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New York, Part Two

December 26, 2010

Christina writes: Our travels in early March were planned around exhibitions at the Morgan Library and Museum, the Rubin Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and at the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Connecticut. We had only a short span of time when all of these were current, but also needed a favourable weather forecast, so that we would not encounter snowstorms which can occur in the Northeast into early April (even, sometimes, in early May). We booked our hotel about a week ahead, and began our drive south in mid-morning on 10 March. Our first stop was at the Brooks Brothers outlet store in Lee, Massachusetts, a well-timed visit as spring stock had just gone on display, including some fine pima cotton men’s sweaters. (I quite happily wears men’s sweaters when I can’t get similar ones for women, although of course I have to turn up the sleeves.) From there we went to Once Upon a Table, a favourite restaurant in Stockbridge, Mass., where we ate gnocchi, and then travelled south on the Taconic Parkway, a pleasant scenic route with no trucks (lorries) allowed and almost no development visible on either side. Just over two hours later, we reached our hotel, settled in, and went out for our evening meal: Wayne had breast of chicken Milanese, with a tomato and baby arugula salad with fresh mozzarella and lemon olive oil, while I had pan-roasted sea bass with Brussels sprouts, caramelized onions, wild mushrooms, and a cider mustard reduction. We shared a bread pudding for dessert.

The next morning, we took an early train into Grand Central Station, and as the weather was fine walked south to 18th Street. There we visited Books of Wonder, which I’ve mentioned before as a rare survival from the many children’s bookshops we used to know. I had made a note to look at any editions of Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows that were in stock, and was surprised to find very few, even those with the famous Ernest Shepard illustrations – an indication of the book’s declining popularity? or maybe just a general lack of shelf space in a crowded shop which devotes one corner to a sweets counter. This time we bought only one book, Life in the Boreal Forest by Brenda Z. Guiberson, with illustrations by Gennady Spirin – an unusual subject for an artist whose work we tend to collect, and we had wanted to see a copy to decide if we wanted to add it to our library.

From 18th Street we walked a few blocks north to the Rubin Museum, which is concerned mainly with art of the Himalayas. Although neither of us is particularly interested in that subject (though I read a certain amount about it years ago before visits to India, Nepal, and China), the Museum happened to have an exhibition called Visions of the Cosmos which included some rare European astronomy books lent by a Williams College faculty member and normally in Wayne’s care at the Chapin Library. We toured that exhibition and other displays, and ate an ethnic rice bowl lunch in the Museum cafeteria, before returning to 18th Street. We then spent some two hours in Academy Records, looking through secondhand CDs. We always spend a long time there, because there is a lot to look at, and there is usually a crowd of customers and very little space in which to move. I have a particularly difficult time of it, as most of the opera recordings which are my specialty are on high shelves, I have to stand on steps very close to them while allowing other customers to pass by, and with my glasses it’s difficult to read CD titles close-to, especially when most of them are oriented sideways. I have now been collecting long enough that I rarely find out-of-print studio items I want, but on this occasion I did add several recordings of live performances. Wayne looked at almost every section except opera, and found a few orchestral CDs; he too, with a large music collection, is experiencing diminishing returns.

We then shopped at the Brooks Brothers stores (now separate for men and women) on Madison Avenue, and had an early dinner in the nearby Madison Bistro, another of our favourite restaurants. We had the three-course prix fix, both choosing lamb shank tagine for the main course.

On Friday morning we went uptown to visit a prospective donor to the Chapin Library, then took a taxi to the Morgan Library and Museum, where we had lunch in their café: Wayne had the Pierpont Salad (grilled chicken with baby romaine, applewood-smoked bacon, haricot verts, Gala apple, and blue cheese with cider dressing), while I had the Beet Salad (marinated beets with hazelnut-crusted goat cheese, baby arugula, and spiced filberts with a white balsamic vinaigrette). Among the Morgan exhibitions, we first saw Demons and Devotion: The Hours of Catherine of Cleves, one of the main reasons for our visit to New York. The massive book about the exhibition (The Hours of Catherine of Cleves: Devotion, Demons, and Daily Life in the Fifteenth Century, ed. Rob Dückers and Ruud Priem) describes this famous book of hours as ‘illuminated with spectacular miniatures and borders in glistening gold and sumptuous colours in c. 1440 . . . arguably the most beautiful and interesting manuscript ever produced in the Northern Netherlands’. The manuscript had been disbound for conservation, which allowed most of its miniatures to be on display. We spent a long time looking at them closely.

