On my first night in Manhattan, I «gatecrashed» the Guggenheim Museum’s Art After Dark.
My flight landed at JFK at 10:30 am. I took the Air Train, the subway and at noon, I arrived to my room in a nice fifteenth-floor apartment Uptown, near Washington Heights. I talked with my hosts, Miroslava and Poli, and rested for a little while.
Before 2 pm I wrapped up myself warm (early March), filled my thermos flask, and went for a walk through the beautiful Central Park. I got off the subway at the Natural History Museum, and got pleasantly lost (drinking mate) through the paths between rocks, lakes, tunnels, bridges, bushes, trees, and the views of surrounding skyscrapers.
When I drank up the mate, I headed for the Metropolitan Museum (PWYW).
The Met is infinite; my capacity of attention is not. So I concentrated on the modern art collection, photography, and Velázquez. Enough for an afternoon of unnoticed jetlag. After more than two hours of wonders, I left.
I went out and walked two blocks, when I saw a forty-meter line: the Neue Galerie opened its doors for free. I knew the place was small and a friend of mine, a painter, had strongly recommended it. So I waited in line chatting with a New Yorker who had lived in Brazil and enjoyed talking in Spanish. The temperature felt almost below zero.
When we came in, we had forty minutes left to visit the two-story small and luxurious gallery. On the first floor, most of the public gathered around that precious Klimt’s painting which had inspired a film, Woman in Gold. I took the chance to observe the rest of his works and, on the adjacent room, to feast my eyes upon Schieles and Kokoschkas: I had to hold my jaw lest it hit the floor. To gaze at those paintings, that had fascinated me on screens and books, in their real dimensions and one next to the other, it really touched me. The last ten minutes I peered into the upper story and discovered Alexei Jawlensky, a pleasing surprise; and the last 5 minutes I went back downstairs to say goodbye to Schiele before leaving.
When I went out, I realized I was just one block away form the Guggenheim, and decided to appreciate its architecture. But I found that inside of it a lot of elegant people were having drinks, gabbing and moving their feet to the rhythm of the deejay’s music. I approached the door to find out what this «Art After Dark» was about.
The black men at the gate asked me if I was a member. I told them that I wasn’t. That I had arrived to the city that very same day and that my tourist guide recommended to go there on the first Friday night every month. They explained to me that the event was only for «members and guests». That round the corner there was an entrance with tickets, but they were already sold out. So, how could I come in? «Buy a membership» ($85!). Ok, but I don’t have Internet access on my phone, I excused myself. I could be a guest, I suggested. «Sure, make friends».
I stayed near the doors hoping someone could invite me. I was well dressed, although my hiking boots looked a little diurnal. I watched two couples passing by, some old ladies with unfriendly faces. I could talk to a girl, but she was also a guest and went in with a guy. Temperature was going down. And I started feeling hungry. I went back to my friends and asked them: One more question. Is there a place near here, an inexpensive one, where I can eat something before going in? «Sure, round the corner, ‘Three Guys'».
I went to have something to the restaurant. At the bar a Mexican man took my order and, with Latin solidarity, he put a little extra of vegetables in my sandwich, «chicken gyro», and gave me a glass of Ginger Ale («gingerella», he called it): I gave him a tip. Meanwhile, I wrote down some impressions of the flight and the afternoon. I paid my bill, say goodbye to the Greek owner, an admirer of our wines, and walked out again in the cold night air.
I returned to the doors of the museum and there was a different guard. I told him about my recent arrival, and asked him how to get into the party; he just answered: «only members and guests». Ok. I stood there, waiting for the person who was supposed to invite me but was coming late.
The «members» that turned up looked a little unapproachable; others came with tickets and were sent «round the corner». My black fellows came out again and started gathering the retractable belt stanchions. They left just one passageway. I’m usually lucky, I told them, someone will invite me. They laughed. They asked me where I was from. Argentina. «Oh, Maradona.» Oh, yeah!
Three couples arrived. Members or tickets? I asked them. «Tickets». I sent them round the corner. I’m a guest already, I told my friends, but not yet. They went back in to protect themselves form the freezing breeze. Another group came up. Members or tickets? Round the corner. And so I did with the next two groups. And kept on waiting. Not much, because soon after I heard: «Hey, Argentina, come in». They opened the door and made signs to the receptionist. Thank you very much, guys!
I entered with a big smile on my face, left my coat, and went to buy a ticket for a beer. I asked for it in English: A beer, please. And the guy answered: «Ok, y un trago gratis en el tercer piso» («and a free drink on the third floor»). Muchas gracias, primo, and a tip for you.
After going down the entire spiral ramp, marveled at everything I saw (I’ll keep the proper names), I climbed to the third floor for my drink. They also served some food: cheese, fruit, popcorn. I talked to kind strangers. They took me a picture for their Instagram. I drank up my (vodka) cocktail and exchanged my beer ticket for another one. Tip. More conversation and finger-food.
When I finished my second drink, I approached the barman (the girl seemed more strict), and asked him if the third one was for free. «If you give us a tip, I’ll prepare one for you,» he proposed. Obviously yes! And as I savored it, a girl came and told me: «I have to go out, and I can’t with the glass. Would you like another one?» Of course! Thanks!
After the fourth drink I happily went over the spiral galleries again, and, after 11 pm, I said myself it was enough. I thanked my friends again, said goodbye, and went back home.
The bus driver (a black lady) who took me across the Central Park to the A train didn’t charge me for the ride.
I felt muy very welcome bienvenido!