Thoughts From Places: My First Solo Trip to NYC

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

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My First Solo Trip to NYC

 A little bit of spring in the concrete jungle.
 A little over a month ago I found myself getting onto a Megabus bound for New York City at 3 in the morning by myself. I had never done anything like this before. I had never gone anywhere by myself and people kept asking me: aren't you scared? Simply, the answer is no. To be honest, nothing had ever felt so right. I needed to get away from my life in Buffalo, even if it was only for a little while. I needed to prove to myself that I could do something, anything, on my own. I needed to do something to forget; to forget my anxiety, my sadness, my recent past, and my unknown future. And throughout my whole trip, which was a little under 48 hours in total, I was only afraid or anxious once. And that was for a brief moment on the way there when I had a horrible vision of the bus that was currently speeding me forward on a dark highway getting into a crash. However, I very quickly pushed that aside and moved on. For I was a girl on a mission. Well, actually, three missions of sorts.

Mission One: see Vincent Van Gogh's Starry Night.

            To do this I had to make my way to 53rd Street. Before I left, I mapped out every route I had to take. Almost obsessively so in that I wrote down which way to turn at corners and things like that. So I knew that when the Megabus dropped me off I also knew that there was a subway station just down the block and that if I got on the 1 train I would be going in the right direction and that I was to get off at 50th, then walk the rest of the way. Except that when I went down into the station there were five cops and one of them politely said, “Sorry, Miss, there aren’t any trains today,” which probably should have alarmed me. Normally, I would have panicked over why there were cops to begin with, was something going on, what was I supposed to do now that they blocked the only option I had researched and how was I going to get to the Modern Museum of Art now? Here I was in a huge city all by myself with a carefully planned out map and not even three minutes into my journey some cop had thrown a wrench in my plan. But instead of panicking, I just went back up to street level, made my way to 5th, and just got on a different train. Even a month later I am still startled by how unalarmed I was. I had come a long way.

            Needless to say, I got to the Museum of Modern Art in one piece. I had decided that instead of just aimlessly wandering around the huge museum I would write down which galleries the paintings I wanted to see were in. I love the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists and all their works were on the fifth floor. First, I found Monet’s works which had an entire gallery to themselves. I was astounded to see how LARGE his Water Lilies 1914-26 was. It took up an entire wall of the gallery! And while it was very impressive and beautiful it wasn’t what I came to see. So after wandering around the fifth floor and still hadn’t stumbled upon even one Van Gogh painting I asked a passing guard where to go. I was on the wrong side of the floor.

I went where the guard pointed and found Van Gogh’s Portrait of Joseph Roulin and The Olive Trees. I love Vincent Van Gogh more than any other artist, living or dead. I know that most people say that because he is the only artist they know so saying your favorite artist is Van Gogh has become very cliché. And yet I don’t care. I love Van Gogh for so many reasons. I love his use of color and how thick his paint always was. I love how he saw the world differently and how that made him incredibly lonely. I love that he taught himself how to paint and his relationship with his art dealer brother, Theo. I also know that most people who say that Van Gogh is their favorite only know about him because he cut off his ear because he was “crazy” and that makes me incredibly sad. And with all of that in mind I took in those two paintings and felt an almost overwhelming sense of pride in the fact that Van Gogh was being honored at museums around the world.
Me and Starry Night

I stood and took in those paintings for about 5 minutes, but I knew that the time had come to see the painting I had been dreaming about since the 5th grade. I turned and walked a few paces to my right and there it was: Starry Night. If saying that Van Gogh is your favorite artist is cliché saying that Starry Night is your favorite painting of his is doubly so, but once again I don’t care. Starry Night has been my favorite painting since my 5th grade art teacher asked us to draw our own version of it. Ever since that day I have been obsessed with both the painting and the man who seemingly poured his soul into it. And yet I knew that Van Gogh really didn’t even care for this painting, he would probably be astounded and confused as to why it is his most famous work now. I stood there looking at this painting that I had admired for 13 or so years and I cried. I couldn’t believe that I was finally there but while I stood there all I could think about was how I couldn’t believe that I was close enough to finally confirm my suspicion that the oil paint was really, just absurdly thick. I spent 20 minutes near the painting. I think the guards were convinced I was actually casing the joint, Heist Society style. I asked a guy around my age to take a photo of me in front of it, then returned the favor for him. I took zoomed in photos of the stars and the church, the hills and the moon, and I took several shots of other people just looking at the painting. After I tore myself away from Van Gogh I just wandered around for a few minutes, found a quiet place to sit and wrote most of what you just read above.

Mission Two: see Patience and Fortitude, the NYCPL's stone lion ambassadors.
Me and Patience

            Next I walked down 5th Ave to 42nd Street to the Main Branch of the New York Public Library, the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. The first time I went to New York, 5 years ago with my High School’s Italian Club (which you can read about here) we drove past the library and I would have killed for them to stop the bus and let me out to see those infamous marble Lions up close. I vowed then that the next time I went to the City nothing would stop me from seeing them and from going inside the building they had guarded for so many years. And, oh! The treasures inside that building! Once I got there I took photos in front of Patience and Fortitude.

 I went in and wandered around until I found the Children’s section. There I saw huge Lego versions of the lions and more importantly Winnie the Pooh. NYPL has in their collection the actual stuffed toys of Pooh, Piglet, Kanga, Eeyore, and Tigger that the real Christopher Robin played with that inspired A.A. Milne to write his classic tales. As I looked at these love worn toys, I thought about how society’s view of those characters have changed, especially, when it came to Piglet. E.H. Shepard’s illustrations basically captured the essence of the other characters, but he changed the way Piglet was seen. Why? Because the real Piglet toy was terrifying! And while I am grateful he changed his look it also made me sad that he was changed due to looks. I realize that these thoughts are probably too in depth to be made about stuffed animals, but I kept coming back to that idea of society’s ideals and how they even extended to a children’s book character.

Christopher Robin's Toys

After seeing Pooh and his gang of stuffed buddies I decided to just wander around. The building was huge and absolutely astoundingly majestic, nothing like the Central Library back home with its purposefully nondescript design. The fountains at the NYPL’s were even majestic in that they were lion’s heads! The famous Rose Reading Room was closed for renovation and it being Sunday many of the other rooms were closed as well, but that did not stop me from getting lost! However, while I wandered I noticed something: the only books I had seen up to that point where the books in children’s section that could be checked out. Where were the books? This was a public library for Heaven’s sake and not a single adult book to be found! I was just about to pull out my map to see if there was some kind of special room that I had missed,
A Gutenberg Bible
when out of the corner of my eye I saw a rather large book in a glass case. I went over and gasped when I realized what I had stumbled upon. I was standing there gazing at a Gutenberg Bible. Then I laughed. I found a freakin’ copy of the first book to be printed via the press, the book that changed the course of book history, and yet I couldn’t find the mystery novels. The irony was overwhelming. I never did find any other books, either. I heard another girl ask a guard where the books where and he seemed genuinely confused by her question! Like why would there be books in a library?! He sent her to room four hundred something and I looked it up on my map and it seemed like a very tiny closet of some sort. I decided not to follow her because it all seemed a bit sketchy. After the Bible I didn’t think I would find anything to top it so I left that amazing building with all its treasure and caught the next bus to my hotel.

As for Mission Three? The mission that started this whole affair to begin with? Well, you'll have to read the next blog post to find out.

(It should be posted on BWE tomorrow and will be linked here as soon as it is available.)