MARCH (sort of): The Cloisters New York, NY
Make time and take it
Hot pink and lime green looped around, striping two little girls hula hoops like hollowed out peppermints. Together, they bounced along as their voices sang out to their mothers, “Are we going to Fort Tryon today?” Fort Tryon Park overlooks the Hudson River and is home to The Cloisters, a museum run by The Met. We passed the girls and their mothers on a street in Hudson Heights and crossed into the park.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my “one new place a month” experiment, it’s that a month isn’t very long. Four weekends, that’s all it offers, five if time’s on your side. March came and went before I was ready, before I decided to start this blog and embark on this adventure, before I’d been anywhere new. So, I decided to visit two places in May and use one for March (I mean if you can’t break your own rules, what’s the point?). But when the morning of our trip to The Cloisters came I was busy with work and didn’t want to take the time to go. I hemmed and hawed and eventually just went. In the end, this small break rejuvenated me and made my work go quicker later on.
We parked outside Fort Tryon and walked from one end of the park to the other. It was cloudy and overcast, but warm and the wind welcomed us like a generous host. Rows of flowers lined the path, and we found ourselves, normally speed-walkers, slowing down and brightening with the pops of purple, fuschia, and buttery yellow. Little kids ran and laughed, they learned to throw baseballs, rode bikes, and laid belly-down-elbows-balanced in the grass. Their parents lounged or played too. It had been a short winter, but it felt like forever since I’d simply walked through a park.
Before visiting The Cloisters I misunderstood what they were exactly. I thought the building was a replica of one specific Medieval European cloister, while in fact, it’s a combination of real materials from a few, including Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa, Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, Trie-en-Bigorre, and Froville. A line swirled out the front of the building and down the paved drive. Two frazzled employees rushed by murmuring to one another, “I’ve never seen it like this before.” Without knowing, we visited on the same day as a series of concerts advertised in the New York Times. But we weren’t in a hurry. It was nice to stand outside and take in the lovely building, the lightness of the day.
Inside, we wandered without much direction. The museum held artifacts, sculptures, tapestries and other pieces of art from around the world that seemed to be displayed chronologically. We weaved in and out of the rooms in awe of the building itself, with its stained glass windows, architecture, and ceiling paintings. But it was the gardens, recreated from each of the cloisters that drew me in. Again the proud flowers stood open and beckoning. We strolled through the crowds, and stood out on a terrace, gazing across the Hudson as a sailboat swept across its surface like a painting. Everything felt sacred, like a step back in time. This couldn’t possibly be NYC. The park with its lively greenery, and now these stone halls, echoing the sounds of somewhere else, some other time far away.
We saw each room in the museum before I was ready to go home. Retracing our steps we walked back through the park, past a little girl’s cake-covered birthday picnic, and out into the city streets. It was easy getting back to the George Washington Bridge and over to NJ. Reluctant to end our day, we drove towards the Palisades Parkway. We both love this tree-canopied road, much like The Cloisters and Fort Tryon, it feels as if the Palisades belongs somewhere else. Today, we wanted to explore the view we’d seen from The Cloister’s terrace, a spot we’d never been to before, closer to the water and along the scenic Henry Hudson Drive. John D. Rockefeller Jr. not only purchased the land that is Fort Tryon park, but also much of the land across the river, donating it to The Palisades Interstate Park Commission and preserving the view from The Cloisters forever.
We sped along passing cyclists, but otherwise, we were alone beneath the leafy canopy. And I thought about time again, how it seems to drag on or fly by, but really it’s always ticking away at the same pace. The only difference is sometimes we stop to think, to enjoy the trees and realize how enchanting a slow breeze can be on a warm gray day.