Wrapping up New York City, July 1998

Text by Michael Broschat, with Melissa Meier

On Wednesday, Melissa went off to the Mac convention, and I began on the loose itinerary I’d thought up. I went back to the public library (you know—the one you see in the movies with the lions in front), but opening was delayed until 11. So, I got another coffee, a New York Times, and sat under the trees doing things one always wants to do. Finished before 11, and went off walking around. Only to discover the real library more or less across the street. Turns out, the famous one is some kind of research institution now. The modern one has the popular books, but since people don’t read much anymore, the first floor is dedicated to audio, video, CD-ROM, etc. I found some Lord Dunsany books (the object of my search), and sat down to read for a while.

Then, I went off to the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), but, of course, it’s closed on Wednesdays. Decided it was my day to explore Central Park, and set off for that, walking along Broadway, Park Avenue, 5th Avenue, etc. Pretty cute. For those of you who only know the words, this is “midtown” Manhattan, and I was walking “uptown” from our mid-town hotel. It was raining off and on, so I didn’t spend a lot of time in the park. It’s much different from what I’d imagined. I thought it was a vast expanse of lawn. No, it’s more like a well kept jungle. Took pictures both of the park and also of the more glorious building seeming to emerge from the edge of the park.

Then, went “home,” and rested my tired feet. Had picked up tickets for Frank McCort’s “The Irish and How They Got That Way,” Melissa’s choice because of our wonderful experience listening to the audio version of his best-selling Angela’s Ashes. We met in Chelsea (another of the many districts within the city), and walked over to the theater. It’s in a less than prosperous (and clean) part of town, but we walked around the corner, and found a Chinese restaurant with real Chinese. One of them, especially, had never met a white guy who could speak Chinese, and he kept hovering around to see what this creature would do next. The food was okay.

Melissa was disappointed in the show [I thought it would be funny, but I left the theater sad; nothing wrong in that, just unexpected], but I liked it. Very much like the kind of show Bathhouse (in Seattle) has, where a bunch of songs are strung together with sometimes sorry excuses for dialogue. The performers were terrific, but so are they at the Bathhouse. The “Irish tenor” could have a part in any opera I ever stage.

Richard Powers gave us a couple other suggestions (including the show version of Titantic, for which he was an advisor), and Larry Yep suggested the show version of Lion King (for its puppetry), but the suggestions came a bit late, and we went “off off” Broadway. Melissa thinks we’ll rectify that mistake next time (which should be in early December when her friend Wendy White sings Carmen at the Met).

Home, via subway, and a couple tired not-such-kids-anymore dropped off very quickly.

Melissa decided to give the rest of the Mac show a miss [I realized I could get tapes of the sessions I would miss, the draw of the Metropolitan Museum of Art was soooo great, and I’d already seen my new PowerBook, the iMac, Douglas Adams, and Gregory Hines], so we checked out, and chanced finding parking at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in central Central Park. Wow. It’s kind of depressing just seeing this place, because it’s so enormous you know you won’t live long enough to see much of what’s inside. We did our best, especially because we had a couple goals: Melissa’s recent art history class (18th-19th C. European) and the featured exhibition—Edward Burne-Jones.

A note on the Burne-Jones. There was a movement in England in the latter half of the 19th century that looked toward the past for its inspiration [actually, the Romantic movements in England, Germany, and France, in particular, traceable back to the late 18th C, all took at least some of their inspiration from the past, and numerous weird “brotherhoods,” usually nationalistically oriented, sprung up beginning in the early 19th C]. One name is the “Pre-Raphaelites,” but there are other names. They got all caught up in King Arthur legends and the like, and ended up creating a fantasy world, really, complete with literature, painting, furniture, whatever. In pursuit of the Lord Dunsany trail that has directed many of my efforts for the past several months, I had read Well at the World’s End (a William Morris “novel” from the late 1880s). Paul Fussell had noted in his World War I and Modern Memory that every literate soldier of that war probably knew that book very well, and had expected that his war would be much like that fantasy epic. It was the incredible conflict between that expectation and the reality of what has been the most awful war to date in human history that gave rise to Lord Dunsany’s novel Don Rodriguez, which is the focus of my recent interests.

Anyway. This Burne-Jones exhibition is a magnificent collection of paintings, stained-glass, tapestries, etc. that reflect the world that at least one person has called “Victorian Medievalism.” If you know something about what they were doing, the effect is stupendous. I overheard more than one person complain of its “commercial” character, even calling it “fakes” [I find something unsettling about ‘medieval’ art created a few centuries too late, even as I enjoy the vivid colors and improved quality of the modern work]. An argument for a position I never thought I would have defended—knowing something about the world of the artist, rather than just relying on your impression or analysis of his work. Whatever.

We got out of the city before the commute got started, and therefore had an unhurried trip through upper Manhattan [past the Cathedral of St John the Divine, Riverside Church, and Grant’s Tomb]. The character of the city above lower Central Park is quite different from what we’d seen in mid-town. There are real families there, and you can imagine a comfortable life in that area. Way comfortable, in some cases. As we were parking for what proved to be a nice breakfast on Madison Avenue around 80th, we noticed lines of limosines with their chauffer drivers waiting in the streets for their masters to descend from splendorous heights and go off to what passes for work.

We made it through New Jersey (not half as bad as people say) [Edit 2014: I remember that a comment we got on this report—from Jordan Bigel, bred and reared in NYC: “It’s actually twice as bad as they say.”], and continued into Pennsylvania, our destination being Altoona (whence I am writing). It was our intention to stop for dinner in State College, home of Penn State, that, in honor of “my son” Barry, who is a graduate of same. But, just as we were about to enter State College, a town called Bellefonte loomed up and grabbed us. Cute as heck. Claims it was founded in 1795, and that the buildings are from almost that time. Whatever. They’re way cute, and it’s a delightful “small town.” We had some dinner, and walked around a bit, enjoying the kind of summer Ray Bradbury writes of in such books as Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked This Way Comes.

When we finally got to State College, we were so glad that we’d already eaten, and in relative peace. State College has no one in town more than a year over 20, and hundreds of these creatures were all over the streets (there’s some kind of summer festival going on). We couldn’t have gotten into any restaurant, ‘cause they’re sure to be checking IDs. We haven’t been that young for longer than we can remember.

Rather than taking another Interstate, though, we turned south just before I-99 and headed for Tyrone the back way, along a winding two-lane road through the most gorgeous farmland in the country. Top down, the wind in our hair, we detoured just one more time to find an exclusive girls’ boarding school hidden—and I mean hidden—in the hills east of Tyrone. We couldn’t get in to see the poetry prize laureates listed, Courtney—we’ll do that next time.

Anyway, we’re back in Altoona with DC a day away. Hope all is well with you...