NEW YORK CITY: Cloister Queen

When I was finally conscious the next morning, I was really feeling my hair. Back then in March I still had long hair. We were near the end of our relationship, so it was irksome to have it look good. I had already decided that I would go to a nice salon in the city, take a fire selfie and then tag it, “New York new me.” I couldn’t get around to cutting it off. I was much too attached. Quite literally, obviously, but I was just not a long haired person anymore. I still had it, but it wasn’t me. Do you know what I mean? I seem to think you do. My hair became a burden and it became my burqa. It was time to part ways, but it would take me months still before I made the appointment. I shouldn’t have been so annoyed at its volume and waves that morning since it fell flat the second I got out into the wintry wind. It immediately went up in my customary bun. Oh well.

I had breakfast in the hotel’s little coffee shop and I enjoyed it with much less irritation than the preceding day. The avocado toast was delicious and so was the freshly squeezed grapefruit juice. I was very happy and warm and content.

Today I determined to visit the Cloisters, a sister museum of the Metropolitan. It houses religious art, which is something I have always found tremendous, but it’s so far away from the city that I have never managed to get there at a reasonable time. Today was different. I had nowhere else I needed to go, so I hopped on the A train and rode it for what felt like four hours. When I emerged, I felt like I was in a different world. I mean it was still New York, but I was in that train for so long that I wouldn’t have been surprised to be in the Hamptons and bumping into Ina Garten in expensive gourmet grocery stores.

The Cloisters is housed in a beautiful building up on a hill. At any other time of year, this would be a beautiful novelty. In the autumn with the changing colors, it’d be decadent to climb the winding trails. In the spring the flowers would cascade down and perfume the air. Even the summer would be lovely with birdsong and sunshine. But winter was HELL. It was HELL, reader.

Let me set the scene for you: Museum high on a hill, ice coated walkways, uneven stairs, obscene amounts of snow, slippery suede boots, no gloves, a man who detests winter. I honestly didn’t think I’d make it to the top. The journey started out all right with cleared walkways and friendly caretakers chipping away at the ice. This soon devolved into a life or death hike that could be the start of a feature film.

I couldn’t find any surface to grip to. My hands were frozen by holding the ground ahead of me to stay on my feet. My shoes constantly slipped off their stairs and stone paths. The path was frequently indistinguishable from the rest of the park. I slipped. I fell. I screamed curses. I fell more. I slipped down. I stumbled. My shoes were soaked through. My hands lost feeling. My knees were damp from constantly stumbling into piles of snow. I could see the Cloisters ahead, mocking my journey. I mused shortly about the pilgrimage some devotees make to sacred shrines and compared my journey to one of theirs. It tested my patience and my faith.

With considerable irritation, I finally made it to the summit of the minor hill that had become a deadly mountain with the addition of snow and ice. I have never been more relieved or more of a mess. I felt tragic, but thankfully I had on black, so nobody could see the damp patches of melting snow and ice and sweat. I was annoyed, but glad to be inside. And once inside I forgot my troubles almost at once.

It was quiet and beautiful, and I felt as if I was in a monastery, which I suppose is the entire point. Coats and bags aren’t allowed in the museum, so I attempted to give my jacket to the coat check. This became an unexpected adventure. My scarf, for reasons known only to itself, decided to weave itself into the zipper of my inadequately thin jacket. No amount of force or prying would unstick the two, so I finally managed extricate myself from the dueling cloths by yanking it over my head. Using a key and determination, I yanked the scarf free and was finally able to ascend into the museum.

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“Seated Bishop” by Tilman Riemenscheider.

I was, at first underwhelmed, but as the rooms carried on and were filled with more and more decadent items, I became quite overwhelmed.

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There were fabulous wooden statues and the most gorgeous religious paintings. Stained glass allowed the bright winter light to filter over the objects and filled the space with the most serene peace. There were tapestries covered in unicorns, a subterranean recreation of a medieval tomb, sumptuous artwork and ceramics, and the marvelous crumbling remains of a Spanish church. It was fantastic.

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I was madly in love with all of it. In the basement was an area stuffed to bursting with treasures. I saw a golden straw and a reliquary and some pastoral robes that were covered in gold embroidered flamingos. I don’t know why, honestly, but that was the epitome of fabulous. More fantastic than all of this, though, was the Cloister itself.

