My dad travels most of the week for his job, and I’ve been on his case for years about taking me along with him with no success. But he finally caved! He had a conference in New York earlier this month — I tagged along and had a MARVELOUS TIME.
My M.O. for vacations is “learn as many things as possible,” to the unending frustration of my siblings, who prefer things like — horrors! — beaches and winter sports. Zagorski family vacations have been, historically, a huge struggle of balancing interests, so I was excited to have a chance to do whatever I wanted without worrying about anybody else’s plans. When we got into town on Thursday I basically threw my backpack in the hotel room and turned right around and headed for the Museum of Modern Art.
Whenever I go to a museum I go back and forth about researching what they have in their collection, because on one hand it’s good to plan out your visit if you’re short on time (which I always seem to be), but on the other hand it’s really fun to be surprised. I didn’t do any research on MoMA beforehand, and it turns out they have Van Gogh’s Starry Night (which was amazing in person), Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (also amazing), Matisse’s Red Studio (also amazing) and Dali’s Persistence of Memory (tiny and underwhelming). Pop art has always left me a little cold — I just can’t get into Warhol, may the Pittsburgh gods forgive me — I was still really impressed with MoMA’s collection, although that one Lichtenstein was definitely better with the addition of Lumpy Space Princess.
The big featured exhibit was a Gauguin retrospective focusing on his woodcuts and prints, which was interesting despite my historical distaste for Gauguin’s work (which I have not-so-affectionately dubbed “fetishization of native women for fun and profit”). That exhibit gave my my first weird New York moment: I overheard a kid who could not have been more than five telling his younger sibling all about Gauguin and pronouncing everything correctly. What kind of snooty Upper East Side Montessori school do you go to, child?
The museum was smaller than I expected so I still had time to sit in the sculpture garden for a while before close, and it was such a beautiful day. Warm and sunny and breezy, and I sat on a bench next to a bronze goat sculpture by Picasso and everything was perfect.
After MoMA I had planned to go to the New York Public Library (because I am a huge nerd — this will become a theme) but as it turns out it was closed for an event, which was disappointing. I sat in Bryant Park and pouted about it for a while — Bryant Park is lovely, by the way — but then decided to go down to the Strand in Union Square. This involved taking the subway.
Now, there is something very important you need to know about me: I fucking love taking the subway.
I don’t know what it is. Maybe it makes me feel urban and hip? Maybe I like reading maps? (That one’s definitely true.) Maybe Pittsburgh’s terrible public transportation system has left a subway-shaped hole in my life? At any rate, every time I’m in a big city the first thing I do is get a metro card and then go out of my way to use it whenever possible. The NYC subway system is not nearly as user-friendly as the London Underground (which was, no joke, my favorite thing about that entire trip) but still magnificent and wonderful. I ended up only taking the subway a few times, because my dad is solidly a taxi person, but any subway is better than no subway at all.
The Strand was, of course, basically a religious experience. I wanted to wedge myself in between the shelves and stay there forever. (The entire time I was there I had Bitches In Bookshops stuck in my head.) Then it turns out that Forbidden Planet is basically next door, so of course I had to stop in there too. Books, books, and comic books. Truly, the good life. Afterwards I still had time before I had to be back the hotel so I sat in Union Square park — also lovely, and as you can see I am big on sitting in parks— and watched all the activity on Broadway for a while, and then caught the subway back to Times Square to meet dad and get something to eat.
Let me tell you what eating with my father is like. I’m the kind of person who only eats because they have to, so when it comes to eating on my own I will choose the path of least resistance/expense. When I had to eat on my own in NYC I ended up getting a $3 sandwich at Pret a Manger and then getting on with my life. Contrast my dad, who believes that food and liquor are life’s two greatest joys. When I say “let’s get something quick to eat before our flight,” my dad hears “let’s get oysters and craft beer.” Which we did. Several times.
Friday was our only full day in the city, so I dragged dad to not only the MET but also the American Museum of Natural History. Honestly I prefer going to museums by myself, because then I can just wander about and commune with the art like the spacey liberal arts major I am, but it was fun having dad along for the ride. I was surprised what he liked and what he didn’t like — I’m not a huge Rembrandt fan, but dad really likes him. A solid day of booking it through museums nearly broke him, though, and when we got home my mom laughed at him: she came along with me to England and Ireland for two weeks of straight museums and churches and history, and she lasted almost the whole time (she did give up on me at the National Gallery in London on day ten or eleven, and I left her to nap in front of the Reubens while I hit the medieval galleries).
Protip: do not try to do the MET in three hours. It can’t be done. Not even close. This is one of those times when I wish I had done research on the collection beforehand, because we ended up spending way too much time in the classical galleries and not nearly enough time in painting and sculpture. I would have liked to have spent much longer with the impressionists, but we still managed to see a lot of the museum. It was too crowded for me to take a selfie with Van Gogh’s self-portrait, and more’s the pity, but I did get several photos of exemplary Greek statuary butts, so I consider this outing to be a success.
AMNH had a really neat exhibit on poisons (my interests, they are so predictable) as well as an actually ridiculous amount of dinosaur fossils, but honestly I’m not much for natural history. Most of the museum was dioramas with taxidermic animals and I was just kind of… sad they weren’t alive? I wish we had made it to the planetarium, though — I love space! It’s on my list for next time.
My dad’s cousin Chris lives in Chelsea with his husband Peter, and when they heard we were going to be in town they invited us to see their apartment and go to an art gallery opening with them, which we did post-museums. Their apartment is beautiful (and tiny) and even though it was rainy we walked up on the High Line, an old elevated train rail repurposed into a park. The gallery opening was much more low-key than I expected, but still really cool. We met the artist, and I thought her work was really interesting — very abstract, with a lot of bright colors and textures — and my dad only almost ruined one painting. Can’t take him anywhere.
Saturday morning we had a bit of time before we had to be at the airport so we went up in the Empire State Building, which my dad loved because he’s a huge engineering nerd. I consider myself pretty good with heights, but it was so windy that I ended up clinging to the interior railing in a manner which was completely dignified and in no way embarrassing. After the wind died down I did go and peer over the side, and dad pointed out various engineering things (“Look, Megan, we can see the waste water treatment plant from here!”).
Even though I was only there for less than 48 hours, I don’t think I’ve ever been so sorry to leave a place. If all goes well, though, I’ll be back in October to go to New York City Comicon! Gotham City, I am coming for you!