Wednesday, June 4, 2008
Visiting the Cloisters in New York
When the weather was fine, I loved walking New York’s cross-town, uptown, and downtown
streets getting from one Pen Festival event to another. But when the weather was lousy, I learned to ride the subway: to read a subway map, to decipher what routes to take, to buy a pass, find the right platforms and transfer to another train.
I also learned that subway riders still yield their seats to the aged and infirm because they always stood so I could sit (not that I consider myself either aged or infirm). Sitting on a wildly swaying subway car that jars to stops and lurches to starts has a distinct advantage to standing, even when supported by a wall of standing riders like oneself.
On Sunday, May 4, the day I was to fly home, I decided to ride the subway uptown to 190th Street to visit The Cloisters in Fort Tyron Park.
To get to the Cloisters, I needed to take the E train to Grand Central Station, then transfer to the A train to 190th Street. I didn’t know that on weekends the A train doesn’t run to 190th Street, that one has to exit at 168th Street where a shuttle bus would complete the rest of the trip. What I also didn’t know was that there were two shuttles, one going to the 190th Overlook Terrace station within the park, and another that went elsewhere. Guess what one I got on?
When I asked for directions to The Cloisters, my bus driver was perplexed. “I’m going to the Cloisters too,” the pretty teenager behind me added. "I'm supposed to meet my class there. I took the train in from Long Island."
By that time we’d already passed 190th Street (no bus stop there!). The bus driver pulled to a stop and told us to head "that way." He waved his hand vaguely toward the west, so we walked back to 190th and headed west, finding ourselves in a residential neighborhood at the base of a cliff. I told the teen that I knew the cloisters "overlooked the Hudson, so they must be up there." I pointed upward.
"They are? Why are there no signs?" she said. She obviously didn't trust my information. She was worried. She was already 40 minutes late. What if her class had already left?
How did I know why there were no signs? I was as stymied as she was. I don't think my "It's got to be around here somewhere," reassured her.
"Are the cloisters around here?" I asked two young women pushing baby strollers.
They didn't know but told us there was a park "up that way." Anna, the teenager and I turned in the direction of "the park," and eventually we found a stairway leading up.
Still no signs. We climbed a mile or more of stairs. We encountered a lady walking a dog. She told us we were heading in the right direction. "I better take you there," she said. "Too many paths that might confuse you."
Anna and I sighed with relief. We'd made it. I lost sight of her there as she hurried off to find her class. There were several classes touring the site, but though I looked for her among them as I walked through the museum, she never reappeared.
I lived in New Jersey for years before moving to Minnesota 30 years ago but had never visited the cloisters which were built in 1938 to house art works from the Middle Ages within a structure replicating their original functions: cloisters, chapels, great rooms , gardens. Original stone portals, asps, cloister pillars, and courtyards and astounding sculptures, windows, tapestries, paintings, and manuscripts. My journey through this work of art was one of prayer, awe, wonder, and peace.