Unicorns in New York City

Just got back from New York City! To celebrate graduation, I took a little pleasure trip to NYC and was graciously hosted by my friend Camille in her Brooklyn apartment. I had a fantastic time, from the early morning take-off at Columbus International Airport until my Tuesday night homecoming where my mom stood at attention with Hawaiian chicken, rice, and cherry pie.

I’ve not had such a lovely flight as the one from Columbus to La Guardia (though it left at the ungodly hour of 5 a.m.) Due to a short delay, I was able to glimpse from my window seat the warm pink sunrise over the freshly-mown runway grass and soft mist. I settled in with my book (a  truly excellent read), Finding God Beyond Harvard, while taking breaks to peek at the shadowy clouds below, tipped with fire-white morning sun. We descended over the Potomac into Washington D.C. for a short layover, landing behind the Capitol building. I also had a window seat on the flight from DCA to La Guardia, and it was by far the best view I’ve ever had of New York City. We began our descent over the Hudson River. Below, I noticed a small island with a big green statue. The Statue of Liberty! I quickly oriented myself to find Manhattan, and I was in for the biggest view of my life. We flew right along the waterfront, and I was able to pick out the Freedom Tower rising above the glowing buildings. The morning sun cast a clay-orange hue on the entire city. The Tower faded from view as we headed towards Queens.

T H E  C I T Y
It was great to be back! I love New York City. I loved riding the trains… and people watching. It’s so inspiring, you know? All the people, all that creativity, all those beautiful souls jammed together in the giant metropolis. There’s so much energy.
And it was fun to pretend to be a New Yorker: swiping my metro card, eating black & white cookies, listening to a New York mother talk about “huwr doowrtuh.” There was this epic moment when we had walked and walked to get to a restaurant, and I looked at Camille in despair: “How will we EVER find our way back to our car?!”
“You mean… train station?” Camille queried. I had forgotten that we had no car! I had this hilarious realization that we had only our feet and a metro card. Little moments like that reminded me of the adjustment one makes moving from the country to the big city. 

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Little Italy
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Manhattan
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Rhythm
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Puppy at a nail salon

One other reflection of the city was the still-visible Sandy damage. We tend to forget those October newslines, but the effects are visible. I saw widespread coastal debris during our airplane descent, and Camille and I, towels and flip flops in hand, were turned away from the public Rockaway Beach; we met chainlink fences, orange cones, and construction workers instead. (We had a lovely time, though at Riis Park. We had practically the whole beach to our selves!)

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Sand and sun at Riis Park.
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Surveying Sandy damage: a dead crab.
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Sandy Crab General Hospital
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Camilla. ❤

D E S T I N A T I O N S
We conquered the Metropolitan Museum of Art, visiting all of Camille’s favorite Impressionist artists, and we scoured European Paintings, 1250-1800, for my beloved Rembrandt, only to find out his paintings are in storage, waiting for a new exhibit that will be out in two weeks. Sad face. We buzzed through Egyptian Art, before taking a second walk-through Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. I animatedly explained Oceanic and Native art to Camille.

Me: “Do you see the black, red, and white in these masks?! These colors are very typical in Oceanic art. And the spiral design here? This is because those living in Oceania conceive of time as moving in a spiral rather than a straight line, like in Western cosmologies. And this whale mask?! This thing is incredible! Indigenous people living in modern day Washington state and British Colombia believe that they are descendents of the whale! Whale-hunting is especially important for these tribes. This mask was probably used in a special whale-hunting-thank-you-ancestor ceremony! Camille, are you listening? Ever heard of the “save the whale” campaigns?! There was this big cafuffle because the whale populations were being depleted and the natives were no longer able to do traditional hunts. They agreed, along with the U.S. government to stop hunting whales until the whale population built back up. In the 90s, the whale population returned, and the natives wanted to begin their traditional, ceremonial hunts, but PETA and everyone else was like, “No! Save the whales!” It was a really big deal for the indigenous people! Camille, isn’t that so interesting?!”

Camille: “Yeah. Really interesting. Mmmm hmmm.”

Me: “And then this drawing in the ledger book. Camille, do you see this animal skin with drawings on the back? You see, Plains Indians would record symbols on buffalo skins, one symbol representing the most important event for the tribe in that year. But the buffalo became scarce because of western expansion (and federal government programs), and the only thing the Indians had to write on was ledger books, given to them by missionaries, the military, and government agents. These ledger drawings represent the resilience, adaptability, and the newly acquired nomadic lifestyles of Native Americans!”

Camille:  “That’s, uh, that’s great. “

Me: [hurt]

Camille: “No, it’s really interesting! Really!”

Probably my best moment, though, at the Met, was a guard commenting that she liked my dress. I think the humble thing to do would not be to mention this story, but… it really is a great dress, and it has a history of sorts, so… there you go.

