Every person in the city, whether a native New Yorker or a visitor, has heard of the Metropolitan Museum. And a majority would have been there too, at least once. But that is not the case with the Cloisters, located at the top of Manhattan. Though it is a branch of the Met, not many people are familiar with this unique museum.
The Cloisters Museum and Gardens is focused on the art and architecture of medieval Europe, mainly from 12th to 15th centuries.
In fact, the whole place is designed on the architectural principles of a cloister in medieval Europe, though not modelled on any particular one, instead borrowing features from many.
When you see the museum, you will realise the appropriateness of the name as cloisters were living spaces for the monks, attached to cathedrals and churches in medieval European history.
The building with its stained glass windows and column capitals truly exudes an aura of grandeur and you feel like you are stepping into a long gone age of chanting monks leading a secluded life.
Among the decorative and liturgical art collection from various parts of Europe on display are illuminated manuscripts, stained glass, metalwork, enamels, ivories, and tapestries.
Most renowned among them are a series of seven tapestries, ‘The Hunt for the Unicorn’, commonly known as the Unicorn Tapestries.
These tapestries tell the story of how the unicorn is captured and killed, yet alive again and happily living in captivity. Leaving aside the allegorical allusions aside, these tapestries are full of rich details. Over a hundred plants and flowers are shown in detail, each bearing a significance to the story. A trip to the Cloisters is worth just to look at this set of tapestries; they are so rich and wonderful.
The gardens at the Cloisters are unique in the sense that they are aligned with the culinary arts. There are all kinds of plants, fruit bearing trees and herbs used in the preparation and flavouring of food. Also, there are many medicinal plants as well. These are plants that played a prominent part in the daily lives of the people living then.
For example, you will see woad, weld and madder plants that were used in the dyeing of material in blue, yellow and red respectively. And remember, these are the colours used to colour the threads in the tapestries that we just spoke about.
Intriguingly, there is a section of the garden devoted to poisonous plants! Of course, these plants too had medicinal qualities in the right hands, but the medieval background reminds one of many a story of intrigue and treason where poison played a main role.
These gardens have been planned and laid out to replicate a cloistered garden in the medieval times, based on horticultural information found in medieval treatises and poetry, and garden documents and herbals. A herbal, by the way, is a book containing descriptions of plants put together for medicinal purposes.
And the view… Did I mention that the Cloisters is located overlooking the Hudson? From the walks around the gardens, the view of the cliffs across the river is awesome!
Included in the view is the George Washington Bridge stretching across to New Jersey.
Opened on May 14, 1938, the museum is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. And what better occasion than this to make a visit to the Cloisters Museum and Gardens? And the summer is the ideal time to pack a picnic lunch and spend a glorious day at this museum.
11 Jul 2014
I love long distance plane travel… This might be hard for many to fathom. And they do have some valid points too. The narrow seats with hardly any leg room, almost inedible meals, the long hours spent going through security… all true. But for me, these are all minor matters. Especially when compared with the luxury of the exclusive time I get to spend without any outside interference. Totally personal time that no one can encroach upon. Beyond the reach of cell phones, conference calls, and business meetings… And beyond the call of pending household chores, which have a way of bothering me even when I have no intention of getting onto them! 🙂
Me and my book, curled up in the window seat… and my mind wandered to a long gone era of luxurious airline travel…
The jetliners that started flying in the late 1950s changed the scene of commercial air travel. The flight time from New York to London was promised to be a mere six and a half hours in 1958, as opposed to the 17 hours 40 minutes in 1946 and 10 hr 50 minutes in 1956!
This Pan Am commercial from 1954 features the prototype of the Boeing 707 jet clipper that started commercial flying in 1958.
Suddenly, air travel became a doable thing. And the airlines of the day came out with fabulous commercials to persuade the public to use the new means of travel. The TV commercials of Pan Am and TWA are full of champagne, fine food and perfect service.
Take a look at this TWA commercial… a flight from the east coast to Los Angeles.
In addition to all luxuries, it even promises pleasant company. “Everybody nice and friendly, like we knew each other.” And maybe to prove how air travel brings out the best in everyone, it even has a kinda fairy tale ending with… no, I don’t want to spoil it for you, do watch the video. 🙂
Air travel apparently was an occasion, an event, with people dressing up in their best finery as if they were going for a party. In fact, the commercials exude a true party atmosphere with everyone smiling and laughing and circulating with glasses in their hands. Having lots of fun. It seemed like it was more about living high, than getting from place to place. And today’s air traveller is left wondering whether it is all indeed happening within an airplane…
And the food… white tablecloth, silver trays, hors d’oeuvres… even the dinner was served off a silver cart, on china, with designer flatware and linen. And the meals came piping hot from full-fledged kitchens, complete with freezers and convection ovens.
And get this… the early jets had lounges with huge windows, sprawling seats, and buffets, where coach passengers could socialise. Some of the flights even had actual film projectors to replicate the movie theatre experience. Even when the lounges were removed in 1973/74 to accommodate more seats, portable service bars were provided in an attempt to retain the freedom of movement. Sigh… gone are the days…
And the rest rooms… nothing like the teeny little spaces where you are bound to hit your head somewhere unless you are a hobbit… Separate lounges for men and women, women’s lounges with vanity tables and settees and large mirrors.
When looking at these old time commercials, what impresses me above everything is the space… the abundance of it. The seats were fabulously wide with legroom unimaginable today, and one could move around between seats as seat belts were optional in those days!
Of course, air travel those days was only for the privileged few as the cost was astronomical and beyond the reach of the average Joe. Now, it has become more affordable. And with the competition among the airlines for your dime, it could get even cheaper. More so, if you are willing to forego comforts (basics?) like an assigned seat or a bathroom… that is, if you go by the plans put out by some of the airlines… 😉
P.S. Did you know that during the early years of air travel all stewardesses had to be certified nurses?
10 Mar 2014