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A golden straw! CHIC!

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I am, dearest reader, a ho for a good cloister. I have loved them tremendously ever since I encountered my first one at Westminster Abbey in London. There is something remarkable about the divine solitude in the four halls surrounding a garden. The one here in New York was sensational.

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In the bright light, the snow dripped and melted off the roofs. The open spaces were covered in glass, and so it was a bright, beautiful and marvelous place to sit and ponder life. Boxwoods that surrounded the space added to the allure, for their are few fragrances more comforting me. Boxwood reminds of Paris. It’s an assertive nature smell and whenever I catch a whiff of it, I am transported back to the Parc Des Buttes Chaumont on a warm spring day. And every time this happens I find myself deliriously happy.

I sat there for quite some time in rapturous delight. I knew at once that my future villa in Luxor will have a cloister. It will be fabulous to have a shaded escape from the intense Egyptian sun, my cloister will have boxwoods, too, even though it will take tremendous irrigation to keep them alive in the Sahara. Maybe I won’t actually. Maybe I’ll just get a diffuser with the fragrance. There will be fountains and a path and sculpture and maybe even another tranquil water feature. But that’s for the future. Hopefully in just a few years. Probably more than that, but a boy can dream, right?

I made my way to the lobby to join a tour. I love a free museum tour. The docents are so fabulously educated and willing to answer any question no matter how peculiar. I would like to do this someday at the Cairo Museum. That’s one of the places I dream of working. Museums are like home for me. I would find it absolutely delightful to know every corner of that marvelous place. With intoxicating glee, I would take visitors to all the major works, the important pieces, and the ignored masterpieces. And I would scream happily everyday if I could wander through the basement of the Cairo Museum. That’s one of my major life ambitions. I think it’d be tremendous to sift through and study all the fabulous pieces that are not on display and others that haven’t been opened since they had first been excavated. It’s an important job that needs doing. I would love to have a television series or a big coffee table book about my journeys through the bowels of Cairo. I wonder if that’s a viable career option? I love archaeology and Egyptology, as you well know, and it would be so rewarding to pick up the excavations, research, and notes of the originators of my favorite thing. I’ll stop blathering on now.

The tour was very good and very long, and I was very impressed with the knowledge of the young docent. She has a master’s degree in art history, something else I thought about many moons ago before I started screaming at the likes of Koons and Pollack. I cannot deal with that modern art nonsense, but once again, you’re more than well aware of that. I was delighted by the information I gleaned about the famous unicorn tapestries, the origins of the pillars in the cloister, and the artistry found on the decaying chapel walls. It was absolutely fabulous.

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My favorite painting. It literally is like every morning getting up to feed Clea and Edwin.

My poor suede boots were relatively dry at this point, and they were quite splotched with water damage. I vowed not to look down at them and sighed at the realization that they were going to get soaked through once again.

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Terror overlooking the Hudson.

It was a horrifying adventure careening back down that hill. It was hard enough to get up, but now I had to slide back down. It was horrid. I was miserable. I scuttled forward, my boots failing to grip anything, my hands burning from supporting me and gripping the hard stones and ice sheets. It took me what felt like a lifetime, but I finally made it back to the Subway.

My back was killing me. It felt like there were a dozen daggers in my muscles. I’m sure it was tense from keeping my body upright. I knew what I needed: a freezing cold gin martini and an enormous dinner and a good play.

So whilst in the Subway, I launched Today Tix and grabbed tickets to The Play That goes Wrong which was marketed as a comedic masterpiece, and if anything’s funny, than I am sold. I decided to grab some food at the food court under 30 Rock before walking over to Broadway. This was an excellent idea. I reassured myself repeatedly what a good idea I had as I ordered a Mediterranean grain bowl stuffed to bursting with falafel, lentils, feta, hummus, and all sorts of fabulous things. “Yasssssssss,” I cried, hurrying across the hall to a Jacques Torres chocolate shop and ordering a warm chocolate chip cookie, which I greedily devoured before ordering a second one to eat on the way to Broadway.

