It’s 8:02 a.m. on January 1, 2018.
I’m sitting at La Guardia Airport, watching the terminal TVs flash reruns of the ball dropping in Times Square and I can’t help but feel a small optimism about what’s to come.
I spent my final day of 2017 at the Metropolitan Museum, wandering the exhibits while, outside, the city marked the second-coldest New Year’s Eve ever recorded (the first was in the early 1960’s).
I started the day by braving the -13 (-17 with windchill) temperatures for a walk to Pick A Bagel, where I ordered a blueberry bagel with cream cheese but received a plain bagel with cream cheese instead. Oh well. Still a hearty start to the day and a brief reprieve from the wind.
Snowy Central Park
From there, I took the subway to near the museum of Natural History, on the east side of Central Park, and cut across the park to the Met, on the western edge. The Great Lawn was encrusted with a thin layer of snow from the day before. A few packs of brave joggers ran past me, sticking closely to the salted paths.
I arrived at the museum about a half hour after opening, paid my by-donation fee, checked my coat and made a beeline to the European painting section, assuming (correctly) that that would be home to some of the museum’s best-known works.
I immediately found myself in a room of Monets. After making a round, I continued into a room with a number of van Gogh paintings. It was interesting to see his paintings after recently watching the film Loving Vincent, which gave me a better understanding of his tumultuous life and the characters he chose to paint.
After looking at some work by Degas, Renoir and Manet (among others), I began to feel myself already fading. I was desperately thirsday, as well, so I went in search of a drink and ended up ordering a coffee (the bottled water was too pricey) to sip on a balcony overlooking the main hall, which was now filled with hundreds of people.
I couldn’t take my drink into the gallery areas, so I decided to take my time people watching and catching up on my travel journal.
After a leisurely 45 minutes, I felt ready to venture back into the fray, wandering through the European sculpture section, contemporary art, Egyptian artifacts (the seven-year-old inside of me was nerding out), and Asian art sections.
Overlooking the European Sculptures
The Temple of Dendur
The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer by Degas
Autumn Rhythym by Jackson Pollock
Wheat Field with Cypresses by van Gogh
There were some really incredible sculptures, including one in the European section of an anguished father, gazing upwards as his sons clawed at his feet. The description said he was inspired by a character in Dante’s Inferno, who was locked away with his sons and forced to decide between starvation and cannibalism. The sign did not say which option he took.
In the Asian art section was a beautiful statue of a Bodhisattva, sitting in “Water Moon” form, her arm draped gracefully across her knee. More and more I think I’m drawn to these types of depictions, perhaps recognizing something of myself in the round, open faces and small, drawn lips.
Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara in Water Moon Form (Shuiyue Guanyin)
Ugolino and His Sons, by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux
Asmat Bis Poles
After five hours inside I was hungry and tired and though there was, of course, more to see, I knew it was time to head out. Besides, there were still two key New York experiences I wanted to cram in before heading back to Ophira’s for the evening.
I didn’t have to go far for my first mission. I’d already scoped the area out ahead of time and headed straight for the Nathan’s hot dog stand outside the entrance to the museum.
I ordered a hot dog and fries, noting the fact that the contents of the bottles of coke on display outside the cart were frozen solid.
I scarfed down my meal on the corner before pulling my gloves back on and walking to a bus stop.
After some minor confusion (on my part) and impatience (on the bus driver’s part) ver the fact that I couldn’t just swipe my metro card like I did in the subway, I boarded and took a brief ride to a subway station, then transferred to a south-bound train.
By this time it was getting late and I debated going straight to the Calof’s, but nobody’s ever said I lack ambition so I opted for one last pit stop: The New York Times building.
Unfortunately the inside was closed to the public (I read online that you can usually visit the lobby, but didn’t realize that was only open on weekdays), but I still got a small thrill looking up at the structure.
Crossing items off my New York bucket list
The New York Times building
Maybe some people feel that standing in front of the NASA or Google headquarters (which I also saw the New York version of), or the White House or Parliament, but for me, the New York Times building has always symbolized the peak of my dream profession, where the best writers with the best news judgment find a home.
Nick Kristoff works there. David Carr once did. And even though I’m not in journalism anymore, per se, the dreamer in me still wonders if I’ll ever see my byline in the most reputable publication on earth.