The Morgan also had small exhibitions of contemporary Netherlandish manuscripts and of 16th-century Roman drawings, and another, larger display devoted to Jane Austen. The latter was very crowded, perhaps because it was in its final days, and for that reason a little less enjoyable. Still, we made our way around slowly, and it was interesting to see so many letters, including ones with lacunae where Jane’s sister Cassandra cut out bits she felt were too personal for posterity. I am very fond of Jane: most of my copies of Jane Austen books are ones I chose as school prizes.

By the time we left the Morgan it was raining, and rather than eating out that evening, we decided to buy sandwiches and banana cake in a nearby Prêt-a-Manger and take them back to our hotel. We both like Prêt food, and often go to a Prêt for lunch when visiting England.

On Saturday it was raining quite heavily as we made our way to the station. As usual, we took a taxi from Grand Central Station the long distance uptown to the Metropolitan Museum. The train times meant that we had to wait a little while, cowering under umbrellas, before the Museum opened, but we wanted to be there just at the opening because its main draw was another illuminated book of hours, which we wanted to be able to view closely before the gallery became too crowded. The exhibition was The Art of Illumination: The Limbourg Brothers and the Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry (catalogue by Timothy B. Husband). The Belles Heures is an earlier work by the same artists as the famous Très Riches Heures, not quite as elaborate but still very beautiful. One opening only is usually on show at the Cloisters Museum in New York, but again the volume had been disbound, and at the Metropolitan all of the miniatures were displayed, and visitors could study them in detail with magnifying glasses provided by the Museum. We spent nearly two hours going around, and as we left we noted how crowded it had become, with people waiting for magnifying glasses to be returned.

We had an early lunch in the Museum’s Petrie Court Café – Wayne had a ‘Winter Trio’ salad, I had a goat cheese salad, and we each finished with an apple crisp – then visited several other exhibitions. First we went to the small display The Mourners: Medieval Tomb Sculpture from the Court of Burgundy (catalogue by Sophie Jugie), small carved, unique figures which once processed around the platforms of Philip the Bold (1342–1419) and John the Fearless (1371–1419), Dukes of Burgundy. I had seen these when I visited Dijon years ago while on a tour of Burgundy, and was happy to see them again, very well lit and arranged. After visiting two more exhibitions, Five Thousand Years of Japanese Art from the Packard Collection and Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photo-Collage, we spent a while in the Museum shop, which offers an excellent selection of art books.

We would have walked back to midtown, but as it was still raining heavily, with gusting winds, we took a taxi to Salute!, another restaurant we like on Madison Avenue, for an early dinner. Wayne had penne with salmon and asparagus, I had braised beef ravioli with wild mushrooms and cream, and we shared a panna cotta for dessert. Afterward, the journey back to our hotel took longer than expected, as the train was twice halted due to debris on the line. The winds were now very strong – we could not use our umbrellas – so got quite wet. When we arrived back at our hotel, we discovered that it was suffering a partial power cut. With no elevator, we had to take the stairs to our room on the third floor and had no Internet access that evening, though luckily our part of the building did have light and hot water.

The next morning, we had Internet access but no hot water! We were very impressed by the way the hotel staff handled the difficult situation, and by the fact that no charge was made for our room the previous night. We had a slight alarm when neither the valet nor Wayne could get our car to move and we thought we would have to get a mechanic, but Wayne worked it out that the brakes had become stiff after three days of sitting outdoors in wet weather, and managed to free them by applying extra force. The car then gave us no trouble on our mid-morning drive to New Haven and the Yale Center for British Art. As it happened, New Haven was having its St Patrick’s Day parade that Sunday, 14 March, and once we parked the car in a multi-storey car park we had to leave it there until the parade was over and the streets open again. Fortunately, there was plenty to keep us occupied in the museum for some three hours, while the sounds of the parade outside surged and ebbed. Wayne was particularly interested in Compass and Rule: Architecture as Mathematical Practice in England and in Varieties of Romantic Experience: British, Danish, Dutch, French, and German Drawings from the Collection of Charles Ryskamp (we bought both catalogues, the former by Anthony Gerbino and Stephen Johnston, the latter by Matthew Hargreaves). I spent much of my time in the general British collection, especially admiring the many works by George Stubbs. We were both intrigued by the cabinet of curiosities, still on display, which had formed part of a previous exhibition, Promiscuous Assemblage, Friendship, & the Order of Things, celebrating the friendship of Mrs Mary Delany and the Duchess Dowager of Portsmouth. This included, inter alia, entomological and zoological specimens, objects formed of shells, Wedgwood products, Chinese and European porcelain, and rare books.

From New Haven we returned to Lee, Mass., in about two and a half hours, and had a very mediocre evening meal. An hour later, we returned home.

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