Here's a blast from the past...
Summer in New York City and the heat was just unbearable. And yet we were out walking the streets and avenues, doing our own version of the Theater Tour in Broadway’s Theater District when we decided to take a breather near the historic Ziegfeld Theater at the intersection between 54th Street and 6th Avenue (a.k.a. Avenue of the Americas since 1945 but Mayor La Guardia’s ploy did not catch up with New Yorkers. Hence, 6th Avenue is still 6th Avenue until now).
It was one of those days that can easily classify as a Dog Day Afternoon (No, I am not about to do a stunt ala Al Pacino in that Sidney Lumet film although I am tempted to shout “Attica!” in the midst of this August heat) and a bottle of Gatorade chased by cold water from a Dasani bottle did not help that much to quench our thirst and ignore the heat.
We have been walking since 9 o’ clock in the morning from our not-so- comfy room at the Skyline Hotel, a three- star structure located at Hell’s Kitchen in West Manhattan.
To the uninitiated, Hell’s Kitchen is where the Sharks and the Jets once hold court as well as where Tony and Maria immortalized Somewhere in Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story (Ok, Arthur Laurents penned the book and Stephen Sondheim wrote the lyrics) and is now also known as Clinton (yes, you can bet your bottom dollar that it was because of Bill moving in the neighborhood) or simply Midtown West to New Yorkers.
Then while sitting in one of the empty benches, my eyes wandered around the area which by the way is a normal thing for this wide- eyed wanderer (sorry, Sir Elton, gotta borrow the lines somehow) and caught the billboards of the theater where The Great Raid movie was being advertised and saw a picture of Cesar Montano in one of those glass- enclosed casings.
Now, what is the chance that it will ever happen again in that hallowed place in Midtown Manhattan wherein a fellow Pinoy’s picture was prominently displayed in that prestigious and historic building where Broadway Musicals like Kismet, Showboat and of course, the Ziegfeld Follies just to name a few once called home? Nil, Nada, Zip, I guess.
So, we did what every normal tourist in the Big Apple was expected to do-- point and shoot, point and shoot until we decided that it was time to continue with our adventure under the hot afternoon sun.
Then in the corner of my eye I caught a very long and winding line of tourists and New Yorkers alike queuing towards the door of a building which turned out to be the Museum of Modern Art on 53rd street between 5th and 6th Avenues.
Our curiosities picked, we decided (again!) to follow our instinct as well, and we fell in line just like the rest and found out that the museum entrance fee of $20 was waived for the day courtesy of Target, the department store chain.
Now, we were actually planning to visit the museum the next day but only a fool will pass this kind of opportunity not only that it was free (and there’s no such thing as free without strings attached in America nowadays) but because it was the MoMA, people!
I’ve visited a lot of Museums in the past and this was the first time that I have seen such a place crawling with noisy and boisterous people far from the usual reserved crowd that I have encountered. There was chaos as hordes of eager- beavers flocked into one gallery after another while posing for pictures beside or in front of masterpieces for posterity under the watchful eyes of worried security people.
We bided our time and did the same thing when the crowd moved to another place to explore while we decided to do it on our own phase and leisurely scour the museum and enjoy the beautiful paintings. We soaked every thing and were lost in the moment as we were re- acquainted with the works by artists that we have only seen in books, posters and magazines before.
So, we marveled at the unique style of abstract expressionism by Jackson Pollock as we tried to decipher the complexity of his brain in his paintings especially the huge One: Number 31. 1950.
We were in awe at Vincent Van Gogh’s The Starry Night and its day time companion The Olive Trees and as if I could hear him saying just as his words came out flowing like in his letter to his brother Theo on how the painting was conceived, “This morning I saw the country from my window a long time before sunrise, with nothing but the morning star, which looked very big.”
Now, I can’t fault the singer- songwriter Don McLean for paying homage to him in his song Vincent wherein the song and the songwriter were in turn credited for influencing the Roberta Flack’s song Killing Me Softly. Urban legend or not, it was still a good story.
Claude Monet’s Reflection of Clouds on the Water- Lily Pond was a testament to the French Impressionist’s keen sense and perception of nature’s unequal beauty. I also saw his Gladioli at the Detroit Institute of Arts years back and to say that I was quite impressed is an understatement. He was simply one of the best impressionists in my book.
The imaginative mind of the Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali was highly evident in The Persistence of Memory (his most famous works) and Illumined Pleasures while Paul Gauguin depicted Tahitian life in the late 1800s to early 1900s in his paintings. He professed his love for the island and its people by living there until his death. It was ironic that he died of syphilis, but it just probably mirrors how the artist a proponent of “Synthetism” lived his live there.
Of course a visit at the MoMA was not complete without mentioning Señor Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Martyr Patricio Clito Ruiz y Picasso or maybe we should spare ourselves from the tongue- twister and let’s just call him Pablo Picasso for short.
Together with Georges Braque they pioneered Cubism in the 20th century and looking into one of his masterpieces that depict the five prostitutes in a brothel, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon gave us a glimpse of his genius and we can completely understand why he revolutionized the art world back in the day. Now, if only I can afford to visit the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid to see his other masterpiece, Guernica. I’ll gladly do it in a heartbeat.
Our eyes further feasted on the wide array of priceless artworks from gallery to gallery-- Andy Warhol, Willem de Kooning, Paul Cézanne, Marc Chagall, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Georgia O’ Keefe, Edvard Munch, Henri Matisse, Joan Miró, Constantin Brancusi…
And the list was endless and we were having a good time.
Oh by the way, did I mention that our visit also coincided with a major exhibition entitled the Pioneering Modern Painting: Cézanne and Pissarro 1865- 1885? It gave us a deeper look on the parallel artistic relationships between the two impressionist giants.
I don’t know how long we were inside the museum but time passes without you noticing it especially when you were in some sort of a time warp; lost in the sea of the art world’s most beautiful creations.
But all good things must come to an end, in this case in the form of a cell phone vibrating inside my pocket. The call was from an old friend who’s been living in New York for the last ten years and who has never been to the MoMA even though she works in Manhattan and lives in Queens. She asked us to meet her at the Toys “R” Us Times Square to catch up on things and have a dinner at the nearby McDonalds before she retires for the night.