Having been lost in New York many times, even we could locate the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Georgina had been hankering to go there for years. A quick look at the map told us it was only a few miles away, so we went to the corner of Bowery and hailed a Yellow Cab.
“The Metropolitan Museum of Art, please,” said Georgina.
The cabbie peered back at us from beneath a bright purple turban.
“Which way you wanna go?”
“Whichever way you think?” I said. “We’re not native New Yorkers, so we’ll leave the route up to you.” This was probably the most stupid thing I said to anyone during our entire stay in America.
The Metropolitan Museum was roughly half way up the east side of Central Park, on 5th Avenue, exactly 4 and a half miles to our north, so I was more than a little surprised as the Yellow Cab headed due south towards the Lower East Side. Before long we were speeding past the Brooklyn Bridge, and heading for the Financial District at the furthest southern tip of Manhattan Island.
“Why are we driving south?” I asked the driver.
His reply was both reassuring and cryptic. “5th Avenue is one way,” he said. “You can only drive down it from the north.”
This was clearly going be an unscheduled Magical Mystery Tour of the whole of Manhattan.
Twenty minutes later we were sitting in a completely stationary traffic jam in Battery Park, at least two miles further away from the Metropolitan Museum than when we had got into the cab. Annoyed and frustrated, we glanced over to the right hand side of the road, and noticed a busy building site, surrounded by tall buildings. It wasn’t until Georgina pointed out a giant American flag flying at the far side of the site, that we suddenly realised we’d arrived, completely by accident, at Ground Zero. Georgina put her hand over her mouth. It gives you a very strange feeling in the pit of your stomach to see Ground Zero with your own eyes. The destruction of the World Trade Centre was a global catastrophe on a vast scale, and the events of that day – even though they changed the lives of everyone on this planet – seemed to most people remote and distant. Unreal, even. Like watching a movie. To find oneself, unexpectedly, just a few feet from the scene of such an event is oddly surreal, and it’s actually quite hard to feel any emotion at all. Being at Ground Zero makes you feel numb – the history and horror of the place simply too great to take in. Too terrible to put into words. By the time the traffic got moving again, we’d almost forgotten why we were in the cab in the first place, and neither of us said anything for a quite a while.
Ten minutes later we were hammering up West Street, the Hudson River on our left, and weaving in and out of traffic at about sixty miles an hour.
“This driver is insane,” I whispered to Georgina, as he threw the cab into a sharp right turn and headed northwards again, up through the West Village. It was around here that I think he sensed that Georgina and I were not entirely happy with the route he was taking, so he slammed his foot down flat on the gas, accelerating along 9th Avenue like a Boeing 777 going along the runway on take-off.
Another glance at the map told us that we were now drawing level with the Metropolitan Museum, but it was still on the opposite side of Central Park. As the meter ticked furiously past forty dollars, we decided that this was probably the moment for a timely intervention.
“Excuse me” I said. “Are you now planning to drive all the way around the north of Central Park to get to the other side?”
“5th Avenue is one way,” he repeated like a mantra. “You can only drive down it southwards.”
“Tell you what,” said Georgina. “Why don’t you drop us here. We’ll walk across the park.”
The driver seemed momentarily confused.
“You want to get out?”
“Oh, yes please,” we said. “I think we both feel fairly strongly that we can get to the Metropolitan Museum from here without spending the next twenty five minutes driving around Harlem.”
“OK,” he said. I gave him forty five dollars.
“Why are you giving him a tip?” snapped Georgina.
“I don’t really know,” I said, and we headed off towards Central Park.
We arrived outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to discover a vast cheering crowd on the front steps watching a couple of break dancers spin around on the pavement. At the end of the performance they collected at least 200 bucks from the punters, thus proving that worldwide the tourist dollar is as likely to end up in the pockets of street performers as it is in the wallets of Equity members.
The Metropolitan probably has the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts in the world, and they don’t do things by halves. The entire Temple of Dendur has been transported from Egypt and rebuilt, brick by brick in a large room, partially surrounded by a reflecting pool and illuminated by a slanting wall of glass which opens onto Central Park. The whole thing looks like a set for an early James Bond movie.
“Any ideas for the pandas?” I said.
“What about one of those Egyptian fertility goddesses,” suggested Georgina.
“How are we going to get it out of the case?” I replied.
On the next floor we came upon the Age of Rembrandt Exhibition, which was absolutely packing in the tourists. But after walking around for several minutes we were unable to find any paintings by Rembrandt.
“Where are the Rembrandts?” I asked Georgina.
“I’m guessing there aren’t actually any Rembrandts in the exhibition,” she replied.
“Why not?” I said.
“Because this is the age of Rembrandt,” she grinned. “It’s all the other painters that were alive at the time.”
“What, all the shit ones who weren’t quite as good as Rembrandt?”
“Yes,” said Georgina.
“What a completely brilliant idea for an exhibition,” I said, and I sat down in front of a de Hooch, a de Booch and a de Gooch to rest my throbbing ankle.
Georgina’s favourite painting at the Met was a giant canvas, completely covered by solid black paint.
“What’s it called?” she asked.
I glanced at the information card. “Untitled,” I said. “So, not only could this artist not be bothered to put anything into the painting, he also couldn’t be arsed to think of a name for it.”
“What’s the name of the artist?” asked Georgina.
“I can’t be bothered to find out,” I said.
Before leaving the Met, we had a good rummage about in the museum shop but all we came away with was a souvenir postcard of a painting by a Dutch artist other than Rembrandt.