January 16, 2021

by Gloria

Yesterday my husband and I got out of our apartment and visited the Whitney. We biked downtown on the Hudson River path and docked our Citibikes around the corner from the museum on Washington Street. Тhe Meatpacking district of New York or any neighborhood outside of our usual surroundings feels like a real adventure. It has been a while since we got out of Hell’s Kitchen.

During pre-Covid times, I used to move around the city every day. You would run into me on Times Square where I take the trains, on the Upper West Side where our kids go to school, and in Greenwich Village where I teach and often visit coffee shops and small restaurants. In the evenings, I would be at the theater, the opera, or the various performance spaces in Midtown and on the Upper East Side. On average, I would traverse these areas of the city several times a week.

Now, if I go anywhere, it is usually to the supermarket, the park, or occasionally the post office. On Sundays my daughter and I go ice skating in the Winter Village at Bryant Park. Getting tickets is tricky though as they are limited and sell out within minutes, but I am pretty good about jumping online and signing up for the best time slots. If you sign up as “Group 1” you get to ice skate on freshly cleaned ice.

It is not just the Covid restrictions that are stopping me from exploring the city. It is the general sense of unease and discomfort of being around people and sitting in outdoor restaurants in the cold. I have a few friends who go out a lot, and all of them got Covid. They are doing fine, thankfully, but I am simply not excited at all about the idea of being out.

I also hate wearing masks. Don’t get me wrong. I am not an anti-masker. We should aboslutely all wear them to prevent the spread. It’s just that I haven’t found a face covering that I enjoy. I don’t know if it is the way I breathe, or maybe I am just not wearing them right, but somehow every time I put on a mask, I manage to spit all over the inside of it and then end up feeling the stinky, cold, and wet saliva all over my face for the entire time I am outdoors. It is disgusting. I have all kinds of masks, from surgical masks to bandanas to fancy Wolford silk ones. None of them are any good. Frankly, more than an hour with that thing on my face feels like pure torture, and here in NYC, nobody shows their face without a mask anymore. Not outdoors, not inside the museums and coffee shops, not even in the parks. We are only removing them while we eat or drink.

One day I am going to look at myself and Georgy in this picture and remember everything we went through as a city, as a country, as a world. It is still rather surreal!

We found a small coffee shop on Washington Street, sipped espressos, and looked at the glittering lights and decors of the empty luxury boutiques across the street. Christian Louboutin, Hanro, Killian … Then we climbed the stairs to the top of the museum from where we enjoyed the city’s views and the Little Island construction in the Hudson.

We then explored a few of the galleries.

The first exhibit we saw sent us back to the 1960s, another era of political and social upheaval, not unlike the times we are living in today. We saw The Kamoinge Workshop — a collective of black photographers from NYC. They explored scenes from the lives of ordinary people in black neighborhoods, the determination of political activists, and caught glimpses of famous musicians and artists. Some of the images will stay with me. Such is a photograph called “Egg Nude” by Adger Cowans, which I loved, and “A picture of a young girl in Cuba” by Louis Draper. I found many of the portraits of women particularily powerful and gripping. You can see some of the photographs HERE.

We then briefly walked around a few other galleries and stopped to see some of the Whitney’s permanent collection, including quite a few works by Edward Hopper. I have always loved him. When our son Ivan was three months old, I took him in his stroller to a major retrospective of Hopper’s works at the Fine Arts Museum in Boston. I even have a photo of myself with my tiny baby, sleeping in his carseat stroller, in front of a huge Hopper canvas. While in the past, I found his paintings of isolation very moving and powerful, I never quite felt them the way I experienced them yesterday. His world is no longer a century old. It feels contemporary. I feel as if my life is reflected on these canvases. My world today.

With my baby in front of a poster of Nighthawks (1942) by Edward Hopper at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, May, 2007

One of my favorite thing to do at museums is focus on just one or two works of art, and get to know them deeply. A few years ago I used to go on tours at the MET on Friday evenings, to explore just one piece of art with a curator. One of my most memorable encounters on these tours was spending an hour with Ugolino and his Sons by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux.

This time, after walking through the Kamoinge workshop, I found myself mesmerized by the painting Soir Bleu (see it above). It tells so many stories and captures Parisian society so well. Which character represents you best? Are you the working class guy, the bourgeois, or the prostitute? Or perhaps the artist in the hat? I am definitely the clown.

On the way back we walked on the high line and I suddenly felt as if we are walking inside one of Hopper’s paintings. His portrayal of isolation and sadness can be felt in his landscapes, in his portraits, in his figure paintings. It can be felt in our world and who we are today. While we sit in our homes and argue about vaccines and elections, we are missing the meditative beauty of this moment. Sadness can be poetic. “We are all Edward Hopper paintings now.”

I thought a lot about that while walking on the highline and watching the winter landscape, the lonely, isolated people in their sparcely furnished “luxury” spaces. I thought about the fragility and brevity of our time here on earth. At the end of the high line is the Hudson Yards complex, which includes the infamous “Vessel”, currently closed to the public. It will remain closed for a while. The entire area is deserted.

The walk reminded me also of the time when I lived in Denmark. The sparsely furnished, modern buildings next to the older brownstones on the high-line are very similar to what one sees in Copenhagen. As was the weather, by the way — just a little bit above freezing and just a little dark and hazy.

View of the Empire State Building from the High Line in NYC, January, 2021

I loved walking the streets of Copenhagen and Aarhus when we lived there in 2012. The Danes customarily do not cover their windows, and oftentime light candles on the window stills, which attract passers by to look inside for a moment, observing the lives of strangers as they go about their daily activities — watching TV, cooking, eating, working, playing video games, reading. A lot of the interiors back then were decorated with colorful portraits of Obama. The melancholic feeling that we are all experiencing now in the city is what it feels like to live in Scandinavia.

2008 presidential campaign poster by Shepard Fairly

I will part with another masterpiece by Edward Hopper, this one is called “New York Interior”, and perhaps features a ballerina, repairing her shoes for an ucoming performance. This image appeared to him from a brightly lit window while he was traveling on an elevated train in the city. The high line is a park, created on the tracks of an abandoned elevated train. Perhaps it was the same train track where I was walking yesterday?

Today there are many of us, getting our shoes ready at home, eager to return on the stage. Some of us are alredy in our dresses.

Edward Hopper, New York Interior, 1921, Whitney Museum




Gloria and Isabel are the writing pseudonyms of Bulgarian pianist, teacher and concert presenter Lora Tchekoratova, based in New York City.

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Gloria and Isabel

Gloria and Isabel

Gloria and Isabel are the writing pseudonyms of Bulgarian pianist, teacher and concert presenter Lora Tchekoratova, based in New York City.

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