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Visiting New York City Again on the First Day of Spring

 

The first weekend of spring in New York City coincided with bright and pleasing weather. Blue skies and Blue Jays, Bald Eagles and brightened crowds greeted the new season, at least in my world. It may be a clich├ę to say something like “Hope is in the air,” but contrast this spring of 2021 with the one a year ago, the new mood is palpable. Last year during early spring, the city shut down, in caution and crisis, but this season feels like a resurrection, albeit still cautious.

The Met Steps on Fifth Avenue

Last spring, when many of the city’s residents feared going outside, many are at least partially vaccinated now. The numbers rise every day. I have been fully vaccinated for a month now, so I used the occasion to revisit New York City. I have been out and about in my neighborhood, but in terms of the public New York City, the one celebrated in tourist books and on this website, I have not ventured there much at all. 

A Bald Eagle grasps a fish in its talons outside the Met Cloisters.

It’s springtime in New York, and it was time to make plans, book doctor’s appointments and museum reservations. Making plans this spring was also something new, because for the past year, planning was almost of the question. Making plans is an act of hope, a thing we do when we believe we may have a future. Last year at this time, with whatever plans completely upended (I had thought about enrolling in art classes), the only strategic goal was to hang in there, to try to survive.  

The Bald Eagle surveying the Hudson River landscape from a tree outside the Met Cloisters

The Cloisters sits at the south end of my Northern Manhattan neighborhood. The home of the Met’s collection of medieval art stands on the top of Fort Tryon Park, visible from my street. The medievalism of the structure also came to symbolize for me the medieval constrictions of the pandemic year. A few days a week, I travelled north by bus to my workplace, but in terms of everyday living, I have mostly stayed in the neighborhood to walk and shop and look at birds, day in and day out for a whole year.

The Met Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park

I had a case of spring fever this past weekend, and I felt the urge to fly. I made plans. I booked a Saturday morning reservation at The Cloisters, a place I had surveyed from the outside on many walks, but I wanted to see the inside again. The art, gardens, and the Unicorn Tapestries waited. This excursion would be the first time in a long time that I had made plans to see a museum from the inside.

Fuentidue├▒a Chapel, Met Cloisters

While waiting for the museum to open its doors, I witnessed a group of college students dressed in medieval costumes rehearsing and filming some sort of Everyman play. Simultaneously, I observed a startling large bird landing on a nearby tree. I knew immediately it was a Bald Eagle. On closer observation, thanks to the camera I brought along, I saw that it was enjoying a meal. The eagle had just scooped up a fish in its mighty talons from the nearby Hudson River and was making quick work of it. Nearby, a pair of Blue Jays also shared some snacks.

View of the Bonnefont Cloister Herb Garden, Met Cloisters

Visiting a museum after being away for a while proved to be a heightened pleasure. Combined with the blue skies and the spring light, the experience felt like new, like what they call in meditation practices “the beginner’s mind.”

Outside the Frick Madison, Madison Avenue and E. 75th Street

On Sunday of this first day in spring, I had the occasion to truly leave the neighborhood and revisit old haunting grounds. I had booked an eye exam on the Upper East Side for Sunday afternoon, and before the scheduled appointment, I visited the steps of the Met Museum. It was like old times. I didn’t go inside but plan to return soon.

lobby, Frick Madison

For a fresh experience, I had also renewed my membership to the Frick Collection and made plans for that day to visit the Frick Madison, the museum’s temporary home in the Marcel Breuer building on Madison. The longtime home of the Whitney (now downtown in a spiffy new home), the modernist building was recently occupied by the Met and known as the Met Breuer. Now it’s the province for the Frick Collection, with its famous masterpieces installed in pleasing sparse ways on gray walls. The context is austere, even Cistercian, but the works truly sing outside of their normal Fifth Avenue mansion.

a pair of Blue Jays outside the Met Cloisters

I had made one personal mistake in my planning this past Sunday. I visited the Frick Madison after my eye exam, and I cannot say I recommend visiting an art museum after getting your eyes dilated. The experience is still rather vague and weird to me in retrospect, but I saw the Rembrandts, Vermeers, Van Dycks, and Goyas with fresh new eyes. The colors were vivid, and Rembrandt’s self-portrait appeared in 3-D. I had to resort to wearing sunglasses throughout my late afternoon visit.

Bald Eagle, on the first weekend of spring

In sum, I plan to return to the museum after I get new prescription lenses. I may not see like an eagle, but I like to walk around with some clarity. It’s a new spring and the time to make more plans.

Images from March 20 and 21, 2021.










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