse’s last work before her death at 34

The current exhibition is called America is Hard to See, which is so true, and is a loosely chronological survey of some of the key examples of the Whitney’s permanent collection. It starts on the eighth floor (the top) with the beginning of the 20th century, and comes down and toward the present. The works were given a good amount of space, and where there were narrative labels, they were helpful.

At this point in my own art historical education, Abstract Expressionism from the 50s seems more like an old friend than a shocker. But I found myself moved and shaken by some of the political art of the 60s (some of the big issues of that time are still big issues). I also engaged with the minimalism and conceptualism from more recent decades. It struck me that this was art intended to be discussed, to expand out into a social dialog. It wasn’t about just looking — it was also about talking.

The Whitney's decks

The Whitney’s decks

In addition to the fine display spaces, the new museum has large outdoor decks. We lucked out, with beautiful weather, and after each floor, we stepped out in the sun clear our heads and enjoy the wonderful cityscape views.

Looking south from the Whitney at the new Freedom Tower

Looking south from the Whitney at the new Freedom Tower

We’d thought of visiting some galleries in the area after the museum, but after two and a half hours at the Whitney I was more than sufficiently stimulated, and a bit wrung out. Jocelyn met us outside the museum, and we walked up to the Flatiron District, where we had good lunch at a Korean place called Barn Joo.

Then Jocelyn gave us a tour of her offices in the Flatiron Building. This iconic triangular building at 23d and Broadway, completed in 1902, was one of the first skyscrapers in New York. J’s employer, Macmillan Publishers, is now the sole tenant. The offices were nothing fancy, but still fun to see. It reminded me of our offices at The New Yorker in the late 70s. There was a great view of the Empire State Building from the northern point of the building.

The Flatiron Building

The Flatiron Building

We poked around in Eataly, a giant gourmet grocery and restaurants space, which was very crowded and fully of delicious smells. Jocelyn promoted the cookies at a bakery a few doors down as the best in New York, so we bought three and ordered coffee. The barista for some reason had trouble with our order, and took ten minutes to produce various beverages we had not ordered. We consumed them at a table near Madison Square Park. My cookie was a good mix of smooth and crunchy, and I enjoyed it very much.

The Empire State Building, from the Flatiron Building

The Empire State Building, from the Flatiron Building

We had dinner at Boulud Sud, a Mediterranean Restaurant at 64th St. near Lincoln Center. The place was bustling. There were no veggie options on the menu, but they proposed a gnocchi dish that was good.

We finished dinner with enough time (barely) to get to our seats at the Metropolitan Opera House to see the American Ballet Theatre perform Giselle. I was interested in Giselle in part for its historical significance as one of the oldest ballets still in the common repertoire. It was first performed in Paris in 1841, with Carlotta Grisi as Giselle and Lucien Petipa as Albrecht. It must have been astonishing at the time to see the women rise and hover en pointe.

This production had Stella Abrera as Giselle and Vladimir Shklyarov as Albrecht. Abrera was not previously known to me, but I will not forget her. She was sublime. Her gestures seemed somehow to be magnified and extended, with a remarkable emotional intensity, without being overstated. Shklyarov was also excellent. In the second act, the ethereal Wilis were spookily graceful, and when they tried to dance Albrecht to death, Shklyarov was so fervid that it seemed on the verge of real danger. The ovation was tremendous by New York standards, with the audience clapping for about 10 minutes. After I drafted this, I saw Alastair McCaulay’s review in the Times, which was a rave for Abrera.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

On Sunday morning we took a taxi up to the Metropolitan Museum. I’d been looking forward to seeing an exhibit of the art of the plains Indians, but it had, unfortunately, closed. But there is always a lot to see at the Met. We started with a tiny exhibit of Van Gogh’s irises and roses, which had four paintings. The signs explained that the red pigment in the paintings had deteriorated and changed the colors of the paintings, and a video offered an interpretation of what they must have looked like. We spent time with the Lehman collection of Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, thirty or so great paintings that sum of the field amazingly well.

