Saturday, July 24, 2010

Hello from Hotsville

Before I started my vacation I said I probably wouldn't blog much but I wasn't thinking about what the real reason would turn out to be. It's too damned hot. (Kiss Me, Kate! Or no, please don't, it's too hot for any bodily contact.) As a result of recent household budgetary cutbacks, we no longer have a wireless internet connection, and the computer desk is in the hottest corner of our apartment, to which I've been unable to chain myself for more than a few minutes at a time. Has there been a day that hasn't hit or surpassed 90 degrees? I don't think so. Today is one of the worst, but I've moved the fan so it's looming right on top of me, and let's see if I can't endure this for long enough to get a few things said.

One success I've managed during this break is getting myself to some museums and looking at some art. Twice, amazingly, the first week, and once the second.

My first stop was at the Morgan Library and Museum. Not without mixed feelings, naturally. This spot houses the collection of the most larcenous of the robber barons, old J.P. himself, houses it, partly, in his old Madison Avenue mansion. So I knew I'd be sort of half sick the whole time. But really that's no different than most of this town's museums, all of them built on plundered riches. You have to swallow down your bile and get on with it if you're ever going to look at the art. I'd never been to the Morgan before, and have meant to forever, but I made a stupid mistake. At the front desk they told me that "Mr. Morgan's library is closed for renovation" but that the museum section with all the current special exhibits was open. Hothead that I am, I kept too busy smirking and whispering to myself nasty comments about "Mr. Morgan" to take in what this meant--that the very material I'd always wanted to see is what's housed in the thief's currently closed library. That is, all the fascinating manuscripts, stuff like Thoreau's handwritten journals, Byron's letters, etc., is exactly what my $12 entrance fee wouldn't buy me. Once I figured that out, I'd already paid and begun looking around, so ah well, I took in what there was to take in.

Starting with a foreshortened viewing of what was billed as an introductory film about the library and museum. Made it through only about four minutes of that. Four minutes of high-culture talking heads extolling Pierrepont's virtues as a lover of art, with the quickest, most euphemistic reference to the source of his riches. Something about his "success" in "steel, banking and other industries." Could ya puke, or what?
No matter. Onward.

I did take in an interesting, though small, exhibit of drawings and etchings by Albrecht Duhrer that I liked a lot. And a fun exhibit of "romantic gardens" and books and art inspired by them, all this quirky demented stuff from England, France and Germany from the 1800s mostly. It ended with some U.S. material, saving the best for last: the original proposals for Central Park by Olmsted and Vaux, the actual drawings, plans, prints, etc. Of course all of this is packed with political meaning. The English gardens directly related to the flowering of colonialism. The history of Central Park rife with racism, super-exploitation of labor, and the most snobbish class elitism you can imagine--the place was supposed to be a retreat where the moneyed swells could get a break from the hoi polloi. Good to see and lots to think about. But not lots to see, what with Mr. Morgan's library off limits and all, so I was finished earlier than I'd hoped and emerged into the heat of the day. What to do, what to do? What I decided to do was walk the few short blocks to the main library and hang out there for a while.

There too I encountered many annoyances, starting with whatever the hell monstrosity they're constructing out front that blocks the beautiful old facade--what are they doing? what can they be thinking?--and extending to the naming frenzy that seems to have taken hold since I l
ast visited, which has the whole library building itself and every room and bench within it now bearing the moniker of some thief who bought the bragging rights. Grrr. Do we not pay taxes? Why must our public treasures be auctioned off to these parasites? Come now, we all know the answer. Our taxes go for war and occupation, for bank bailouts and tax breaks to corporations. The richest person in New York City is the mayor of New York City. Do people throughout the country know this? Do folks see what an extreme state things have come to, where the bankers and biggest of the big bourgeoisie have taken direct control of state power? It's as if we're in the Florence of the Medicis. Anyway, this is the context for the wonderful beautiful main library being auctioned off piece by piece--or, in P.R.-speak, not being able to survive on public funding and being saved by generous benefactors. Yecch. And grrr again.

That off my chest, I must also say oh my. How I love the main reading room. I'd forgotten. Somehow years had passed since I last used it, and I'd forgotten how gorg
eous it is, how wondrous and special.

There is the architectural grandeur. That drop-dead-gorgeous ceiling. There is the cool air whooshing through. The high windows and somehow perfect lighting. The spaciousness that engulfs you so you don't feel crowded no matter how many people are sitting at those rows and rows of long tables. Magical. So that's how I finished that afternoon, sitting and reading (although the "reading room" is actually a work and research room, most people using it to work) and looking about me and remembering what a lucky girl I am to have a nice paid vacation and a big pile of books to get through.

I'll get to that, the books I've read, and also to my other artsy adventures, in upcoming posts if and when the heat lets up. Meanwhile, I'm heading to the Astoria Pool! Another NYC public treasure--hey, I'm surprised they haven't named it after some billionaire yet--oh wait, oops, Astoria itself is named after another 19th century scoundrel, John Jacob Astor, the first multi-millionaire in U.S. history--well, anyway, the city pools are great, and the Astoria Pool is I believe the greatest of them all.

It was a WPA project, and it is absolutely beautiful. Can't wait to cool off, for free!