Friday, December 25, 2009

I Travel to the West Side

It finally happened. I finally trekked across the park to the...gasp... West Side. I never thought I'd do it. Sadly, I somehow thought upon moving to the Upper East Side that the West Side was some mysterious territory that was very unreachable, and, just so...foreign. Of course I knew that I could take the bus to the other side of the park, but there was just no way I could picture myself doing this. I had a vision in my head of this bus trip being an intimidating experience like it was in Baltimore- me being the only white person there- people staring me up and down with angressive looks on their faces. I dreaded the thought of breaking my normal pattern of taking the subway and the occasional taxi. God forbid I step onto a bus and break my routine. The possibility of crossing the park by foot had occurred to me once or twice, but it never seemed like a truly viable option. Knowing myself, I'd most likely get lost, or it would just take too long. I think what I was really waiting for was somebody to trek to the West Side with, someone whom I could use as a sort of travel companion (afterall, this crossing over to the West Side was truly going to be an epic journey). 

The opportune moment to embark on my wild West Side adventure arose when my friend Steph visited a couple of weeks ago. Her bus back to Philadelphia wasn't going to leave until Sunday night, and seeing as it was rainy and miserable all day, we decided that the best activity for us would be to visit a Museum. After researching our options, it came down to either the Met or the AMNH, as both have optional donations. We thought the Guggenheim would be an excellent choice, as we are both intrigued by modern art and convenience as well (it is located right next to my apartment). However, the entrance fee was $15, and, well, that was just unreasonably expensive in our (very cheap) minds. So, we opted for AMNH, as I have been wanting to see it for quite some time.

Steph and I grabbed our umbrellas and braved the nasty weather that day. The wind was howling, and we were both afraid at several points that our umbrellas were going to blow inside out, or completely disappear altogether. It was cold, rainy, and windy- the worst possible weather combination, especially for traveling. Steph and I were travel buddies abroad, though, and we had survived a near hurricane in Salzburg (literally crossed a bridge as lightening was striking down on us and hail was flying everywhere), so we knew that we could make it through this. We hopped onto the bus, and much to my surprise, I felt completely comfortable. I was very worried that we would miss our stop or get lost, as busses have typically proven to be very confusing for me in the past. Who would have thought that we would be there in ten minutes safe and sound?! Not me. I was shocked as we screeched to a halt right on West 86th street; it truly was a short trip. We stepped off and struggled through the blasting, windy rain to the looming steps of the AMNH on 79th. It felt comforting to finally step through the doors of a shelter, but the museum was dark and cold. Regardless, we were just happy to be out of the frightening weather.

Steph is applying to grad school for anthropology, so I knew that she would enjoy this museum, and she certainly did. I also found it to be very interesting. We browsed through all of the various culture displays and found the stuffed animals and semi-realistic settings behind glass to be fascinating. This museum had a beaten down quality about it, but kept us there for awhile, nontheless. There was just so much information to read about, and all of the history present there that I have never been exposed to before almost made me furious. How could I have gone through so many years of school and still not know about any of these cultures or historical events? Of course I had heard of some of this before, but all of it just seemed so distant to me.

 What also struck me about this museum was the attention to evolution; I found it to be eye-opening. The evolution of both humans and animals was highlighted here, and the effect was really startling. Day to day we do not think about these sorts of things, but at AMNH, you are forced to dwell on the cold, hard reality surrounding humanity- a bit frightening, I'd say.  As I explored this display, I began to think about the fact that it is just so easy to get caught up in one's routine while working in the city (what many refer to as "the daily grind") and forget about philosophy, science, literature- all those things we dwelled on so much during our studies. Leisurely trips to the museum like this need to become more frequent of an activity for me, I think. Regardless, it is so important to be able to take time to reflect in solitude once in awhile while living in a city like this. I think that may be why I value going to church so much more than I ever did. It has the same effect- it makes me sit there and really just quietly think about "the bigger questions" in life. A friend of mine who also lives in the Upper East Side just agreed with me on this. She said just walking into a quiet church calms her down.

After walking through the various halls filled with historical and anthropological displays, we stepped into the ocean wing. The giant, life- sized blue whale hanging from the ceiling was absoutely terrifying and awe-inspiring. It took me awhile to realize that this was actually the size of this ocean animal. After this, Steph wanted to take a look at the Margaret Mead wing, which was an expose' of her Pacific anthropological studies. I think this was very inspiring for Steph, as she is about to enter the same field. 

Towards the end of our browsing, we took a look out of the wide windows on the top floor that overlook the city. We sat on a bench and just tried to soak in the expansive, dreary setting before us as we caught our breaths. I had forgotten how exhausting it was to visit museums, even though it only involves walking around and browsing. We did it all the time in Europe and somehow had unlimited energy for everything we did while abroad, but not on this day. Maybe it is because we are just getting older!