Thursday, February 4, 2010

Gargoyles, Gershwin, and the Guggenheim

What do gargoyles, George Gershwin, and the Guggenheim all have in common? They are all pilgrimages we made when we were in New York last weekend.

Before we left last Friday, the most frequent bit of advice was that we "should see a show." Wicked, The Lion King, something. Sometimes it came in the form of a question. "Are you seeing any shows?" "What shows are you going to see?"

What shows? New York is a show unto itself. We couldn't squeeze in a show because we were too busy exploring places near and dear to our heart.

Warren and I share many things in common, one of the multiple reasons we are so compatible. Among those mutual interests are architecture, cemeteries, George Gershwin, Frank Lloyd Wright, and exploring new places in search of our other interests.

A trip to New York for us is a match made in heaven.

Because of our schedules, Warren and I had all day Saturday as well as Sunday morning before going our separate ways.

The first stop Saturday was easy to pick. We headed for the Guggenheim, the last major structure designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum sits at 86th and Park Avenue. From Grand Central Station, you catch the Number 6 subway uptown and walk west towards Central Park.

Warren saw it first, wedged into the block. "There it is!"

My first comment was "it looks so much bigger in the photos." From a block away, it looks improbably small. But that is the beauty of Wright's design, tricking the viewer into imagining it to be a small building tucked into the urban streetscape.

Wright designed most of his buildings on his theory of compress and release. You often enter a Wright structure through a small, low entrance (compress) that then opens into a wide space (release). The Guggenheim is no exception. First comes a small, tight entry with a low ceiling, then you walk into that beautiful open space of the ascending spiral.

We both gasped.

It is amazing space. The art is wonderful too, hung in galleries adjoining the spiraled space, but it was the spiral atrium that kept calling to me.

Compress and release, compress and release.

When we came out some two hours later, we were still not sated. We stood outside and took pictures, marveling and commenting. It still looked small to me, nestled into the neighborhood, but I knew better now.

We then debated where to go next.

Further uptown and farther to the west was a building I have wanted to see ever since reading about it in Christopher Gray's Streetscapes column over a year ago. It is only an apartment building, but stands out in Manhattan for the unusual gargoyles decorating the structure.

I started college at the University of Chicago, a campus full of Gothic architecture on which gargoyles abound. Chicago gargoyles are not happy gargoyles. If you find one with a smile on its face, it is probably because it has just watched another undergraduate bite the intellectual dust.

Not so the gargoyles I was searching for in Manhattan. These gargoyles are happy gargoyles, wearing ridiculous expressions. One is known as the Gobbling Gargoyle, because he is lustily consuming a meal with a large spoon raised halfway to his mouth.

So I asked Warren if he would be willing to take the Number 6 further uptown and then look for the gargoyle building. Of course he would be willing.

We disembarked the Number 6 at 110th and Lexington. That's East 110th. The gargoyles were at 527 West 110th.

"Oh, let's walk." (That was my suggestion.)

So we did. Two miles. It was 18 degrees out, before you factored in the wind chill.

The wind was blowing. Hard.

Have I ever mentioned how wonderful a husband Warren is? He was cold, it was freezing, we were hungry, but he didn't complain once. Not one word. Not one criticism of our slogging up 110th into the face of the wind just to see a building. Not one pointed comment about how after finding it, my hands were too cold to hold a camera after a few moments.

Instead, this amazing man I am married to steered me to a nearby Chipotle where we ate lunch and grew warm. From there, we took a subway down to where the World Trade Center used to stand. By then, with evening coming on, it had grown even more bitter and we quickly decided to beat a hasty retreat to our friends' home where we were staying.

The next morning, we joined our hosts, Ed and Katrina, for breakfast. Katrina and I have been close friends since 1974. She had been out of town until late Saturday night and this was the first we'd all had a chance to sit down together.

Before we came to New York this time, Warren discovered that George Gershwin, who died of a brain tumor at the age of 38, is buried in Westchester Hills Cemetery in Hastings-on-Hudson, less than ten miles from Katrina and Ed's front door. Over waffles, I asked if they would be up for a jaunt in search of George Gershwin. Sure, why not?

Off we went.

It is amazingly easy to find George Gershwin. He and other members of the Gershwin family, including his brother Ira, are in a large mausoleum right past the office as you pull into the cemetery. We piled out of the car and walked up to the doors to peer inside.

There is a Jewish custom of placing a small rock on a grave marker you are visiting. Some say is a way to let the world know, "Someone was here. This person is not forgotten." The Gershwin mausoleum had a few rocks on the top step and I regretted that I didn't think to bring a rock from Ohio to leave as well.

After the cemetery visit, Warren and I had separate schedules for the remainder of our trip. I spent more time in the City and visited with friends while he attended his meetings. My memories include being in Little Italy Sunday night with Bethany and hearing Italian spoken all around us, taking a Lower East Side walking tour with Katrina on Monday, eating pastrami sandwiches at Katz's Deli (think "When Harry Met Sally") and our deciding to walk to Grand Central Station from there (about 3 miles). I spent my time with my girlfriends; Warren spent his time immersed in the world of symphony management. Our final night, Katrina, Ed, Warren and I shared a meal rich in flavor and friendship, full of warmth and talk and laughter and cream puffs.

Warren once wrote that if I chose to cast my lot with him, "you probably aren't going to get Europe, diamonds, many expensive meals or lots of shoes." That statement, meant to be a commentary on his modest income (and also an inside joke), has become a touchstone of our relationship. The morning after we got back home, I emailed him as I do each workday: You may not give me Europe or diamonds, but you give me the world, starting with your love.

So that's why we didn't take in a Broadway show. Because all the show we wanted, all the world we needed, was already right there in our own hands.


I am the working poor. said...

What a beautiful post! The Guggenheim photos reminded me of those old plastic picnic cups made of different size rings that collapse.

Any photos or stories about New York remind me of my brother. I always thought of New York as his city because he loved it so. His ashes were scattered there. His favorite buildings were the Chrysler and the Flat Iron.

I'm glad you had such a wonderful trip.

Joni said...

Karen gave me for Christmas an "IOU" to Falling Waters admission and staying at a B & B. I had spoken of Falling Waters often as a place I would like to go, but we just hadn't made the time. Now we will and I am so excited!!!!! Glad Gargoyles, Gershwin, the Guggenheim and Good Friends made NYC a wonderful experience for you and Warren.

Arlene said...

You and Warren struggled your ways to each other. Seeing the happy eyes you both have now gives refined definition to the word 'love.' Thank you for sharing.


Anonymous said...

You may not realize it, but on your walk west along 110th Street you passed the building where George Gershwin wrote Rhapsody in Blue. It's on the same block as the building with the gargoyles, on the northwest corner of 110th St and Amsterdam Avenue.

So you had more Gershwin moments than you knew!

April said...

Anonymous, thank you for that additional Gershwin nugget!