After sleeping around 5 hours, I woke up early and hit the gym, preparing for the day. With the sky still dark, I went for a walk to get some coffee from the Starbucks around the corner from the hotel. While cradling the warm cup in my hands, I sat on the bench and watched the New Yorkers rush by, all rugged up against the chill of winter, making their way to work. I began to wonder what their lives were like. Did they work in an office? Were they happy? How do New Yorkers survive the long bitterly cold winter without going crazy? As much as I love visiting New York, living here would be a different story. I do not think I could do it. The mad rush of traffic, both human and mechanical would eventually drive me mad. New York is indeed the city that never sleeps.
Sufficiently fueled by food and caffeine, we made our way through the freezing morning, careful not to slip on the black ice, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As I arrived on the steps of the Met I thought of Holden in `Catcher in the Rye’. Holden loved the museum. Because nothing changes. He stresses over the ducks in Central Park because they leave during the winter. He loves the ducks in the museum because they are always there. This reveals his desire for routine and stability.
Lauren was our guide from the Museum and she took us on a tour of some of the best American art that connects with the texts that we have been studying. We started with early 18th Century paintings of George Washington, which included a huge painting of `Washington crossing the Delaware’ (which funny enough was recreated in a hilarious scene later that night in `Waitress’).
While looking at these paintings, a group of school children entered the room and I couldn’t help but imagine Phoebe Caulfield among the group. We then looked at the 19th Century works, in particular, John Singer Sargent and his portraits. I was very much taken by his `Madame X’ portrait.
When the painting first appeared at the Paris Salon in 1884, people were shocked and scandalized. Sargent kept the work for 30 years and in 1916, sold the painting to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, stating. “I suppose it is the best thing I have ever done”.
We were then introduced to the amazing `America Today’ by Thomas Benton.
Offering a view of American life throughout the 1920s, America Today is a room-sized mural comprising ten canvas panels. It starts in New York City and moves South and West, through farms and forests and oil fields. The progression is delightfully theatrical. The New York City scenes, especially, seem like a Broadway show: A minister preaches as burlesque dancers shimmy; prizefighters slug it out; men eye up a woman on the subway, and a couple makes out frantically by the Coney Island roller coaster.
After our tour, I continued to explore the Museum for a while before exiting back onto 5th Ave. I realised that I was near East 81St so decided to head down to number 152. Madonna’s house. She wasn’t home.
With the Museum visit still fresh in my mind, I thought about the woman who lived in this house and the impact she has had on my life. As a child of the 80s, I was first introduced to Madonna when I was 10 years old. Through her love of art, I was able to discover many artists such as Frida Kahlo and New York artists Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. Madonna’s art collection is said to be worth more than $100 million dollars and includes works by Kahlo, Picasso and Warhol.
I made my way back to midtown via Central Park, ate a hot dog while enjoying the snow covered hills. I walked past the Central Park Zoo and again was reminded of Holden. I sat on a bench and thought about the second last chapter of the book when Holden watches Phoebe go around on the carousel:
I was damn near bawling, I felt so damn happy, if you want to know the truth. I don’t know why. It was just that she looked so damn nice, the way she kept going around and around, in her blue coat and all. God, I wish you could’ve been there.
It dawned on me that this is the only time in the entire novel that Holden actually states that he is happy. Watching Phoebe on the carousel he seems to come to the realisation that life is about trying to maintain a sense of innocence, a sense of wonder of the world, even when everything seems to be bad and falling apart. Life is about moments shared.
As I came out of my thoughts, I realised I was smiling. I took a moment to stand and take in my surroundings, before pulling my coat collar around my ears in an effort to keep warm. I continued on my way.