Monday, February 18, 2013

Dogs (But No Dogs), Etc. - Part Three

[Part One HERE - Part Two THERE]

Monday, February 11th

On Monday, we went to MOMA (The Museum of Modern Art) where MY WIFE is a member.

[One: No. 31, by Jackson Pollock]

As with most other depositories of modern art, the New York one contains lots of interesting works and also a whole bunch of pure bullshit. For instance, there was one canvas entirely covered with white paint. It was accompanied by an explanation to the effect that it was an example of superior brushwork, subdued technique, and daring experimentalism. No. It's a canvas, originally white, painted white again. Calling it the work of a great artist is similar to having seen a guitar that had been re-strung and then deciding that whoever did it is a virtuoso musician. I was of the opinion that Jackson Pollock was the most overrated artist of all-time, but I am now convinced that Pollock is the painterly equivalent of Paganini when compared to the tone deaf jug blower who somehow managed to con someone into hanging in a museum something a drunken house painter could have accomplished in under a minute.

[The Scream, by Edvard Munch]

There was an entire exhibit of works by Edvard Munch, including what is assuredly his most famous piece, The Scream. This is actually one of four similar works, the other three residing in Europe. The artist himself preferred the title The Scream of Nature, but it has been known via the shortened sobriquet for a century or so. It is a somewhat troubling work, but unsurprising when considered within the totality of a gallery full of Munches. Cheeriness and gaiety are in short supply. As a matter of fact, taken as a whole, it was perhaps the most depressing collection of artwork I have ever seen in one room. Another example:


And this, a self-portrait...

Notice the foreground, a skeleton's arm.

There was a thumbnail biography of Munch on one of the walls. The most entirely expected thing ever read by me was the entry next to 1908 stating that he entered a mental hospital that year and underwent treatment for anxiety and hallucinations. Quite a fascinating body of work, done with obvious skill, but not viewed without a major feeling of darkness and oppression overcoming me as I moved from canvas to canvas.

Despite some of my cynicism, MOMA is certainly worth a visit. There is enough variety for anyone to find at least a few things of startling beauty. Even if you somehow end up being utterly unimpressed by even a single piece of art, the place has a great cafe. I highly recommend the chicken panini.

Tuesday, February 12th

We began the day with a subway ride to Coney Island. Our mission? To acquire hot dogs from Nathan's.

For those unfamiliar with Nathan's, it is probably the most famous hot dog stand in the world. Every July 4th, it is the sight of an internationally renowned hot dog eating contest (current record: 68 hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes, held by the amazingly still-alive Joey Chestnut.)

Unlike Mr. Chestnut, we had been tremendously unsuccessful in our previous attempts to eat Nathan's hot dogs. By my count, MY WIFE and I had made three previous journeys to Coney Island during trips to New York. On none of those three occasions had we eaten a Nathan's dog. We decided we had nothing better to do than make another attempt, so we set out on the quest.

The ride to Coney Island is worth the trip by itself, IF you enjoy elevated trains. The F train, or Culver Line, is perhaps the best elevated ride available on New York transit. The final leg of the journey, from Ditmas Avenue to Coney Island, provides a wonderful aerial view of many Brooklyn neighborhoods and landmarks during the 12-station run. The Verazanno-Narrows Bridge can be seen off in the distance, rising above the rooftops, and during one stretch the train passes above a startlingly large graveyard. We enjoyed the scenery, but we were after frankfurters. After about a thirty-minute ride, we arrived at Coney Island and eagerly disembarked, our stomachs growling in anticipation of a gustatory delight.

As we hit the street, it began to dawn on us that perhaps our hungers wouldn't be sated. There appeared to be little life of any sort. And then we truly thought, for the first time, about this fool's errand of ours. It was February, and a raging snowstorm had hit the area no more than three days ago. Why would anyone outside of two dopes from Boston be at the beach? In addition, we had forgotten the devastation rained upon the area during Hurricane Sandy. Much of Coney Island was wrecked during that storm. Debris still littered many lots and streets.

