CultureLike good little tourists, J and I spent our first free day in New York at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Getting there involved taking buses across Central Park, and then walking a little way through warmish, but very wet drizzle. Central Park looked like it might be a fun place to explore at some point when the vegetation wasn't competing with the clouds to saturate the atmosphere by steaming.
On the way to the museum, we got distracted by the scariest synagogue I have ever set eyes on, Temple Emanu-El on Fifth Avenue. The place is just mind-bogglingly huge; this is the Victorian Anglo-Jewish dream of a 'cathedral synagogue' realized in solid stone. Apart from the sheer scale of it, and the vast expanses of marble and gilt, and the the entrance looking like that of an extremely grand hotel complete with concierge, and the integral museum with some fairly notable objets d'art, what really struck me about this place was the confidence of a Jewish community that built a place like this in the mid-19th century. Not only having the resources to undertake such a project, but even back then, it's pretty amazing to me that the Jewish community was sufficiently part of the American landscape that something on a cathedral scale like that was feasible.
The Metropolitan Museum was in a building that was certainly not an anti-climax even after that! J sensibly suggested going to see the American section first. The centrepiece of this is a whole set of absolutely gorgeous Tiffany glasses; they are widely reproduced, but the originals are quite, quite stunning.
Then we wandered around a bit and ended up getting lost in the archive section, where the museum keeps 10,000 objects that they haven't got round to displaying properly. It's almost surreal, all these endless-seeming rows of china and paintings and furniture stretching out into the distance. Of course, this set-up made it almost impossible to avoid the trap of treating art museums as a fantasy window-shopping exercise.
This probably wasn't the best use of our time given that we only had one day in one of the most exciting museums in the world. However, it was entirely absorbing, and by the time we'd dragged ourselves out of there, they decided to close the most interesting-looking parts of the American section.
So we wandered towards the African and Pacific Islands sections; this involved going through the Ancient Egypt bit, which is kind of funky in that it has a complete temple in one of the rooms. But I think I'm spoilt for Ancient Egypt stuff by the British Museum, and also, even very nice Egyptian stuff tends to look a bit clichéd. As for the African and Pacific collections, it became a bit hard to tell whether we were looking at art or anthropology. It's funny, the museum is terribly terribly PC and makes a big effort to create the impression that African culture is just as important as Euro-American culture, but when it actually comes to it, the African stuff is simply not presented in the same way as the American stuff.
Anyway I think we were a bit tired by then, so we decided to go home and get tea, rather than pretending to be more cultured than we really were.