Part VI “The World is my Home”
At one of my painting exhibitions in Nicosia I was asked what discipline I would prefer, painting or writing since I do both with the same passion, I answered....I am a traveller...a traveller in the true meaning of the word as well as figuratively speaking...between the arts. And while I travel I can learn from people I speak to, from the galleries and museums I visit and the artists I meet. Speaking to people is also a mode of travelling which is my foremost passion.
While the hot summer season 2012 comes to an end here between the hills of the Kyrenia mountains with the scent of macchia sweetening the air and the governing view onto the blue sea I sit back and think of our travels across our beautiful world which we do once a year to fill up the tank of life awareness. I promised you to take you on a tour across America by train, bus and car.
American Tunes – New York, its people and the arts
by Heidi Trautmann
A small hotel in 11th Street, Greenwich Village, typical for the area of Midtown Manhattan, New York, small-breasted, with a stoop leading to the entrance. The room on the first floor was just big enough for our bed and two pairs of shoes to put under; the other facilities were next door.
From here we started our journey of six weeks which we had well prepared by reading about the places we wanted to see – art places were very important in my schedule – and about the possibilities of basic transportation. But first we walked the Big Apple. It had snowed heavily and unexpectedly.
We believe in walking a city and we had the famous avenues and streets all for ourselves, ravines of stone, glass and cement, the summits lost in the clouds of snow, the sounds of traffic subdued, figures stepping from taxis, all in a blur. The few on the street walking like us were the non-taxi-people, often wearing blankets over their shoulders, myself wrapped in my poncho, and there were the stationary ones squatting over the hot airs of sky scraper entrances. A getting the feeling of the city, by smelling it, meeting old architectural acquaintances. Later we went down to Penn Station to warm up; Midtown train station, huge, nice, full of smells also, and full of all kinds of people of all nationalities, but mostly all New Yorkers. The black lady in a mink coat, the beggar in colourful checked trousers and oversize clown shoes collecting things in a plastic bag, treasures for him; students sitting on the floor along the walls with their laptops on their knees. In the small busy cafés, where crowds queue to be seated, you get the typical American small lunches with lots of crackers, French fries and sauces, in plastic containers. We let the world pass with styropore cups of coffee in our own hands. Nobody minds anything and everybody his own business, queuing is a philosophy, I didn't see any elbows being used.
We soon got acquainted again with the underworld, the subway which took us in no time to all the places we have kept in good memory, and also getting nearer to MoMA, the Museum of Modern Art in 53rd Street, where on Fridays between 4 and 8 pm entrance is free. But what a surprise, there were at least 1,500 people winding in queues around the blocks under umbrellas. Luckily we have also bought two, and everybody was in a good mood. I heard no moaning, and within 20 minutes we were let into the holy halls, where we all got a “free ticket”. And right there in the entrance was Honoré Balzac by Rodin against an enormous glass wall, behind which the sculpture garden is. I had always dreamt to see this Balzac; so much had been talked about, and there he was, cast in bronze, many years after Rodin's death. When you have read Balzac, you know it's him. A seven-story-building, six reserved for collections, what treasures. A house for all disciplines of modern art, including interior and graphic design, photography and filming and video art, a place to go to and learn about your immediate past. A place many school classes go to and many sit on the floor and sketch away. There are many old European acquaintances and internationally known American artists I met on those walls in the original, who I have studied myself in my books many times for inspiration. I also met with pictures of artists of the “Informal Art Scene” (movement in 1940-1950), I have just recently written about in Cyprus, and here I met them all in the original. American institutions are always very good in lecturing, and everywhere you find things explained by videos. I saw young people rushing up and down the stairs, from one floor to the next, and it reminded me of Oskar Schlemmer’s Bauhaus.
