Publisher’s note: After a pandemic hiatus, Nathaniel Brown of Edmonds is on another train trip adventure, and will share reports about his travels. You can read Part 1 here, Part 2 here and Part 3 here.
Following my Oysters Rockefeller meal in New York City, I had 2:15 tickets the next day for the Guggenheim, which allowed for a free morning to catch up on email and travelogues. It was a gorgeous, sunny, breezy morning, and the long taxi ride was a great chance to roll down the window and sightsee two and a half miles up the length of Manhattan.
My purpose for visiting the museum was to view the collection of Kandinski paintings. I’ve been puzzling for years at photos of these intriguing inventions, without the least understanding of them, but fascinated nonetheless by the angles and lines and “incidents” that swirl around in visual activity. The Guggenheim has a lot of Kandinskis; indeed the museum had its roots in Mr. Guggenheim’s early interest in Kandinski and his private collection of them.
Fascinating though I do find Kandinski, I must now reveal myself as a provincial philistine in regard to some examples of what I am assured is deeply meaningful and signicant art:
I am not cultured or sophisticated enough to fully enjoy the inner meanings of the above, but my friend Jeff explains: “The Guggenheim says these pictures only appear to be blank. There are tiny, almost invisible holes in the surface. Someone named Zarina from India put them there. They are very important tiny holes.” I will leave it there, and with a blush, retire.
There are too many Kandinskis to take in all at once, so I limited my viewing to a few I found especially fascinating, and the total time spent in the museum was probably only an hour and a half or so. In any good museum, there is a temptation to try to see everything, which results in a rush-through and a check list (“Saw the Mona Lisa, check; Nike of Samothrace, check…”). The best system, I think, is a walk-through to “case the joint,” and then a return with limited but focused objectives. In that great treasure cave of everything wonderful or imaginable — the British Museum — I have several old friends I visit every time I have the good fortune to be there — appetizers for serious time in just one or two specific exhibits.
(I read years ago, in the New Yorker, I believe, that with the then-new Nike running shoes, it was conjectured that a four-minute Louvre appeared as a realizable goal in the near future.)
As a building, the Guggenheim is special – there is nothing like it, anywhere. Striking from the outside, the best way to see it, I believe, is from the inside, looking up the central space, surrounded by that long spiraling ramp (oh, for a skateboard!). I elected to take the elevator to the top, and walk down; athletic visitors may wish to combine art with a workout, and start at the bottom. If one criticism may be allowed, the ubiquitous downward slant of the ramp, where most of the paintings are hung, made it very hard to balance on a prosthetic leg, and the dead white everywhere and the way the floor curves up to the paintings removed visual clues to balance. I’m sure very few have experienced this, but it perhaps bears mentioning; with a cane, I’d have been fine, nut a cane is one more thing to leave behind, and one more reminder of age, among a too-quickly growing list! Carpe diem.
Back to the Algonquin for a nap – conveyed thither by a psychotic cab driver with tenuous command of English except for a vast store of expletives hurled at pedestrians, taxis, buses… I thought it safest not to ask which planet he was from. He dropped me some blocks from the hotel because, he told me, the street the hotel is on was blocked. I paid and fled. Ah, New York…
After a nap, dinner at the Reichenbach Hall, a much-needed, level, eight-block walk from the hotel. Having been in school in Germany in the ’60s, I have a permanent, deep longing for German food. The Reichenbach produced a Currywurst vaguely reminiscent of Oma’s far-superior ones all those years ago — tastes, like smells are embedded early and firmly, and have the wonderful power of suddenly stripping time away. The Reichenbach was startingly playing — loudly — salsa music! They did serve real German beer “vom Fass” (on tap) in liter glasses — a happy escape from the Northwest’s ubiquitous super-hoppy IPA.
— By Nathaniel Brown
Nat Brown taught and coached cross-country running and skiing for 16 years before joining the US Biathlon Team as wax technician, switching to the US Cross-Country team in 1989. He was the first American to take over technical services for a foreign team (Slovenia) and worked also for Germany and Sweden. He coached at 3 Olympics and 14 World Championships, edited Nordic Update for 9 years and Cross-Country Skier for 2. He has written three books on skiing and training; the latest was The Complete Guide to Cross-Country Ski Preparation (Mountaineers Books) which has gone through two editions and a Russian translation. He owned and operated Nordic UltraTune, an international freelance ski tuning service until retirement.