Soaking up the Culture

Hurrah for snow days! I am warm and cosy on the sofa with a nice cup of tea, busy ‘working from home’ (I have really been working, honest) and listening to children laughing as they pelt each other with snowballs outside. Aforementioned child genius next door is playing the piano for me through the wall, and it’s all very calming and lovely. I was going to write a review of Home, which I finished yesterday, but I have realised that it’s going to take me some time to let it all sink in before I can even begin to start talking about how magnificent it is. So instead I shall share some photos of my recent visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I really love this Museum. It’s like a cross between the V&A and the British Museum; absolutely ridiculously huge, but stunningly beautiful, and I adore spending a couple of hours here and there wandering through the galleries, always spotting something new to catch my eye. This time I went in to see the photography exhibition Stieglitz, Steichen and Strand, who were all early users of photography in the 19th and 20th centuries and took particularly striking images of New York, amongst many other beautiful, haunting portraits, including one I particularly loved, of WW1 soldiers practising rifle drills in a lofty hall of a Parisian palace, which unfortunately isn’t online. I love photography, and it is one of the great sadnesses of my life that I am physically incapable of taking good photos. However, this exhibition inspired me to just give it a go; some of their most magnificent images are of very ordinary street scenes, made extraordinary by the way they have framed them and situated the light. It doesn’t seem impossible! If you’re in the area, you should definitely go to see these exquisite photographs. And if you’re not, there’s a book!

Something I came across while in the Museum this time that I hadn’t seen before was its gallery of ‘Open Storage’. I have spent a lot of time in the V&A Museum stores, and while the public can make appointments to come in and view specific objects for research purposes, there is no real opportunity for people to come and browse the millions of objects the Museum doesn’t have space or reason to display, stacked from floor to ceiling in rolling racks of wonder. This is a real shame, as getting to go behind the scenes and see a) how objects are stored, and b) what objects are stored is such a fascinating experience. Museums are in a difficult position of not really being able to dispose of objects once they have acquired them; there are a myriad of reasons for this, such as clauses in wills, obligations to governments, obligations to donors, and the inevitable issues that arise from declaring an object no longer of relevance to a collection. As such, most have collossal amounts of objects that far outstrip their gallery space, and these objects need to be stored in a way that keeps them safe from damage and theft, yet also accessible for scholars and other people who need to see them. The V&A’s stores are currently at Blythe House, in Kensington Olympia; Blythe House also contains the Science Museum stores and some of the British Museum’s stores, too. I’m not sure where the Met’s entire stores are, but they have a whole suite of galleries in the American Wing devoted to open storage racks, where visitors can stroll amongst cases stacked with paintings and sculptures and ceramics and coins and medals and dozens of other objects, all of which would ordinarily be in a storage room. Within these galleries are some absolute treasures, including Whistler portraits, a whole suite of Mary Cassatt paintings, a rather eerie long row of Greek statues, and gorgeous ceramics, all of which left me wondering what other treasures might be hidden away in the bowels of the Museum. A wonderful thought!

More culture came in the form of my first opera last night; my friend Sophia (whose father happens to be a professional Opera singer) and I went to see Rigoletto at the other ‘Met’; The Metropolitan Opera House. Thanks to two very kind benefactors, the Met gives away 200 orchestra (the stalls, for my fellow Englishwomen and men) seats every night for just $20. You have to queue up to get them, so I raced to Lincoln Center after work to join the queue, and thankfully I managed to secure two tickets. We had absolutely spectacular seats, about 15 rows from the front, and I was in raptures throughout. I’ve never seen a live opera before, so I didn’t really know what to expect. I truly was blown away by the passion, the intensity and the tragedy of it all! The costumes were beautiful, jewel coloured creations; the sets were atmospheric; and the music – well, the music was absolutely sublime. The Opera house itself is absolutely divine as well; all gold and sparkling and sumptuous, and it really was just such a special treat to be there. I will be going again! As we came out of the opera at around 11.30pm, the streets were silent and muffled with the snow that had fallen while we were inside, witnessing the fall of poor old Rigoletto. As we hurried to the subway amidst the feathery flakes, I glanced back at the Opera House and had one of my New York moments as I saw the fountain and the beautiful arched windows become a soft, snowy blur. What a beautiful city this is, with so much to see. I am so glad I moved here.





  1. Don’t tell me Madame X is in storage! Surely not! I’ve never been in that part of the museum, it sounds fascinating, Rachel.
    And I’ve never been to the other Met either, I’m jealous! It does sound like you’re having a wonderful time. Though maybe we’d appreciate London more if we pretended we only had a year here and couldn’t waste it.

