Sitting in what must be one of the most beautiful writing locations in the city — a balcony overlooking the main hall of the Met. I arrived here about 40 minutes ago and took a quick spin around the extensive European painting collection – pausing to absorb some pieces by Monet, van Gogh, Degas and even two by Klimt. But I felt myself fading fast and went in search of coffee. I have all day here, so I might as well pace myself.
Yesterday I woke up to a very grey skyline, bundled up, and stepped out into the snow. Luckily, after some clear-but-very-cold days, the blanket of clouds provided some insulation, raising the temperature to a balmy minus four degrees Celsius.
I took the subway to 23rd Street station and walked a couple blocks, then up a set of stairs to the High Line.
I read not to attempt the popular path on a weekend, when, according to the listicle of “10 mistakes tourists make in New York City,” locals flock to the re-imagined train tracks. But the snow was on my side.
There were only a handful of other tourists and the scene was very picturesque, the wooden slats beneath my feet and the bare tree trunks poking up between the tracks, all dusted in snow, and the skyline muted.
I headed south, planning to double back and grab lunch at the Chelsea Market. But I hit the end of the line around 10:30 a.m. — too early to seek food.
I walked down to street level, planning to poke around some shops, but ended up at the doors of the Whitney Museum. After my failed attempt to get into MoMA, it seemed like fate.
I bought a ticket and walked around a small exhibit of prints on the third floor, before taking the elevator to the seventh floor for a free tour of the exhibit there: a selection from the museum’s collection, inspired by a W.H. Auden poem and titled “Where We Are.”
The guide was a fantastic, wiry little man who kept insisting we get closer to the artwork by calling out “come on in, the water is fine!” He drooled a little trying to pronounce “synesthesia,” and had abundant stories throughout which he “paraphrased” dramatic conversations and quotations.
The rooms centered on five themes: family and community, work, home, the spiritual and the nation, and were each named after a line from the poem.
My favourite piece was a painting of smartly dressed office girls heading out in the morning during the Great Depression. “They’re dressed for success!” our guide exclaimed. But off to the left lurked a darker figure, a man in shabbier clothing who, our guide explained, was inspired by a man who would beg for money beneath the artist’s window.
After the tour I poked around some brightly-coloured large-scale paintings by an artist named Laura Owens, and an exhibit on the history of protest, which featured some bad ass works by the Guerrilla Girls, a group of feminist artists who made bold statements about gender and racial equality, particularly in the art world.
After a few hours my stomach was grumbling and I left the gallery and headed to the Chelsea Market.
It was packed inside, the long, dark hallways filled wall-to-wall with people. I walked through, looking at the huge variety of food on offer and decided that I couldn’t pass up the taco stand with the longest line. Anything that popular must be delicious, right?
I ordered an adobada (pork) taco and a nopal (cactus) taco and a tarmarindo juice and was not disappointed. In a week of good food, the adobada taco was a stand out — juicy, topped with pineapple and salsa verde, and wrapped in a perfect little corn tortilla.
After scarfing my food down at a standing counter by the cashier, I braved the crowds a little longer, browsing a Japanese goods store, an Italian market and admiring the other cuisines available. I was tempted to try a currywurst, but, feeling hot in my winter jacket and the crush of people, I opted for some butter pecan ice cream and people watching instead.
On my way out I grabbed a bottle of Shiraz from the Chelsea Market Wine Cellar (Australian, because I didn’t quite trust the made-in-New-York options), then made my way back to the 23rd Street subway station, stopping along the way to photograph some snowy streets and hunt for chocolate to accompany the wine on New Year’s Eve.
Unsuccessful, I stopped into the Whole Foods on the way back to Ophira’s and also grabbed some date and coconut balls and non-alcoholic apple cider for the dairy and alcohol-free members of the household.
I only had about 45 minutes at the apartment — about enough time to take my winter layers off and then put them back on again — before Ophira and I set out for dinner.
Her parents’ apartment is at the northern edge of Hell’s Kitchen, so we ventured deeper into the belly, planing to go to a Korean restaurant aptly called “Hell’s Chicken.” Unfortunately, even though Ophira had called ahead of time to ask if the place was accessible, we arrived to find a big concrete step at the entrance.
But either through dumb luck, the universe aligning so that everything can happen for a reason, or simply making lemonade, we found an Ethiopian restaurant around the corner that was warm and inviting. I love the communal experience of sharing Ethiopian food, and it was quite beautiful to get to split the platter of assorted vegetarian and lamb dishes with one of my favourite people in the world.
After dinner we hurried to the UCB Theatre for an improv show. Ophira has been studying improv in Toronto and honing her comedy chops, so she was quite excited for the experience. I was a little more wary — comedy can often strike me as too lewd or offensive — but the performers were great and so clever.
This was my first time watching “long form” improv, though I’ve seen the short form Theatre Sports a number of times back home, and I was very impressed by the performers’ ability to weave audience suggestions into a lengthy and (for the most part) cohesive narrative featuring palm trees, a bathtub, buying diapers in anticipation of waiting hours for the ball to drop in Times Square, and a mild heart attack.
After the show I was in the mood for a Saturday-night-in-New-York drink, so Ophira and I ended up at a cozy little bar called B Squared, where I down a beer and then sipped a negroni and Ophira enjoyed a cocktail. We had a lovely conversation over a shared tiramisu, and as we left to head back to the apartment just before midnight, I felt a small pang of sadness.
While I’ve enjoyed my stay here immensely, I will be ready to return to the West Coast on Monday. But the thought of having to say “see you later” to such a close friend, without knowing where or when that reunion will be, will be the hardest part of ending this adventure.