I am so happy to introduce you to Grace, a twenty-something solo traveler whose interests are very different from mine. So, despite having recently written my own posts about NYC, I'm pleased to give you her nerdy New York City story of museums, classical music, debates, running and more. Here's Grace…
I had planned a four-day nerdy visit to New York for my first non-work solo trip. I'm a museum and classical music junkie so it's always a pleasure to visit cities which have extraordinarily successful arts scenes. When I do I often find myself gazing wistfully, wondering why there isn’t a similar demand for the opera in Toronto.
When I arrived in New York, I picked up a US SIM card and phone plan and dropped off my bags at my Airbnb flat in Williamsburg. I would have immediately gone to my favorite NYC museum, The Whitney, but it's under construction so I went to the MoMA to check out the Matisse Cutouts exhibit instead.
The exhibit was interesting because it effectively revealed the state of mind the artist was in when he decided to build paintings from cutting up pieces of painted paper. The rest of the museum was as stunning as always: the MoMA has a treasure trove of incredible art from the 20th century onwards. Art collectors in the 1920s and 1950s were the fuel behind the modern art movement and MOMA's walls are covered floor to ceiling with Van Goghs, Cezannes, Gauguins, Degas', Chagalls, Kandinskys, Picassos and Klays, priceless pieces purchased for mere pennies at the time. I get shivers when I think of it.
Once I had seen all the African-mask inspired portraits of Picasso's lovers I needed to see, I headed to my main event for the day: the Intelligence Squared US (IQ2) debate on assisted suicide. I've seen countless IQ2 debates online but it's really such a pleasure to be there in the room and feel the friction produced when talented brains rub against each other.
The debaters were exceptional this evening. Both sides had personal stories of their family members either choosing or avoiding assisted suicide and both had extensive knowledge on the subject. Andrew Solomon from the “pro” side spoke about his mother's choice to die and how he, his brother and father spent her last moments with her listening to her say that she would not trade her life with them for any other life, even though this one was full of pain and bound to end too soon. When I heard this, I was nearly in tears. It was incredibly moving.
During the debate, I was chatting with the person sitting next to me and afterwards he invited me to watch an NFL game with him and his friends. We ended up at this great little bar called George Keeley at Amsterdam and 83rd which serves a rotating roster of local beers and exceptionally good “everything bagel fries” (which, in my opinion, should be enough incentive for anyone to drop what they're doing and fly to New York right this minute). Easily the best fries I've ever had. So after a very rowdy evening of drinking American pale ales with American boys at an American bar watching American football, I headed back to my apartment with a buzzy happy spring in my step. What lovely people! What a friendly city!
The next morning, I picked up $16 rush tickets to the New York Philharmonic, then headed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Along with its impressive collection of Manets, the Met is perfect for one of my favorite museum games: spot the renaissance hipster. There is a surprisingly large number of 17th century Dutchmen who could blend in with the Williamsburg crowd.
After a few hours of pretending to be a character in The Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, I met a friend of mine at the Guggenheim and toured the “zero” exhibit. I have to say, odd German mid-century performance art is best enjoyed with a friend who also has no idea what's going on. Afterwards, I went to the New York Philharmonic's evening concert of Debussy, Glazunov, and Prokofiev, with the Glazunov being performed by the ever-impressive Joshua ‘playing in the subway' Bell and his four million-dollar violin. My second day of culture had concluded just as well as the first.
Now I run with a run crew in Toronto so I know that if you go to pretty much any city in the world, you'll be able to find a group of like-minded, friendly people to run with and then join for coffee and beers afterwards. On Saturday morning, I met up with the North Brooklyn Runners to run over the Williamsburg Bridge and back before heading off to coffee with them. After that nice start to my day, I hopped back on the L train to Manhattan with my Craigslist-purchased ticket to see the most controversial opera of the year: John Adams' “Death of Klinghoffer,” the opera which depicts the real 1985 cruise ship murder of a Jewish-American man by Palestinian terrorists. On the opening night of Klinghoffer, there were over a thousand people outside the Lincoln Center with signs and speakerphones, demanding the closure of the performance. The Met did not capitulate however, so I got to see the opera, and in a great seat for the second half of the performance as well because I snuck into one of the $400 orchestra seats after intermission.
After the matinee, I rushed to Washington Square Park to have dinner with a friend at an overpriced tapas place–seriously the people next to me were eating a $10 plate of sardines (there are still a few bad things about this city). I then went to the NYU Skirbal center to see the great pianist, Ludovico Einaudi, perform. The music was incredible. At one point, there were seven musicians on stage playing over twenty instruments, somehow cleverly arranged by the great man himself.
I had no events planned for my last day other than to shop a little and run again. I hung out in the bookstores ‘Word' and ‘Spoonbill & Sugartown‘ in the morning, went for a five-mile run with the Crew, then for beers and more American football afterwards. Pro tip: if you're going running at noon with a run crew in America, bring your ID. After that, I shopped around a bit more in Williamsburg for gifts and had an early night as I was taking a redeye flight back to Toronto.
I have to say, what I loved especially about my first solo trip was all of the people I got to meet. When you attend the kind of events you love, it's hard not to meet people with similar interests. People you sit next to in debates may have the same favorite place in the world or tastes in jazz music. People you run with are friendly because it sucks to run next to someone who isn't, and everyone's welcoming over a pint of beer and nachos. Sometimes strangers can feel like close friends if only for a few hours and help you feel at home even when you're far away from it.
Pictures of all my shenanigans can be found using #gnnya on Instagram (which stands for: grace's nerdy New York adventure).
Here's what I spent on my nerdy New York City adventure.
Museum totals: $50
New York Philharmonic: $16
Ludovico Einaudi: $15
Met Opera: $30
IQ2 debate: $12
Full reviews of the classical music performances can be found on my blog at: graceatthesymphony.wordpress.com