    1. Yes she is! I know, I was shocked too! I have no idea why.

      Thanks Mary! I am indeed! You are so right – I think I am going to pretend I am only in London for a year when I get back – it embarrasses me when I think about all the places I haven’t been in London, simply because I always knew there would be a ‘next weekend’!

  2. Rachel, this is so crazy – but I have a print of that middle picture you took! It’s hanging in my living room – I LOVE that picture!!! πŸ™‚ I’m so glad you moved there, too. It’s so nice to hear how happy you are.

  3. That all sounds fantastic- I particularly like the idea of having museum storage open for visitors, having always felt so curious about the stuff that’s not on display.

    Looking forward to your review of Home. I haven’t read the Gilead review as I haven’t read it yet, but I did just post a review of Home on my own blog. Absolutely loved it.

    1. Yes, it’s a great idea and means that things that really should be seen can still be seen even though there’s no wall space for them!

      Home is stunning isn’t it? You must read Gilead – I think it might be a smidgen better. I’m going to hop over and read your review now!

  4. Oh my stars and garters, I love Madame X. Portraits thrill me in general and this is one of my favorites. My favorite museum in London(next to the V&A, OF COURSE) was the National Portrait Gallery. (Although seeing the Rosetta Stone at the BM was a spine-tingling moment.)

    1. Isn’t Madame X amazing? Such an arresting portrait! I couldn’t believe it wasn’t on proper display. Oh I LOVE the National Portrait Gallery too – I am definitely a portrait person when it comes to paintings. They always make me wonder about the people in them, and whether they were happy.

  5. Ah, the MMoA is my favorite thing about NYC! And I’m so glad to hear you had a good experience at the other Met. The day sounds delightful start to finish. I’m looking forward to your review of Home. I just finished Gilead a few days ago and if it weren’t for a self-imposed book-buying-ban, I would already be starting on Home. I put it on my Valentine wish list though. πŸ˜‰ (Yes, there’s a wish list for every occassion. πŸ™‚ )

    1. It’s nearly my favourite thing too, Susan! I love whiling away an afternoon there. πŸ™‚ I hope you loved Gilead, and I will be posting my review of Home very soon. I hope you get it for Valentine’s day. I like this idea of wish lists for every occasion! πŸ™‚

  6. Oh gosh, am I ever jealous of your trip to the Met! I love Opera and am excited to be back in a city with its own company but it’s hardly New York. I am planning a trip to Prague and Vienna for the fall though so should get my fix then!

    1. It was a fantastic trip! Look at you – Prague and Vienna indeed! I am hopelessly badly travelled and am jealous. One thing I shall do when I return to my native land is see more of Europe!

      1. I’ve seen more of Europe than I have of my own continent! While I may have travelled widely within Canada, I’ve never been to New York or Boston or even places close to me like San Francisco! I’m planning to go down to Portland for a weekend this February so at least that will be one much anticipated American city off my travel list!

  7. Oh, Rachel, what exciting experiences you have had! The photography exhibit (Stieglitz, not less) was such a marvelous opportunity and through your words I have gleaned so much inside information on the inside workings of museums. Thank you.

    Rigoletto- “at the other Met”. For some reason, your awe and wonder is reminding me of the movie “Moonstruck” where Loretta (Cher) meets, is it Johnny? (Nicholas Cage) at the Met and her reaction to opera is so tender. I have not been to many operas, but, have loved the ones I have been to. My first was to see Carmen at the Civic Opera House in Chicago when I was in high school. Our English Literature teacher took us there on a field trip and while I could never quite figure out the connection of Carmen to English Lit, I loved the experience. Your first opera. You will never forget the feelings it stirred in you.

    Your photos are wonderful, Rachel. Wonderful post.

    1. I know, I am so lucky, Penny! I’m glad you enjoyed reading about it!

      I’ve never seen Moonstruck! I’ll have to watch it. I think your first opera must always be a special experience – it’s such a feast for the senses. I’ll remember this forever!

      Thank you Penny! You are so kind. πŸ™‚

  8. I love going into museums and art galleries around Christmas time. Before the holiday you can often get the place pretty much to yourself, which if there’s a popular exhibition you want to see is great. After the holiday they are full of people who are enjoying having the time to do something they might not otherwise be able to fit in and that enjoyment is catching. And I’m so glad you enjoyed the opera. I remember my first visit to Covent Garden. I was just blown away.

    1. Me too! The Met was very busy when I went in, and though sometimes it’s annoying when you want to look at something closely, it’s nice to feel that there are so many people coming together to enjoy what the Museum has to offer.

      I have never been to the Royal Opera House! The more I do in New York, the more ashamed I become of how little I have done in London!

  9. Not only a first opera, but you picked a great one to go to. It’s got all the great themes and music by Verdi – what more could one want (*runs to hide before any Wagner fans come to chase me down*).

