"Thus open the gates of paradise."

In this issue

New York City -- Fall 1999

06 Apr 2002

A coworker twists a desk lamp so that it shines directly into my eyes. "Why do you want to go to New York?" she demands.

Why indeed. Mostly to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

"And what's so special about them?"

I have it on good authority that they have lots of really nice stuff from Ancient Egypt. And so, I called on my friend Dave to join me in endless stultifying hours of looking at very old sculptures and mummies. He foolishly agreed, and thus a road trip was born.

We took the train from Aldershot (outside of Toronto) into Penn Station, New York. It left around 10:30 in the morning, and arrived around 10:30 at night. Which is fine, as long as you don't mind being aboard a train for 12 hours. At the six hour mark, Dave asked me how much longer. I mumbled that we'd be another six hours. "So you're saying we're half way there?" I didn't have the heart to say.

The view from the hotel

The view from the hotel room.
New York: "Hole", or "Pit" --
You be the judge.

We stayed at the fashionable Habitat hotel which is both modest and clean. It's in Manhattan, just down the block from Bloomingdales, and within easy reach of a Starbucks. But I guess that's not saying much because everywhere in Manhattan is within easy reach of a Starbucks. I tried to count them all in the taxi ride ride to the hotel, but I lost count. It looks like those university degrees weren't worth the paper they were written on.

Back to the hotel: their claim to fame, apart from their convenient location and modest price was that they were able to fit a bed, sink, and colour television set into every room, no matter how small, a feat that must have involved the bending of space, or at least folding it up neatly and stowing it in the linen closet. Beggsy (Dave) took a picture of it; I decided there simply was not room. And so I hung out the window and took the picture at right, looking down. Waaay down. From our suite on the 13th floor, there was no telling what lay at the bottom.


Day 1: Central Park and The Metropolitan Museum of Art

We started the day by skipping the continental breakfast offered by the hotel (Miniature muffins. How appropriate) and dropped into a convenient Starbucks for a coffee and cinnamon scone. The coffee was fabulous, and strangely, about the same price as I would expect to pay back home in Canada. Except that they were asking for US dollars. This will happen a lot. But the coffee was hot and tasty, and the scone proved to be an excellent travelling companion for the next couple of days as it took up residence in my knapsack.

Central Park
Central Park

I couldn't get over how pleasant Central Park was. Just steps away from the busy road, you could look at trees, and sun, and maybe even spot some wildlife.

And tourists who insist on trying to take arty photographs.


We spend the rest of the day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. If you've never been there, all you need to know is that it's huge. Vast. And that's just the Egyptian gallery. It's room after room of stunningly nice artifact after the next. And just when you think you've seen all of the really prime stuff, you wander through a doorway and come face to face with a couple of red granite sphinxes of Hatshepsut. Go through another room, and see something that makes you think there's some mistake -- a temple surrounded by a reflecting pool in an space large enough for an Olympic sized swimming pool.

Dave, Explorer
Dave, the Explorer

I took a picture of Dave there, saying that I'd make him look like an explorer.

I'd just finished taking a course on reading hieroglyphs, so I was bounding around from stelae to coffin saying, "I can read that, you know. Do you want to know what it says?" Over and over again, which was a treat for Dave, I'm sure. But what a blast to be able to read stuff that 6 months ago was just art. The only drawback is that it really slows you down. I used to be able to stroll casually though a gallery, seeing only pretty carvings, but now that I can actually read some of them, I'm compelled to stop at every one and try to make out what it says.

That evening, we eat what would be the worst meal in New York at a very nasty pizza slice shop masquerading as a proper restaurant. Here's a snippet of conversation:

Me: Do you know the taste of freezer burn?
Dave: No.
Me: Have some of my ravioli then.

Later, as I was about to filch one of his meatballs:

Dave: Don't put that in your mouth!
Me: I want to taste it. (I do so). What part of the cow does this come from?
Dave: Cow??

We resolve to spend part of the next day scouting out a decent place to eat dinner.


Day 2: The Brooklyn Museum Of Art and Times Square

After almost overdosing on Egyptian stuff the day before, I wonder if seeing more is a good idea. Especially since it's out in Brooklyn, and I only have a very vague idea of where it is. But being male, that was no impediment to our setting out. Forty-five minutes underground, switching from one subway line to another, we eventually ended up at the museum.

It's not a very welcoming place. At least not the day we were there. They ran us through a metal detector on the way in, and to this day I'm not sure why. Were they afraid I was packing heat and had it in for some Afro-American art? No other museum I've been to has gone so far to make it difficult to find your way around. You shouldn't have to wonder, "Where do I go" when in the lobby. Over to one side there's a dodgy looking staircase that must least somewhere, right?

Climb three floors and you end up in a room that was largely empty, but had a couple of Egyptian statues and (carved) heads. The display cases were a bit dusty, and many were empty. After the opulence of the Met, I couldn't help thinking we'd made a mistake in coming. There was no one there, and -- well. I'd seen better.

And then we found the real Egyptian gallery, which was in the next room over. My my my. Lovely carvings from the Amarna period with rays from Aten touching the people below. And then a large room with the most beautiful coffins I've ever seen, looking as if they had been finished the artisans sometime last week. Everything they have has colour on it. Paint, or lapis, or glass inlays. Gorgeous stuff, well lit.

If you go, be sure to take a look at a sandy coloured head from a statue of the King (from the Ptolometic period, the exact identity was unknown). It's mounted at about head level so you can look him eye to eye. He's smiling just a bit, and likeness is so life-like that I expected him to burst out laughing at any moment.

Dave bails to the cafeteria. "You'll want to see the stuff in the next room," he tells me, jerking his thumb over his shoulder. "There's more?"

Yup. A mummy. A wooden shrine. Shrines, plural. And everything in colour. There's no time to read the description cards; there was only time to look and gawk.

Later... A bit of shopping and pure touristy stuff. We shoot for Times Square and come close enough. There's construction everywhere, and none of it looks a thing like I remember from the last time I was here. The adult video stores are all gone, and in their place: Starbucks. I guess that's progress. We walk back to the hotel, nap.

The meal I enjoyed most was in a restaurant three doors down from the hotel. Definitely not fancy, but I wanted to eat everything I saw. I think I was just in one of those states of mind where you want to taste everything even though you're full to bursting. Which after a nice chicken cordon bleu, some spinach, mashed potatoes, salad, and bun -- I definitely was. Desert! Yeah. Good idea. I'll have what that woman over there just ordered. It's huge and looks tasty. "And where you put that?" I'm asked. Never dine with the voice of reason.

Just for yucks, here's a night time picture from the hotel room. The building in the upper right at the street intersection is Bloomingdales.

New York by night
Near Lexington and East 57th


Related Web Sites

VIA Rail Canada
The Habitat Hotel
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Brooklyn Museum of Art