A remembrance of my need for a martini flashed through my mind and I found that the theatre I was heading towards was right by Sardi’s.

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I have meant to stop by this infamous restaurant for decades. Well not quite, but almost. When I was sixteen years old, I was given a surprise trip to New York City to see The Producers. That was probably one of the more generous gifts I’ve ever received, and I had a rapturously good time at the theater. That was a whirlwind trip, and I had tremendous fun wandering through Chinatown, seeing plays, eating at Alfredo’s, and was rather perturbed to see Donald Trump in the lobby of Trump Tower. At that innocent moment, I could never have predicted what would happen with him, and if somebody would have told me then, I would not believe them. It’s still hard to fully grasp the fact that he is sitting in the Oval Office. I frequently wonder about people who wake up from comas and discover that the host of a trashy reality series is the leader of the free world. I almost wish I had been in a coma for his years in office. Then I could wake up thinner (hopefully) and the insanity would be over and this interlude would be a dreary and incredibly unfathomable quirk. But it’s not. Ugh.

Anyway, in The Producers, there is a mention of Sardi’s as a place for theatre people to lunch and dine after shows. It’s an institution in the theatre going world, so of course I needed to make my own memories there.

The restaurant was stuffed to bursting, but upstairs I was able to find a spot around the bar. I only wanted a good gin martini after all. My back pain was tremendous, and a drink sometimes can be supremely therapeutic. My seventeen dollar martini was hella good and hella expensive, but I didn’t mind. In New York, literally everything is absurdly priced. I can hardly understand how anybody survives in that city if they aren’t a millionaire.

I happily sipped my favorite cocktail and surveyed the assembled crowd. The clientele were elegantly dressed and engaged in fantastic conversations. I enjoyed studying them with an aloof expression as I sipped a second martini. It was very chic and I felt like a wealthy man. I’m not. At all. But when you treat yourself ever so often to something you can’t do everyday, you feel like you are the richest person alive.

About half an hour from the curtains going up, I made my way to the theatre to collect my tickets from Today Tix. It was elegant as ever, and as I wound my way up to the very top of the theatre and to the very last row, I was a bit melancholy that I couldn’t go see a play every night for the rest of my life. I was quite the theatre queen on this jaunt East. I think seeing live theatre is an important and wondrous escape. I saw three plays in four days, reader, and I was living my very best life.

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My seat was hilariously far from the stage, but I could see the entirely of the set with perfect clarity. The other people in my row were absolutely insufferable and would not stop complaining about the seats. I nearly said, “We paid all of twenty-five dollars for this. Chill.” But I did not. I allowed them to be awful because what concern was it of mine if they were? Finally an usher allowed them to move to some vacant seats about three rows up, and for whatever reason, this placated them. They were all idiots.

This performance was unlike any I had ever gone to before and whilst the audience was settling in, the cast was on stage and in the audience. It was obvious after a little while, but at first it was peculiar to see somebody on stage hammering the set back in shape. One chased a dog around the theatre that nobody could see. It was bizarre and made me a tad uncomfortable. I don’t approve of audience interaction, you know? It’s deeply uncomfortable to me. Odd, I know, since I love being the center of attention.

The play began in fits and starts, and it was tremendously funny. I say fits and starts because the premise is a small community theatre of no talent has accidentally been booked at the theatre. They were as flummoxed about this as everybody else, which added to the delight of the evening. And it was so sweet, even though the entire thing was scripted. All the untalented cast was delighted to be there, and thought they deserved to be there even if their talent was far from exceptional.

The delightful play that ensued was a basic murder mystery of no great importance, but that wasn’t the focus of The Play That Goes Wrong, it’s about the slapstick genius of the ensemble. The physical comedy was honestly death defying, and I’m surprised that somebody didn’t die. I read online that there were a number of rather severe injuries over the course of the play’s history, and I cannot say that I’m at all surprised.

The entire evening was a sensation, and I hope they make a film version. It’d be like Clue meets a classic Buster Keaton film. I think it’s tremendous. I hope the show tours for decades and everybody has a chance to bruise a lung from laughing. I haven’t cackled so merrily in absolute ages!

I chortled all the way back to the Jane reminiscing on the hilarity and beaming that I experienced  it.

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