A Vermeer that just kills me

A Vermeer that just kills me

Then we made our way to the galleries with the Vermeers and Rembrandts. I listened to an interesting podcast the previous week with a debate on whether Rembrandt or Vermeer was the greater artist, and confirmed that I’m more of a Vermeer man. The Met has 5 of the 35 or so existing Vermeers, and I particularly love a couple of them. We also spent time looking at the pre-Colombian art, which is getting more and more interesting to me, and African art.
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We met Jocelyn for lunch on the West side at Nanoosh, a Mediterranean spot, and I had some delicious falafel. Then Jocelyn came with me to Lincoln Center to see the New York City Ballet perform La Sylphide. This was, again, for me partly about ballet history, since La Sylphide is another path-breaking early work, from 1834 by August Bournonville. Lauren Lovette was the Sylph, and Anthony Huxley was James. The corps of Sylphs in Act II was, like the Wilis in Giselle, all in diaphanous white tulle, and entrancing. Lovette danced beautifully.

Jocelyn outside the David H. Koch (aka "El Diablo") Theater

Jocelyn outside the David H. Koch (aka “El Diablo”) Theater

After the ballet we went down to the west Village, where we found an outside table and sipped wine, then had dinner at Pagani, an Italian restaurant. We liked our food, and the service was good until dessert time, when things suddenly came to a halt. The staff regrouped, though, and comped our tiramisu.

On Sunday morning we checked out and took a cab out to Jocelyn’s place in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. Her area seemed sort of Village-like, at least on a sunny Memorial Day holiday. We met up with our and J’s old friend Kathryn M, and ate at a South African restaurant called Madiba, which had a lot of funky charm, though it took a while to get a beer. I had the vegetable Durban curry, and liked it, and heard about Kathryn’s new admin job at Victoria’s Secret.

Then we went to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, where there were things that were blooming and things that were not. I didn’t see a great diversity of species, but the landscaping was pretty. We also took a stroll through some of Prospect Park. There were hundreds of Brooklynites picnicking, playing, and soaking in the sun.

Discovering Amsterdam

Last week I went to Amsterdam for the Free Software Foundation–Europe legal conference, and got in a bit of sightseeing as well. Sally and I stayed in the Krasnapolsky, a large, older hotel within walking distance of the railroad station, museums and several interesting neighborhoods.

Amsterdam is lovely city. Its row houses, streets, and canals are an ensemble that suggests a real community, with shared values and history. It seems well-organized and clean. But very lively! We’d heard that there were more bikes than cars, which is true, but hadn’t realized that heavy bike traffic can be hazardous to pedestrians. We had some close calls, and I eventually began to start at tinkling bicycle bells as though they were blaring car horns.

We found the Dutch to be polite and helpful, though reserved with strangers. Almost no one asked us where we were from, which was nice, in a way. They seemed lively and affectionate with their friends. Everyone we dealt with spoke English at least adequately, and many were absolutely colloquial. Sally noted that from our street level few, there was little interest in fashionable dressing, with most dressed in a casual, comfortable way. There were fewer overweight people — perhaps because of all the bicycling.

We were particularly eager to see the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum. The VG was quite crowded, but the collection of VVG’s art was spectacular. There were also great impressionist works by Monet, Pissaro, and others, which put VVG in context. I also enjoyed an exhibit of fin de siècle print making, which had some of the great work of Toulouse-Lautrec, one of my great favorites.

The Rijksmuseum is undergoing renovations, but fortunately there was a substantial exhibition of its masterpieces from the 17th Century. The high point for me was Vermeer’s The Milkmaid. I’d seen it three years ago as part of a traveling exhibit in New York, and was overjoyed to see it again. She’s so quiet, entirely in her own dreamlike world. Yet she and the scene are somehow full and complete.

I also especially loved this still life by Willem Claesz Hedda. The realism of detail is astonishing. Looking hard at such paintings makes you wonder what you might see if you looked at everyday objects harder.

There were several great Rembrandts. Also, I was particularly moved by this portrait of a young Rembrandt by Jan Lievens, with whom he shared a studio early in his career. A youth with a bright future!

We enjoyed walking by the canals and squares, through the old Nine Streets district, the theatre district, and the Jordaan shopping area. We also had fun visiting the famous red light district. I’d imagined it would be at least a bit seamy and sinister, but not really. Yes, there were prostitutes in bikinis displayed in windows (some quite beautiful), porno theaters, and shops of sex paraphernalia, but also many cafes, bars, and restaurants. There were large crowds of cheerful people promenading. We had some delicious Thai food.

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.