Nathan's was closed (although a sign, hung on the facade, promised a re-opening someday soon.) We scooped up what little was left of our dignity and walked back to the elevated, still hungry but a bit wiser. No dogs for us. However...

We attended the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden that night, so, yes, dogs!

We had watched the dog show on TV, with fascination, for many years. Although neither of us is an outright dog nut (I actually prefer cats, and MY WIFE prefers... well, she prefers to breathe, and she's allergic to animal dander) we had also seen the marvelously funny movie, Best In Show, so when we found out that we would be in New York at the same time as the dog show, we immediately decided to go to it. We bought two tickets for the finals.

I had another reason for wanting to go. I had long wanted to attend an event - any event - at Madison Square Garden. It is one of the world's most famous arenas. I assumed that I might see a basketball game there someday, since it is considered by many to be the premier basketball venue in America, but the dog show would do. And I have to say I was suitably impressed. The sight lines are magnificent from just about anywhere in the place, our seats were very comfortable, the ushers and other staff were courteous and attentive, and it is world-class in a way that I expect Boston's TD Garden never will be.

(I'm not totally dissing Boston's Garden. I've enjoyed many a Celtics game there, among other things, and it is decent enough. MSG, however, blows it away in almost every regard other than the fact that it is home not to the Celtics but the hated New York Knickerbockers.)

(One more great thing about MSG: They serve foot-long hot dogs there. I bought one and enjoyed it greatly. It almost made up for the disappointment of our failed trip to Nathan's.)

The dog show happens in eight segments over the course of two evenings. Four classes of dog are judged the first night (Hounds, Herding, Toys, Sporting) and three more groups are judged on the second evening (Non-Sporting, Working, Terriers). After the best dog in each category is chosen, the seven winners are brought back into the ring to be judged against each other. The eventual winner is given the title of Best In Show, the canine equivalent of Miss America.

We watched the first evening on TV back in Brooklyn. I was particularly taken with the look, and back story, of an Old English Sheepdog named Swagger.

While many of the dogs being judged are veterans of a hundred or more showings, and most are winners of a previous competition (and thus have the prefix of CH [Champion] or GCH [Grand Champion] affixed to their names) Swagger was in only his fourth contest and had never won before. He was, however, chosen top dog in the Herding group, and thus eligible for the big prize the next night. An underdog, in the truest sense of the word, I knew I'd be rooting for him come the finals.

Cutting to the chase, the finalists arrived in the judging ring. Swagger was obviously a sentimental favorite among many in the crowd. If you watched the show at home, you may have heard a few people yelling "Swagger!" while the judge was making his final determinations. I was one of those people. Meanwhile, others were saying, "Choose the bichon frise!" and other less worthy utterances.

One of the other seven was an affenpinscher. When he was being paraded around the ring, MY WIFE and I started chanting, "Monkey Dog! Monkey Dog! Monkey Dog!", but, even though this is the literal translation of affenpinscher, we were unsuccessful in getting the rest of the aficianados to join in.

The judge had two trophies to award - Best In Show, of course, and also a RESERVE Best In Show, which we understood to be the dog that would fulfill the duties of the title should the winner have been found to have done steroids or something. He looked them over one more time, while the crowd held its breath, and then he motioned at Swagger! Unfortunately, this meant that Swagger was chosen as the RESERVE, which is still an amazing accomplishment for a non-winner of any previous show, but a bit of a letdown for those of us who had fallen in love with the giant ball of fur.

The eventual winner was the affenpinscher, named (in an obvious nod by the owner at the literal translation of the breed's name) Banana Joe.

[Monkey Dog! Monkey Dog! Monkey Dog!]

No real complaints from us. The Monkey Dog was probably our second choice. We had had a fun night and seen THE preeminent event in a sport, live, for the third time in our lives (we had previously seen a game in the 2010 NBA Finals, as well as the World Championships of Curling, a few years back, which you can read about here if you can stand every possible joke my peabrain could come up with concerning men sweeping ice with brooms.) We will get to the World Series, the Super Bowl, and the Stanley Cup someday, but these will do for now.

