First the conference, now, New York City.
Though I could have spent my time entirely closeted in the hotel, overdosing on workshops and networking, I had to get out and see a bit of the city. My usual destinations when I travel: museums, churches, food, and music.
Churches included St. Patrick’s Cathedral, St. Malachy’s (the Actors church) in the Theatre District, and a quick pop into St Mary’s episcopal church (the parish church of midtown). I’d been to St. Patrick’s on my previous visit and I knew I had to go back. Located near the busy Rockefeller Centre and Saks, it’s nearly always crawling with tourists. Fortunately, the tourists are generally quiet and respectful. Stepping into the cool, incense and candle-wax scented air is a welcome break from the noise of people and traffic just outside the doors.
St. Malachy’s is much smaller. In the middle of the block, it’s the sort of church that you might just stroll by, mistaking its front for yet another theatre in the Theatre District. I popped in on my way back from a run to the grocery store for breakfast items, and it was one of the loveliest churches I’ve had the pleasure of seeing. If I lived in NYC, I could see myself going there regularly just to enjoy the peace and quiet. I have no idea of its history, but it is billed as the ‘Actors Church’. Given its location, I imagine that it is more likely to be attended by actors.
I didn’t visit a lot of restaurants on this trip. However, there’s one that is now one of my favourite restaurants ever. Zen Palate. Located on 9th Avenue at 46 Street, it’s a vegetarian restaurant with primarily Asian cuisine. There was so much on the menu that I had a hard time deciding, but I finally settled on a Portobello mushroom burger with yam fries. (No, that doesn’t sound especially Asian, but most of the rest of the menu was.) I wish we’d been able to stay and sample more dishes, but we were running late, having to get back to the hotel to get ready for the RITAs.
My favourite evening out was on Wednesday, when I had the evening to myself. A bit of googling found the Birdland jazz club on W 44 Street just past 8th Avenue. They have early shows on Wednesdays and I got there just in time to catch the performance of the Louis Armstrong Centennial band. They played a selection of tunes, all classic jazz, from Armstrong to Duke Ellington, and more. After the crush of people during the first day of the conference, I couldn’t have asked for anywhere better to sit and unwind.
It’s difficult for me to explain exactly what it is that music does to me. Sitting on that bar stool, sipping my drink and listening to the jazz, I felt the stress drain away. The music takes over.
A flute of kir royale (with a twist of lemon) led to another, and then a full meal, including a very delicious mushroom risotto. If I could have stayed there all night, I would have. The interior of the club is dark, with a red glow from the stage-lights, and the gleam of the neon that encircles the top of the bar. Framed photos of jazz legends adorn the walls and half the club is taken up with tables, spread with linen, in front of the stage. The other half, on the far side of the bar, is bar stools along the window, and several small high tables. The bar seats come with a cheaper cover charge, so I sat there. The bartender (whose name I never got, and should have) was friendly, and the service was excellent.
I managed to visit one museum on this trip, taking in the Museum of Sex with some of the other RWA attendees, Daisy Harris, Tiffany Reisz, Monica Kaye and Andrew Shaffer. There were three floors and a gift shop. The first floor highlighted sex in film, from the early silent era, through the Hayes code, and into modern pornography. The second floor dealt with sex in comics, vintage photos, and featured an entire wall of Disney characters engaged in sexual behaviour. (I’d love to know why Disney hasn’t come down on them, but I’m glad they haven’t.) The third floor was an exhibit on sexual behaviour in animals, sometimes with video footage. We’re really not all that different from the bonobo monkeys, apparently…
The only thing that disappointed me about the museum was its very tight focus. I would have liked to see a display of sex toys throughout the ages (ancient dildos, etc.), and just some overall greater depth. However, it was worth the visit.
