Water Under the Bridge

By John F. Oyler
Copyright © 2016



Manhattan
September 01, 2016



I have just returned from an exciting long weekend in New York City, visiting John, Victoria, and Lai An. They are currently renting an apartment on 59th Street, overlooking the southern edge of Central Park. Just being with them is a treat; the sight-seeing aspect of the trip was something else.

In many respects this was the classic case of small town boy in the big city . Everything there is much too big, much too fast, and much too busy for someone with my background. We crammed many more exciting adventures into four days than seem possible.

The first evening I was there we went, via Uber, to the Broadway Theater to see “Fiddler on the Roof”. This was a particularly good experience for me, for somehow I had never seen it performed anywhere. I am familiar with the music, having listened to the original cast CD many times, but that is no substitute for seeing the show fleshed out by dialogue, dancing, and the marvelous sets.

Lai An went with us and behaved perfectly, quite an achievement for a three year old. Before the show began she put her finger to her lips and advised me that was important I be very quiet. It is easy to see why Fiddler has been so popular for so long. While it deals with the trials and tribulations of one ethnic minority (the Ashkenazi Jews in Russia), its theme is probably typical of the experience of most of the folks who immigrated to this country in the past four centuries.

Uber has certainly established a major presence in Manhattan. The convenience of ordering and paying for a jitney with a smart phone is a dramatic contrast to the classic picture of a frustrated New Yorker waving at Yellow cabs in a vain effort to flag one down. I am not sure I am ready to order one that is driver-less yet however.

We spent a lot of time in Lai An’s front yard, also known as Central Park. She is excited about using the playgrounds there, about riding in her stroller through the many routes through the park, and especially in visiting the Zoo. The Zoo exhibits are excellent, especially where they have been able to take advantage of the natural terrain to reproduce appropriate environments for some of the larger animals.

Despite appearing to be flat and boring as seen from the distance, Central Park is a pleasant combination of hills and valleys, rock outcroppings, and delightful ponds and lakes. Like all good out-of-town tourists we went for a ride in a horse drawn carriage, took a turn on the century-old Carousel, and had dinner at the Tavern on the Square.. The Park is a remarkable urban asset; one that is heavily used by residents and visitors at all times of day and in all sorts of weather.

Another impressive resident of the Park is the Metropolitan Museum of Art. When we visited it, I requested the opportunity to go through the American exhibit and was quite pleased with the time we spent there. Seeing the actual “Washington Crossing the Delaware” would have justified the visit by itself. The artist, Emanuel Leutze, painted three (as identical as possible) versions of this scene. The original was destroyed by a British air raid on Bremen during World War II, a masterpiece of pinpoint bombing. Fortunately this painting was at the Met during the War, safely protected from the vindictive RAF. The version at the Met is twenty one feet long and twelve feet high!

I especially was impressed by the Stuart and Peale portraits of Washington, Homer’s “Snap the Whip” and “The Gulf Stream”, the Remington bronze statuettes, and the Bierstadt and Moran paintings of the Rocky Mountains. Somehow I missed seeing Hicks’ “Peaceable Kingdom” – that gives me an excuse to be invited back.

I think Eakins’ “Champion Single Sculls, Max Schmidt is my favorite of the ones we saw.

We ended the evening with a lovely dinner at the “Members Restaurant” at the Met – pretty fancy for a small town boy!

We also had an enjoyable visit to the Museum of Modern Art. Here, too, one is overwhelmed at the opportunity to see world famous paintings “in the flesh”. I have seen prints of van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” all my life, and suddenly there is the original, on the wall in front of me. Or Monet’s “Water Lilies”, or Wyeth’s “Christina’s World”, or Picasso’s “Girl Before a Mirror”, or Warhol’s “32 Campbell Soup Cans”. A walk through MOMA is like a semester long course in modern art. It too warrants another visit.

The J. P. Morgan Library and Museum is equally impressive, both in architecture and interior decoration and in content. Its architecture is Palladian; the interior is tastefully decorated with no compromise on expense. Mr. Morgan was the wealthiest man of his time and spared no expense to humor his tastes and desires.

Morgan was an avid collector. Fortunately the fruits of his interests have been preserved as a museum for the public. Three of the thirteen existing Gutenberg Bibles are in the collection – one is currently on display, as well as many valuable original manuscripts – Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, Brahms’ “First Symphony”, the first Folio of Shakespeare’s plays, an illuminated “Book of Hours”, etc.

Perhaps the most significant of all the artifacts was an actual Mesopotamian clay tablet recording the story of the Great Flood in cuneiform, from “The Story of Gilgamesh”. According to the docent this tablet was produced a thousand years before the writing of the Old Testament.

My hosts took their “small town boy” guest to the top of the Empire State Building at 11:00 pm – the view in every direction was spectacular. It was especially nice to be able to identify all of the places we had visited, as well as familiar sights such as the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the new One World Trade Center. Even at that late hour the building was full of tourists.

Other memorable events were lunch at the Palm Court in the Plaza Hotel, a stop at the Transit Museum in Grand Central Station, and a visit to the New York Public Library to see the current exhibit on Alexander Hamilton. Monday evening we had dinner at the Iguana Restaurant, mostly to see and hear Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks perform, a wonderful experience that warrants a column of its own.

All told, it was a very special trip for me, the perfect combination of spending time with John, Victoria, and Lai An and getting in a lot of first class sight-seeing.

Water Under the Bridge

  • "Water Under the Bridge" is a column written by historian John Oyler. It appears weekly in the Bridgeville Area News, a TribTotal Media publication, as well as in a more expanded form on his blog.

The Author

  • Aside from being Bridgeville's foremost historian, Dr. John F. Oyler is also an associate professor at the Univeristy of Pittsburgh, where he teaches classes in civil engineering.

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