We even made it to the Cloisters, a special Medieval branch of the Met. It is epic! Go if you can! Basically, John D. Rockefeller donated a ton of money for this monastery-like building, and the architects took some guy’s collection of medieval sculpture and architectural elements and built them into the building! Each door and window is from a different location in France, or Spain. The location is stunning. Set in Fort Tryon Park on the banks of the Hudson, you almost forget you’re in New York City. Besides the architecture, there’s a lot of Italian sculpture, and like seventeen… unicorn tapestries? Surprisingly, the unicorn exhibit was my favorite! It was at this exhibit that I found out that unicorns are mentioned in the Bible (5 times!), and it is believed that there is a sort of Christ imagery in the legend of the unicorn! I’m totally researching this!

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Masks from Papua New Guinea.
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Native American hide and ledger drawings.
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Whale mask from British Colombia.
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Langon Chapel: with architectural elements from a 12th century French church as the setting for 13th century French stained glass.
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The courtyard at the Cloisters.
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Notice the door, window, and candlestick.
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“Unicorn in Captivity.” Netherlands, 1505.
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Grounds and gardens at Fort Tryon Park.

T H E  H U N T
Friday night I was about to tuck myself in at the perfectly acceptable hour of 3 a.m. when I saw it. Guys, it was the largest flying bug on earth. It danced around the room and disappeared behind the couch I was supposed to be sleeping on. I broke the news to Camille, and the ferocious furniture-shoving, shoe-bashing, broom-jabbing, scream-inducing hunt began. I don’t think you all understand. This bug was easily the size of a fingernail clippers: with wings! It was a cockroach! Unfortunately for nature, Water Bug met his doom, but not before Camille fell off a chair in fright and our screams and giggles most certainly reached the apartment neighbors.

O F  F R I E N D S
My visit to the city would not have been complete without my dear friend Camille. She’s been such a source of support, encouragement, and laughter during the last four years of university, and it was my pleasure to hang out in her habitat. Together, we appreciated hipster Williamsburg and the Brooklyn Flea; we tried not to giggle out loud at the hipsters’ expected unexpectedness. We ate gelato in Little Italy at Caffe Palermo, the restaurant that serves the best cannoli in New York. Camille introduced me to Broadway, and she graciously sat through my socialist critique of “Newsies.”

Me: “Camille, this musical is totally a rejection of capitalism! You see the themes come out even in the dialogue! They called Theodore Roosevelt a commie! It’s a socialist critique of child labor at the turn of the century!”

Camille: “I don’t know…”

Me: “But, I mean, I totally loved the dancing, too.”
It WAS a fantastic show! The costuming and staging were stunning! What made it better was that we scored $30 tickets from a pre-show lottery! So much dancing and singing boys! Loved it!
And for my birthday and grad gift, Camille reserved a boat ride on the Pioneer, a schooner built in 1885. We had fun helping the crew hoist the sails. Sailing from Pier 16, night fell as we glided through the Manhattan harbor, past the Statue of Liberty, and back.

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With my lovely host.
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On the Pioneer.
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Night skyline.
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Cannoli: a Sicilian pastry dessert consisting of tube-shaped shells of fried pastry dough, filled with a sweet, creamy filling, usually containing ricotta.
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In line to pick up our reduced tickets. Cash only!
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The Nederlander Theater.
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So. Much. Fun.

An entirely lovely trip and a much needed vacation. And what an end to the academic year! It was also great to get a dose of the city before I move to (drumroll, please) InvisibleSmallTown, Indiana! Ladies and gentlemen, I have accepted an English teaching position at a small Christian school in Indiana, and I will be relocating in less than two months. Your prayers will be appreciated as I embark on another whirlwind moving adventure! This opportunity will be challenging, but mostly exciting! After this trip, I’m so pumped and ready to go!

It would also be appropriate to end this post with a poem. And so, here you have:

28,000 Feet
Aimless travelers
falling
like an airplane-
printed pack of cards.
Take trips,
miss
the orientation for the journey of life,
orienteering N, S, E, W,
centered on the sun, moon, stars, galaxies,
proudly displaying flags and loyalties
to conscientious objections of the Recruiter–
On atmospheric highs, on weekend getaways, try and hide
the turbulent shock and jolt of Earth’s interrupting pain.
Thicker blankets, bigger headphones, faster service
but we still must wait for the storm to pass.
It does not pass; we enter in. We cross from A to Y.
From birth to death.
We had awakened, surprised to find ourselves on this dizzying Orb…
We became alert.
Born scientists, we are wondering, observing, collecting, and studying.
Another lurch.
Where are we?
Have we really made it?
Who is the pilot?

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2 thoughts on “Unicorns in New York City”

  1. Esther. I love this so much!
    1. but I think you should know that I liked what you had to say about art and history and culture. It’s nice to hear a new perspective. Even if I didn’t SOUND very interested. I was.
    2. That said. I had a wonderful time w/ you here (okay. maybe I’ve said that before? But I mean it).
    3. and yes. That is a great dress. 🙂
    4. and it made my day that you wrote a poem (did I mention that I’m really into spoken word poetry right now? 😉 )
    5. and Happy Packing and Moving. Can’t wait to hear how it goes! ❤

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