And thus ends our trip to New York. Nothing more to say except it was a fine time and we would once again like to thank MY WIFE's brother for his generosity in letting us use his Brooklyn apartment as our temporary headquarters, and to Daryl & Ray for being, in person, as nice as they have appeared in print and on film. I hope you've enjoyed my somewhat wordy recounting of the events that transpired, and I think I've given you enough links to keep you busy for a week or two, so I'm going to bed.

Soon, with more better stuff.


Lowandslow said...

How cool that you attended the final night of the Westminster Dog Show. I watched it all on TV. And at MSG no less! I was for the sheep dog, too. There was a hound I liked in it's class but it didn't win. I was pretty sure that whichever dog won it would be better than that mop that won last year.

Sounds like you had a great, whirlwind vacation. I'm envious. :)


The Geezers said...

Sounds like a great trip. My wife very much wants to see the dog show someday. I find the Metropolitan Museum a little more my taste than MOMA, but have enjoyed both. I do agree, though, that much modern art is crap, though I don't quite share the Pollack distain.

Daryl said...

what fun, if i had known you planned on going to Coney, i would have told you they were closed for storm repair since hurricane sandy BUT you can buy packaged Nathans at many supermarkets ... AND next time check out the Museum of Arts and Design in Columbus Circle .. really interesting exhibits .. no Pollacks either served or hung AND there's a super duper restaurant ... next visit ..its a must do for you, me and your wife ..

Ami said...

I love the sheepdog, too. It sounds like you guys had a wonderful time and saw some sights I'll never see. I love the visual I get of two people all alone in the snow at Coney Island.:)

Michelle H. said...

We watched some of the Westminster show. I thought I caught a glimpse of two Bostonians in the crowd. :-)

Sorry about not getting the Nathan's Hotdogs. Maybe when I take a trip to New York with Jaq (one day), I'll ship a few to you.

It sounds like you had a great trip!

(not necessarily your) Uncle Skip said...

Foot-longs and MSG... does it get any better than that?

Sueann said...

Sorry your trip to eat at Nathan's was a bust...but the trip sounded great!
I watched the dog show too...enjoyed it and Banana Joe as well!
Thanks for sharing your trip.

Anonymous said...

I'm so jealous!

I would love to see the dog show! And Best In Show has got to be one of the best movies ever!

I can pass on the hotdogs though.

I've been watching too many food documentaries.


Buck said...

I had long wanted to attend an event - any event - at Madison Square Garden.

Well, speaking of dogs... I assume the Rangers weren't playing when you were in town?

You did more in three days (or was it four?) than I do in an entire YEAR in P-ville. Thn again, it WAS NYC.

Karen said...

I'd love to go to the dog show. Now you'll need to make another trip... to go to Nathan's!

messymimi said...

As far as dogs go, i think you got to see the best of them.

Hilary said...

I suspect that you and YOUR WIFE have fun no matter where you go.. and whether your destinations are open or closed for repair. Too bad about Nathan's though.

Best in Show is one of my favourite movies. I would have SO been chanting "Monkey Dog" along with you.

Cleary Squared said...

My brothers and I went to Nathan's back in October of 2006. We went down on the Sunday after the clocks turned back, and we took the N line to Coney Island, had lunch (there was a deal the time we were there: 10 dogs, large fries, three large drinks - a bargain for $20), and then took the B line through Brighton Beach back to Manhattan.

One other hot dog place you might have liked would have been Gray's Papaya. They sell just as cheaply as Nathans, but they're just as good. It's over on 6th Avenue on West 8th.

Jackie said...

So glad that you and Your Wife had a nice trip to NY.
I've only flown into NY and out of it...never actually saw the city except from above.
I'm glad that your travels were safe and hope that you have a lovely week.

Joan said...

Lovely trip indeed! The dog show...very cool.
I saw a Norman Rockwell exibit at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento recently. A bit different than Munch or Pollock. :)

Jenn Flynn-Shon said...

