I spent fall break in New York City, and it was nothing short of incredible. Each time I visit the city (this trip marks my fifth experience in NYC), I try to discover something new, which means I don’t stick to midtown Manhattan. I’d rather spend two hours taking the subway to a different borough than simply see the same repetitive pattern on every block: a Starbucks, a Bank of America, a Subway, and an NYC souvenir shop.
The Museum of the City of New York was hands-down my favorite activity all weekend. The museum is a bit off the subway line, but it’s an excuse to walk along Central Park North, so I couldn’t complain.
The museum building is beautiful from the outside, but the inside is stunning. Strings of white lights hang down over a huge marble staircase that curves up to the museum’s second floor, making you feel like royalty as you approach the exhibits.
The exhibits themselves were interesting both conceptually and visually. My first stop was a film about the history of the city from its discovery to waves of immigration and expansion to modern-day subway systems. Learning about the evolution of the five boroughs and how they came to be interconnected made my trips into different parts of the city feel even more worthwhile.
Next I sauntered through a room filled with artifacts from the issues and activist movements that have roared through the streets of New York, including Jacob Riis’s studies of tenement conditions, women’s suffrage, the civil rights movement, the rise of AIDS, and the aftermath of 9/11. It’s history, which I tend to shy away from, but the events are still so pertinent to everyday life that I can’t think of it as anything but present-day.
The gallery of Mac Conner’s illustrations was also a trip through pop culture, from advertising campaigns to magazine covers. It reminded me that art always surrounds us and is incredibly powerful in revealing cultural values. Print ads from the past always seem so ridiculous (“More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette!”), but future generations of Americans will likely look back on our art and feel the same.
I fell in love with Jeff Chien-Hsing Lao’s fantastical panoramas of the city. He conveys NYC’s bustling feel by capturing paused movement over entire days and later stitching them together into composite photographs. The result: enormous photos that go beyond what we could ever see in one glance at the city. I’m obsessed with his work now, and I even bought one of his photos in the museum store to hang on my wall (which tells you a lot, since I avoid spending money on anything, let alone “impulse buys”).
Another highly-recommended attraction a bit off the beaten path is the Queens Botanical Garden. It’s cheaper and more modest than the famous New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, but is a nice detour into the Flushing area of Queens and has a nice selection of flowers for nature-lovers and photographers alike.
Hardly anybody was at the garden so the grounds were tranquil, with walking paths that weave around different clusters of flowers loosely organized by color. A wedding garden with a white, romantic bridge and gazebo sits locked in the middle of the grounds, visible to casual visitors but only enterable when a couple ties the knot. The only commotion was the bee garden, where busy honeybees fly in and out of their bright yellow boxes, paying no attention to me or anything besides their jobs.
My weekend also included the dance & fashion and history of lingerie exhibits at the museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology and the Cory Arcangel exhibit in SoHo. The former was extremely informative as well as visually engaging, but photography was strictly prohibited. The latter…let’s just say I’m glad I also had other reasons to travel all the way to SoHo.
My fall break was filled with subway transfers, cultural discovery, and a bit of getting lost. I saw some fascinating exhibits, took a lot of photos, and didn’t worry about deadlines or drama with friends. My days were long and exhausting, but somehow I returned to Ithaca far more mentally refreshed than I could’ve hoped. Definitely well worth the tired soles.