Fired up after that one final excursion, I transited back to Ophira’s, where she was waiting, cozied up on the couch under a blanket. We ordered Thai takeout, sort of a tradition of ours, and feasted on spring rolls, pad thai (for Ophira) and glass noodles (for me) while watching the Disney movie Moana.
Her parents left to meet some friends for dinner around 7:30 and we stayed in to talk and watch Youtube videos and split a cupcake and pour some wine and cider.
We were about half an hour into Bridget Jones diary (inspired by a list of the top “New Year’s movies”) when our girls’ night was interrupted b her parents and their friends — a fast-talking local couple. The man said he’d lived in New York for “a while now…70 years.” And while I’d been enjoying our low-key night of indulgence, it was also New Year’s Eve and, in my opinion, the more the merrier.
We chatted about the highlights of my visit — The Highline and touring Williamsburg, I said — accessibility in the city, and the neighbourhood dogs, all of whom Ophira’s father know by name from his daily walks with Sirius, their family dog. We discovered that his repertoire of owner names, meanwhile, is significantly more limited.
At 15 minutes to midnight we switched off Netflix, which was still paused on a dejected-looking Renée Zellweger, and watched Mariah Carey’s comeback performance. To be honest I wasn’t too familiar with the original debacle a year ago, as I was still in the early stages of recovery back then and not too tuned into pop culture, but Ryan Seacrest seemed satisfied with her return to Times Square, declaring, “And that’s why they call her Mariah Carey.”
As the countdown on the TV came down to the last few seconds, fireworks suddenly erupted from Central Park, and we dashed to the window like the children in poem The Night Before Christmas. Meanwhile, the clock wound down on TV and the ball began to drop, slightly behind, according to the time on my phone.
Caught in the middle, I yelled, “I don’t know where to look!” But then Ophira called out “Happy New Year!” and solved my dilemma by giving me a hug.
Dario called from Ottawa but the connection was fuzzy so we just repeated “Happy New Year” and “I love you!” a few times before hanging up. Kirsty sent me a photo from Toronto, where she’d just arrived the night before, of her surrounded by Julia and Layne and company, and I messaged the Girls on the West Coast, wishing them Happy New Year from three hours in the future.
We stood by the window and watched the fireworks shatter over the skyscrapers, and then celebrated by sharing a mini-mason jar of “Empire State” cheesecake. I joked that I’d had the New York trifecta that day: bagel for breakfast, hot dog for lunch and cheesecake for dessert.
Not quite ready to call it a night, Ophira and I accompanied her dad and Sirius on a late-night walk to just within the boundaries of Central Park, just as we had on my first night in the city. Then it was back to make my bed and set an alarm for 6:30 a.m.
Too-few hours later, I said goodbye to Ophira in the morning darkness, grabbed my suitcase and new shoulder back, which Dario gave me for Christmas, and placed my red bowler hat on my head, then headed down to request and Uber from the lobby.
And now I’m en-route, back to the land of mountain air and plentiful sushi.
I’ve always loved the way that travel days force us out of our daily routines or even vacation itineraries. A few weeks ago, I had drinks with a co-worker and, in a spiralling discussion into whether we truly have free will or agency, she made a comment about how there’s no point in worrying about a plan crashing while you’re on it because once you’re off the ground there’s nothing you can do to change what will happen until you’re at your destination (unless you’re the pilot, of course).
Though you could argue there are, theoretically, endless ways we could still change a plane’s course, the basic idea stuck with me.
I think this sense of surrendering control, which is so pronounced when we cram into a plane with a hundred other passengers and watch the cities we’re leaving shrink into abstraction, is what makes long travel days such a perfect time for reflection. And to start a new year in this (literally) suspended state feels like a gift.
I am leaving somebody I love, enriched by new experiences in a new city. And I am leaving a year that has held immense challenges and, in the end, much joy and success.
I am going home, over the mountains, to a city I love (everybody in New York said I should move there, but, maybe they’re never looked, breathless, over Lake Garibaldi or at a West Coast sunset). I am going towards another year, one that I hope will be filled with more loved ones, more cities and more plane rides.
As a certain Disney character sings, “There’s just no telling how far I’ll go.”
Bring it, 2018.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The New York Times Building
Pick A Bagel
Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs