Just got back from a visit from “the old country,” New York City, to visit family and friends. And I can’t stop raving about The Bronx.
We just returned from a place blooming with lilies and hyacinth, filled with beautiful views of the Palisades, the Hudson River and gracious stately homes and gardens.
I’m talking about the Bronx here. Da Bronx. Really!
As a fifth-generation native New Yorker, a lot of my family has roots in the Bronx. My father and grandfathers were born there as well as my father-in-law. But, at the height of the urban blight of the 1970s and 1980s, it was not exactly somewhere we went exploring when I was growing up outside of a trip to the Bronx Zoo.
When most think of the Bronx, they conjure images like urban blight. A crumbling school in the south Bronx that caught fire shortly before game 2 of the 1977 World Series inspired the book “The Bronx is Burning ” by Jonathan Mahler
Or, perhaps they think of the massive, impersonal apartment complexes they sluggishly traverse the Cross Bronx Expressway on their way to the Long Island Sound or the George Washington Bridge :
But on my last visit, my family and I got to visit the Bronx’s best-kept secrets: The Cloisters Museum and Wave Hill.
The Cloisters, right on the Manhattan-Bronx border, is a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art that specializes in European Medieval Art. It is set in a castle-like building jutting over the Hudson River set on four acres of parkland. If you have the time on your next visit and already paid admission to the main branch of the Met on Fifth Avenue, you can treat yourself to this as well:
Wave Hill Public Garden and Cultural Center
Further up the road, and I’m talking a country road that makes one feel as if they are in the middle of the countryside and not just 10 miles from Midtown Manhattan, is Wave Hill. Surrounded by 19th Century mansions,
Wave Hill is a semi-private park that consists of gardens and mansions once leased by the Roosevelts and Mark Twain. In the 1960’s, the Perkins-Freeman family, founding partners of J.P. Morgan, donated the land to New York City, allowing the rest of us New Yorkers, for a small admission fee, to afford views like this:
So, next time you find yourself in New York City, do yourself a favor and visit upper Manhattan and The Bronx. You might find a unicorn:
Or even a fair Bronx princess:
Seeing New York City through my daughter’s eyes is quite refreshing. She loves the pizza, the culture, and the excitement, She was blown away by the hip-hop performers that flipped and jumped through a crowded uptown train. I also wondered, how did they do that without kicking anyone in the face and when do they find an empty car to practice?
And now, just like me, she loves the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As they get bigger, I want to expose my children to as much as possible of the city where I was born and raised. Good and bad. The culture definitely falls into the good column. I’d like to thank my parents, who for one summer, took my brother and I to a different museum in New York City every weekend. Even if my brother gaped at the nude paintings and sculptures.
I’d like to thank them for staying in New York City while so many other of their friends have moved away to Florida.
I’m also thankful for art history professors who sent us to the Met to see works of art up close and personal before we wrote our final papers on them. Visiting a building that contains so many masterpieces, seeing the actual brushwork, standing before a painting exactly where the artist once stood gave me an appreciation of color, line and composition that stays with me to this day.
It’s been 15 years since I have made a pilgrimage to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a place that feels (I hate to say it) as sacred to me as the inside of a house of worship. It has been way too long. So off we went to the Met: my mom, Jolie and I.
At some point, surrounded by Picasso, I switched my cell phone off. This was holy ground and should be treated as such.
I watched Jolie work her way through the Picasso exhibit, then allowed her to pull me this way and that through European Baroque furniture, Greek and Roman sculpture, all the while looking for the next work of art to take in and all the while wishing she had taken her sketch book. And asking when would be the next time we would return to another day at the Met.
A switch has been turned on inside Jolie to love all that is great and cultural about New York City. But she could do without the noise, the smells, and the crowds. There was a bit of a learning curve with using her Metro card in the subway.
She has yet to understand that putting up with the city’s unpleasantries as they hang on to their claim to living in the Big Apple is what give New Yorkers their character. For her, she wouldn’t trade the relative peace and quiet of Rochester for the center-of-the-universe qualities of New York City. It is turning out to be a nice place to visit but she wouldn’t want to live there. It’s just not where she is from.
Rochester, in all fairness, with all of your wonderful quality of life aspects, your great suburban school districts, incredibly affordable housing and 10 minute commutes to anywhere, you are not New York City.
Yes, I have come to appreciate Rochester’s cultural treasures, like the Memorial Art Gallery, the Eastman House, and the eclectic Artisan Works. But nothing compares to the treasures that dirty, crowded, noisy New York City holds. When I describe any of Rochester’s “tourist attractions” to friends back in New York City, I always preface it with “for a city of its size, Rochester has …..”
The MAG can never be the Met, and that’s okay. It is 10 minutes from my house, contains wonderful sculpture gardens and amazing traveling exhibits of Monet, Degas, and O’Keeffe since I have lived in Rochester. It has free parking.
NYC friends and family: I love and miss you all very much in the months and years I do not see you and the few precious days I visit with you over lunch or a holiday meal while living up North. But I have decided that when visiting NYC, I need to start playing the tourist instead of spending much of my time in living rooms. Please try not to be offended and try to understand, and make plans to come along with me to a visit to the Met or MOMA next time I’m in town.