The City as Spectacle

“What strange phenomena we find in a great city, all we need to do is stroll about with our eyes open.”

Charles Baudelaire, French poet, 1869 (from MoMA photography exhibit)

In early April I found myself at a mid-level hotel in mid-town Manhattan. My husband, Jon, was busy helping his mom with some projects and my son, Aaron, had virtual meetings with his college advisor and some studying to do on his spring break. The reason for our visit was to celebrate my mother-in-law’s birthday. But the party wasn’t until Saturday night. I had eight days stretching before me.

I’m no wide-eyed tourist. I lived in New York for seven years before moving to San Francisco. I know how to hold my bag close to my body, stride confidently through the ever-changing zigzag of crosswalks with their walk and don’t walk signs and construction tunnels, and not gawk at tall buildings or store windows. I had no plans to see Broadway musicals or visit 30 Rock.

But with an inner clock still set to California time and many of the sights within walking distance, I became a hybrid visitor: in the city but not of it. Some things I remembered and some were new. I walked, and I saw. Ten city blocks equals a mile. What’s ten blocks? I kept going and going, logging at least 45 miles during my stay.

I saw buildings eating other buildings.

This was the view from our first hotel room. We changed rooms when it became apparent that the jackhammers would begin every morning at 7:00.

I was intrigued by this “empty” building.

And books and poetry in masquerade

At the hotel:

The breakfast room was set up like a library, with books and photographs on New York City history facing the pastries and coffee.

At the party:

The room in the restaurant was posing as a library, with collections of books grouped so their combined spines exhibited a unified illustration or word. As a book lover, I was compelled to take a few off the shelf to see if they were blank inside. They were real hardbound classics of the Jane Eyre type, but repurposed into decor with imposter book jackets. Dopplegangers. Books eating other books.

At Rye Playland: A Poetry Walk

I escaped Manhattan for a day to visit my friend Mary in Westchester. We walked the trails along the water at Rye Playland (east coast counterpart to California’s Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk) and were delighted to find a newly installed poetry exhibit integrated into the landscape in interesting ways all along the walk.

You can’t really see it here, but there were poems running along the “walls” of the walk.

Back in the city, I visited the New York Public Library

I’d walked by the lions many times over the years, but somehow thought the library was off-limits to all but scholars doing serious academic research with protective gloves. The inside of the building is amazing and beautiful, and of course all the other “tourists” found it, too. A fantastic exhibit showcased gems from the library’s collection, like a handwritten page from Maya Angelou’s coming-of-age memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

A few notable “steps” on the Library Walk

A “Library Walk” leads up to the building with engraved jewels like these:

Bookstore Windows

From one window, American Mermaid beckoned. After all, my book The Siren Dialogues features a mermaid/siren so I like to keep up with my comps. (It was a very fun read.)

Broadway Bound

Very unexpectedly I did end up attending a musical: A Beautiful Noise, which employed Neil Diamond’s song book and lyrics to tell the story of his life and career. Yep, another BOOK in disguise.

And then there was completely surprising “poetry” in the streets

Where art, advertising and the city clash and come together…

Tuesday, April 4 Trump was being arraigned. I was walking down Madison Avenue on my way to the MoMA and passed TV reporters and cameras trained on 56th Street toward the Trump Tower entrance….

I crossed to the other corner and immediately saw this window display.

And here’s an iconic slogan, but SO BIG and BRIGHT!

This eye caught my eye. A statement? Command?


The MoMA

I finally made it to the MoMA, only seven blocks from our hotel. I was a little shocked to find so many tourists obsessed with Instagramming their visit, making themselves the subjects and the artwork just the background. And unfortunately their camera phones became the “subject” for the rest of us as they blocked the paintings. Forget about getting anywhere near Van Gogh’s Starry Night. Lots of other people took pictures of the most famous artworks rather than actually looking at them. It really IS different to see them in person. Isn’t the point of going to the museum to experience the originals? I spent quality time with some great works in the quieter corners. It was nice to be drawn into a work and just be with it. Here are a few of my non-mobbed favorites from the day. Georgia O’Keefe really doesn’t translate in a photograph. *Disclaimer: These facsimiles are for illustration purposes only, when I wasn’t blocking anybody.

Georgia O’Keefe: Abstraction Blue (You really have to see it in person)
Marcel Duchamp: Bicycle Wheel. (I didn’t do any biking while in NYC, but it was nice to see this.)
Paula Modersohn-Becker: Self-Portrait with Two Flowers in Her Raised Left Hand
Paul Gauguin: The Moon and the Earth
David Alfaro Siqueriros: Etnografia (Ethnography)

The Asia Society: Variations of Hell

I was walking by, so I went in. Somehow I always think I will enjoy these types of things more than I do. (i.e. the Body Worlds exhibit, and the Torture Museum in Prague. Nightmares for weeks after both of those.) It was interesting, but scenes of everlasting torture are never very fun.

And finally, I had this over-the-top (literally) New York experience with Jon and Aaron: the ultimate in views and reflections at Summit 1 Vanderbilt next to Grand Central Station: Looking down instead of up at the city.

You might be surprised that Aaron is the only one of us three not holding a phone here. It was really hard not to take a million pictures!

Sometimes it’s all in the eye of the beholder….

13 thoughts on “The City as Spectacle

  1. Thank you for sending. Loved every drop!!

    Maurine Killough
    You are not IN the Universe you ARE the universe—an intrinsic part of it.
    Ultimately you are not a person, but a focal point where the universe is becoming conscious of itself. What an amazing miracle.—Eckhart Tolle

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lisa, what a visual, sensuous, and thoughtful trip report! I felt a little like I got to take the trip with you guys. I love the Georgia O’Keefe! “Abstraction Blue” is a favorite.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What fun to live vicariously through the abundantly illustrated story of your stay! It’s been a long time since I visited Manhattan. It is a lot of fun. But my favorite was probably the poetry installation at the Rye Playland. I always love it when somebody official decides that poetry belongs out in the world!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks, Audrey. Rye Playland was really cool, because whoever chose the poetry did not just go the obvious cliche route but matched really beautiful and intriguing poems with different areas of the trail and on different kinds of surfaces and displays. One poem went up a tree.


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