Of my time in New York City, my favorite experiences were all to be had with in a half mile to mile walk of my hotel. Indeed, it is the pleasure of a large city like New York that interesting sights and experiences can be found no matter where you are. The key is to get out there and see what finds you.
Staying in Queens
I stayed in Long Island City on the eastern bank of the Hudson River within the Queens Borough. The hotel sat amid an old industrial area filled with repair shops for every conceivable thing: cars, taxis, food trucks, ATMs and so on. I had a peak of the Manhattan skyline, including the tip of Empire State Building, but most of my view was the grey exterior of the local power plant.
Yet I found the area rather charming. It reminded me of the small industrial area near where I grew up that was also filled with mechanics, food truck depots and other repair shops. Such an area may not seem like much to look at, but it brims with the life of the city as everyone goes there for something.
While looking at Google Maps on how to get to the hotel, I had happened to see that there was a museum to Noguchi nearby. This caught my attention as Noguchi was from Seattle even if he had settled in New York later in life. His sculptures still fill several prominent spaces in Seattle, including the massive sculpture Black Sun across from the Seattle Asian Art Museum. This gave my choice of hotels a sense of destiny, so I decided to head towards the Noguchi Museum.
The Noguchi Museum was north of my hotel on Vernon Avenue, which ran in-front of the power plant parallel with the Hudson River. Heading north on Vernon Avenue, I soon came to 36th Avenue. Towards Manhattan, the Roosevelt Bridge ran over the Hudson River to the island of the same name and away from Manhattan was a small business district. Turning down 36th to see the sights I found many New York classics like pizza parlors, Italian restaurants, and my favorite spot in the neighborhood Niforos Corner.
Niforos Corner was filled with people coming for their morning coffee, a snack for school and dropping off orders. Despite the hustle it was also a friendly, welcoming space. People held the door and said good morning while the cook behind the counter would take orders if the cashier was too busy. It had the feel of a well-loved community spot that helped to enliven everyone’s day.
I watched all of this unfold while standing in line and sitting at one of the small tables lined up down the middle of the cramped store space. The coffee came in a cup with a pull tab that forced you to slurp down your coffee with hasty gulps that threatened to scaled lips and throat. While the eggs and hashbrowns came in a single serving size they were reasonably priced and provided ample food for a morning on the go in the city.
Then with a hurried wave to the attendants behind the counter, I headed out the door and turned down the cramped residential street that Niforos Corner side turned down. As I walked down the street the garbage man was working his way up the street picking up the trash bags that had been put out. One of the odder features of New York to me is the heavy use the city makes of its sidewalks. The most distinctive of these is people putting out their trash for pick up, but the sidewalk also serves as overflow parking, patio and storage. All of this an excessive use for a sidewalk in my native Seattle that would have been heavily frowned on as bad manners.
I popped out onto the second business area two blocks north on 34th Avenue. Here was Flor de Azalea Cafe, which offered coffee and cold drinks. I did not stop here, but kept on towards the museum, saving it for latter. Down one more residential block and I came to the Noguchi Museum.
The building was immediately recognizable as its concrete exterior contrasted sharply with the brick construction around it. A modest entrance was easily lost in the eclectic city landscape, but also spoke to a calm to be found inside. The low ceiling in the lobby continued this modest trend until you stepped out into the covered section of the museum housing Noguchi’s granite sculptures.
The two-store covered exhibit space released you from the narrow entrance and lobby to draw you into this profane space of sculpture. Intervening walls gave an enlarged sense of scale and invited you peak around them. As I explored the sculptures numerous pathways out of the covered section presented themselves, but I was immediately drawn to the garden.
The covered area made up a third of the museum and contained many of Noguchi’s large works in granite. A second third is an interior space in a historic brick building original to the site that contains Noguchi’s smaller works and installations. And the final third of the museum is a garden filled with granite sculptures as well as a fine example of the landscape design work that Noguchi was also famous for.
I wandered through the museum’s many spaces, but the garden was the space I kept returning to. It was filled with small groups of people relaxing, talking and drawing. It was a space that felt perfectly suited for where it was, and I could have sat there for a long time in the peace of the late summer sun and deep blue shadows from the bamboo grove. I sat there for a long time doing quick ink drawings of the space, but mostly soaking in the profound tranquility.
Socrates Sculpture Park
Yet my capacity to sit in tranquility began to wain and a desire to move that seemed out of place with the space filled me. I wrapped up a drawing and moved back through the gardens and sculptures to the exit. Antsy with a newfound energy, I crossed the road to the small Socrates Sculpture Park. The park is a small neighborhood park run by volunteers on the Hudson.
After the Noguchi Museum it was nice to see a small community project that was not featured in every art history book. It was also nice to be in a space where such a wide variety of people came to enjoy themselves: parents with children, people meditating, or others out for a walk. It made you feel comfortable, welcomes and safe. While the Noguchi Museum was a space of deep contemplation this was a space of deep living.
The Socrates Sculpture Park also had great views of Manhattan, so I wrapped up my day with a drawing of the Manhattan Skyline. In the warmth of the sun and the friendly atmosphere I got out my watercolor sketchbook. I sat absorbed in drawing and painting I had to appreciate how red New York is with brick. While other cities I have been to make extensive use of brick, New York City seems to have true love for the material. It gave me a new appreciation for the city’s nick name.
Concluding with a Stranger and a Boat
As I put on some finishing touches to the sketch a massive private yacht drifts by, seemingly unmoored in the river. A woman stoped to laugh that it is not her boat and shake her head. I smile and observe that it is not my boat either as I would not spend that kind of money on a boat or let it float away down a river. We ramble on a bit about the boats we have seen on the river, before heading our separate ways to walk in New York City.