    Seriously though, really thrilled you enjoyed your first opera and I hope you go to see lots more. In fact I note that the Met is doing La Traviata in the next few weeks, you absolutely have to go and see it, particularly because I’ve seen two of the three leads and one of them is such a star, and the other one is a bit interesting (IMHO) but wow what a voice.

    (Museums – not so much my thing, but the open storage sounds pretty awesome).

    1. Yes, it was brilliant – I can’t wait to see more now. My knowledge of the opera greats isn’t that good and I would like to be more au fait with such things!

      We are going to get to what operas we can – though for the more popular shows, the $20 tickets will be virtually impossible to get hold of!

  10. Lucky you for the wonderful opera opportunity! I would love to see an opera ‘in the flesh’ one day.

    And to have so many museums to visit is such a gift, there are not nearly enough in Toronto…at all. In fact, I’m suddenly feeling quite bereft! Pass the Ben & Jerry’s…

    1. Thanks, Darlene! Maybe you could come to NYC and see one here?!

      I know, it’s wonderful. I can’t turn around without falling over something fantastic to see and do here!

      Hahahaha – we can have a Ben and Jerry’s party ANY time you want!

  11. I’m so grateful to you (again!) for showing this portrait. It’s lovely and so modern! Look at that tiny waist and the daring cut of the bodice. She could be at a film premiΓ¨re.

    You are very fortunate to be allowed to take photos in a museum. I think I’m right in saying it’s not allowed in Britain, certainly not in the Portrait or the other big ones (not sure about the V&A). Here in France I’ve never been refused which is a marvellous gift to gallery goers.

    The snowy weather is obviously not preventing you getting around. Are you keeping a journal?

    1. Thank you, Chrissy! I know, so elegant! I wish my waist were as tiny as that!

      I don’t know if I technically was allowed to take photos! I think many Museums don’t like the use of flash which is a big conservation issue – but there’s also the postcards in the shop to sell, and if people take their own photos, they won’t buy the postcards!

      No it is not! I have boots and a warm coat and I am out and about just as much as usual! I am indeed – I couldn’t not! I want to remember this year in every detail!

  12. Your photographs are very pleasing – you’re better at it than you think! Perhaps only a little more study and practice are in order, but we don’t always have the ability to make time for everything we’re interested in, do we?
    I also love that museum.

  13. Arrrrgh, I still haven’t been to the Met. I know I can go straight away because it’s pay-what-you-can but I’m too shamed to pay only a small amount. 😦

    Am I very stupid not to know who Madame X is?

    1. Oh Jenny. You need to go! This weekend! Don’t be ashamed – pay your $3 and walk in proud!

      Not at all – it’s a very famous painting but you’re more into modern art than 19th century stuff so I wouldn’t expect you to have see it before! I think The Met is very stupid to have it – and several other Sargent pictures – in storage!

  14. How fantastic that your first live opera was at the Met and with fantastic seats no less. I love the whole open storage thing. I didn’t realize they had that at the (other) Met. The newly refurbished American Museum of Art here in DC has that. It is one of my favorite things to look at when I am there. I imagine being able to pick something for my own house. And speaking of DC, you probably know that we have loads and loads of great art and, unlike NYC, most of it is free. The National Gallery, The Hirschorn, The National Potrait Gallery, the American Musueum of Art, The Freer, The Sackler, The Renwick, all Free. So what month are you planning your trip to DC? We can put you and a friend up if you wish.

    1. I know – I really did my first time in style! I can’t wait to come to Washington and explore the museums there – I will be coming, and I shall email you about it – thank you for your generosity, Thomas!

  15. Isn’t the Met (the Opera) gorgeous?! My first opera there was La Boheme, and the overall beauty of the whole experience had me balling. Embarassing in the end when I had to walk in public with a red, puffy, blotchy, tear-stain’d face..

    WATCH MOONSTRUCK! (It’s practically my father’s side’s family history)

    1. It is! I couldn’t get over how gorgeous it was! I’m jealous that you got to see La Boheme – hopefully I’ll get to see it at some point! If it’s that tear inducing then I certainly have to make the effort!

      Ok I will!!

  16. I love this post. You are simply wallowing in culture. Your photos are lovely and your descriptions almost make me feel as if I were there. I have never been to NYC and am not likely to visit, but all Americans feel that it is a little bit theirs. It has so many iconic locations that we have all seen if not on screen then in our imaginations.
    The opera must have been lovely. Thank you again for sharing your experience. (I will repeat a former comment. You really must read From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.)

    1. Thank you Janet! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post and that you can feel like you’re here through the pictures! It really was a simply lovely experience. And I will track down that book Janet, thank you for reminding me!

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