In the agitation of the rush hour we roared along in the tubes together with tired working people and others, young and excited, to meet friends to go out together, just as we were about to do. The New Yorkers eat out or order meals to be delivered, that is the practice. The apartments are small, time is little. So it is with our New Yorker family whom we were to meet in their penthouse in Greenwich Village. What a view from the top of this small world; against the cold evening sky, we could overlook the brillantly lit skyline of midtown Manhattan. A penthouse on the 10th floor with two tiny rooms but an enormous terrace, it costs them 3.500 bucks a month. It is a breath-taking moment; I find myself confronted with gigantesque structures, a man-made order and beauty and I am impressed. It is the light which the architects have included in their planning, and the reflections of the one building to be seen in the neighbouring one, the setting sun which you can still catch at this height, while down there, there is night with its artificiality and far away from our own reality. It is definetely a place for the young, and they confirm it, they would not care to live elsewhere, right here is the heartbeat of time.
We dined on Broadway, a place where you meet the young successful, the intellectuals who enjoy good food and the waiters, looking like the entertainer of the musical Cabaret, are very attentive, but they may expect 15-20% service. I ate myself stupid with scallops on a huge salad platter.
The charm of Greenwich Village? It is the feeling of a faraway home the Dutch and British have brought here in the 1800's, the rows of narrow brick houses with their mostly white big window frames and the stoop leading up to beautiful wooden doors with doorknockers; everthing shining and proper, although over the entire weekend enormous amounts of rubbish in plastic bags were leaning to the trees which line the small streets, quite obviously they have no rats, cats or stray dogs here, or is it because of the cold temperatures?.
We tried to stay on the sunny side of the streets as it was still bitterly cold on that weekend morning. Along the Hudson river the old dock- and warehouses have been renovated following the idea of city planners to revitalize the dead and criminal areas into proper living, shopping and art centres. Forgetting all about the cold weather we dropped out of one art gallery into the one next door. We did about 16 art galleries, 16 out of hundreds in Greenwich Village and Chelsea. Beautifully renovated big rooms, high and full of light. If we in North Cyprus could have only one of them! The art exhibited? It ranged from abstract paintings to installations, photo exhibitions; there was one of a Lebanese with huge photos of his war when he was a child, or room-size negatives of Venice. There were concepts of changing the idea of living quarters, why must a door be square, why must things be as they have been for the last centuries, we live with the burden of our past, why not live against our past? Also, wherever I encountered modern art it was less on what one sees but what one feels. In paintings feelings are divided down to linearity, a sort of geometry of life. There is no more copying of what the artist sees in front of him (still life, portraits, landscapes), no, it is what is between the lines, the thoughts, the inter-relation between objects, between the world and the human beings. The modern artist takes the most simple object or theme of daily life and uses it as a vehicle for his art work, that goes from banalities to politics. I must make a reservation to my remarks, this is valid for artists who live in big cities. I have found, that artists who live in quieter zones follow also modern ideas but are not so black and white and they still do see the charm of sitting under an old oak tree like they do in Louisiana. Americans have their own ideas but it all depends on the experience of life they have and the surroundings they live in as it is with all of us.
When we were saturated with art we went to enjoy the visual and palatial attractions of a market mall in the same dock areas, a huge place to walk through with little places of delight left and right, first a group of musicians, the smell of a bakery, the lure of an Italian shop, a fish market, and in-between art, art on the walls, art as sculptures for everybody to sit on or to use or touch. I realized that people did just that and I was sorry that one place was taken by a lady, a place that I had wanted to sit on.
Around the corner a restaurant which was famous for its interior design; over two stories we descended into a huge hall, the walls covered with modern art, Asian art and cultural artefacts, and we were fascinated, what a place to dine in. And all this created in places where over a century ago cargo was stored in coming from Old Europe.
We left cold New York from Penn Station with a comfortable Amtrak train going for Washington. It was mid-February and spring was waiting for us there. Looking out of the window I thought, I love New York with its hotpot of different cultures who all have become New Yorkers.
In part VII I will take you around Washington and the Smithonian Art Museum and across the Chesapeake Bay.
Published in Cyprus Observer Sep 22, 2012