Most of my other wandering was around the Times Square area, during breaks between events, so I didn’t stray too far from the hotel. Popped into the huge Toys R Us, the Hershey chocolate store, a music store, and a few other places. On my last morning there, I had a chocolate croissant (pain chocolat, to the French) and a glass of juice at the Blue Fin (normally a sushi bar, but it had a breakfast menu) before I went to the airport. On my next trip to NYC, I plan to take in more museums.
I went to Paris to go to the Musée d’Orsay. Okay, so I went for a few other things as well (food, coffee, Shakespeare & Co. …), but the Musée d’Orsay was first on my list for museums. Though the Louvre is larger and its collection diverse, the Musée d’Orsay enchanted me.
The museum houses a massive collection of Impressionist era art: Rodin’s ‘Porte de l’Enfer‘ (The Gates of Hell), Manet’s ‘Olympia‘ and ‘Le déjeuner sur l’herbe‘, Degas’s ‘Dans un café‘ (L’absinthe) and ‘Petite danseuse de quatorze ans‘, and more than I could ever truly appreciate in a single visit.
I have an especial fondness for Impressionist art, due to its (general) lack of religiosity and its dramatic use of colour and composition. My favourite art history class at uni was the one that dealt with the Impressionist (and later) period. To see these famous works up close and in person – there are no words for my awe. Degas’s ‘Dans un café‘ (L’absinthe) had struck me with its use of the diagonal composition in the foreground of the painting, something which immediately attracts the eye.
Seeing Rodin’s ‘Gates of Hell’ up close and personal again was fantastic. I’d originally seen a cast of the Gates at the Rodin sculpture garden at Stanford University in California, and it was a treat to see them again in Paris. The Gates are my favourite of Rodin’s sculptures; all the detail could keep me occupied for hours.
The museum itself is a wonder to see – housed in a former train station, the light and dramatic arches are stunning. I photographed the header at the top of my blog in the museum. From the walkway near the clock, you can see through the center of the clock over Paris, including Montmartre and the Eglise Sacre Coeur on the hill. I would have liked to spend an entire day in d’Orsay, but I only had a few hours. It’ll be first on my list of museums to visit when I next go to Paris.
The book I’m working on has an art theft as one of its subplots, and as part of my research, I’ve read several books and had google alerts on the subject. It happens far more often than one might expect, but yet isn’t as glamorous as movies and television (and sometimes books) like to imagine.
The first art theft I remember clearly was in 2004, when thieves broke into the Munch museum in Oslo, Norway and stole Edvard Munch’s famous paintings The Scream and Madonna. The paintings weren’t recovered until 2006 and both had sustained damage. I especially remember this theft as I had been to Oslo several times and had seen versions of the paintings at the Nasjonalgalleriet, but not at the Munch museum. (A version of The Scream displayed at the Nasjonalgalleriet had been stolen in 1994 around the time of the Olympics in Lille. Its theft and recovery are detailed in the book ‘The Rescue Artist’ by Edward Dolnick.)
Rarely are stolen artworks as famous as The Scream. If my regular google news alert bulletin is any indication, paintings, sculptures and various other forms of art are regularly stolen from galleries, education institutions and public areas.
Sculptures made of metal are often targeted, as they are a quick source of a few hundred dollars when sold for scrap. Paintings are stolen for any number of reasons: famous works can be targeted for activist/political reasons, or are often used as currency by drug dealers and gangs. It is unlikely, though romantic, to think that a lot of art is stolen to order, on the whim of someone rich. There’s too much at stake when a famous work of art goes missing.
My recommended reads:
- The Rescue Artist (Edward Dolnick)
- The Art of the Steal (Christopher Mason)
- Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures (Robert K. Wittman)
“Classical music comes from the divine; pop music comes from the testicles.”
“Art is everything we don’t have to do.”
“Art is the punchline.”
“Art is safe.”
The talk was 2.5hrs that I wished would last even longer. There’s no way I could reasonably cover the entirety of Eno’s talk, but there were several points that stood out for me, as headlined in the quotes above. He was an excellent speaker, with a self-deprecating wit, and a dry sense of humour that kept me amused.