You're making me nostalgic for NYC! Matt & I just went out for some Italian food last night & it reminded me of this little hole in the wall place we used to frequent in the East Village. Then Matt got laid off and we didn't make it out of LINY quite as often. Then he got another job and we were going to leave NY to head back to Mass. Our last NYC meal was going to be at our Italian place but when we got there it had become Chinese food or something. We were devastated but took it as a sign it was clearly time to leave the City. I don't even know why this story is relevant to yours, since it really isn't at all, other than the food in NY is awesome no matter what you eat or where.

Sounds like you had a blast & hopefully all snow was melted by the time you got home (at least off the driveway).

Maggie May said...

I quite enjoy watching Crufts (English dog show) on TV. However I hate seeing dogs in silly little clothes and even shoes. They look so unhappy.
Not that the dog show has these awful things but I thought I'd mention one of my pet hates anyway!
Maggie x

Nuts in May

Matt Conlon said...

Way to turn a bout with unemployment into a few thousand entertaining words! Now that's how you make lemonade.

sandyland said...

With a name like Banana Joe we cannot go wrong sounds like a great trip..I've watched this dog for awhile and love the Affie Strut as I call it .

lime said...

my daughter diana is a big fan of jackson pollock because she feels like it gives her permission to be wild with paint. i can dig that. a white canvas though? good grief. how about i send in my used toilet paper once i laminate it? it could be considered a bold and daring commentary on pretentious excuses for modern art which merely dupe the unintelligent.

msg is kinda groovy. i've seen the circus there. fun time but the way you and YOUR WIFE watched the dog show i could have enjoyed that too. i'd have definitely joined in on the monkey dog chant!

Barbara said...

Dang it, I was rooting for Swagger, but Banana Joe is kinda cute, too. I love that y'all were chanting "monkey dog!"

Pearl said...

When they start handing out dogs, I will want a monkey dog.

What I love about art, though, is how open it is to interpretation. It makes us think -- whether in awe or disgust -- and takes us outside of ourselves. Also: patina. (This is what I say when I feel I should say something intelligent about art but really have nothing. :-) "Patina" makes 'em think you might have something going on...)


IT (aka Ivan Toblog) said...

Okey-dokey... it's ol' George's birthday
I bring that up because ol' George has a lot of history with NYC and Brooklyn in particular

Someday a retriever is gonna win Best in Show and everyone will faint
Why don't goldens and labs get any respect?

Every time I think I don't like modern art, somebody shows me some that appeals to me
It isn't fair

Hope this next round of weather treats your end of the country a little better than last time

Judi FitzPatrick said...

What a wonderful trip. will try to watch a couple of the films today. Thanks for sharing your adventures!
Peace, Judi

Shrinky said...

Good on Swagger, bless his fluffy paws! You and your wife honestly do share some gorgeous trips together. I do miss my London galleries, much as I love this adoptive isle of mine, culture is definitely not much of a priority over here. That said, I do get a wonderful view of the best dog show on earth every year. The Sheep Dog trials are held in the field below my bedroom window (the other side of our river)- it's quite a spectacle, with farmers and their dogs coming from all over the UK and Ireland to compete. I even hear the miked commentary and follow the scores. I must do a post of it in the summer!

Julie said...

Sounds like a great trip :)

Unknown said...

Pretty cool dog show! Glad you had an awesome trip

If you can, check out my new adventure travel blog :)

Chris said...

Bummed that you didn't get to sample Nathan's, the undisputed (by anyone normal) greatest hot dogs on the planet. I've always wanted to enter the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest, not because I'd have a chance to win, but just so I could eat as many free dogs as I wanted.

And I'm actually a fan of Jackson Pollock. I like abstract paintings . . . Pollock and Kandinsky are among my favorites.

Uncle Jim said...

Nathan'e Hot Dogs are the best. Someday you too shall prevail and have the gastronomic treat of your life..... followed by loud belching and possibly rumble bowel sounds.

Shammickite said...

The lack of a taste of those special Nathan's hot dogs was obviously a bitter disappointment to you both, but I hope the sight of those other kind of dogs alleviated the heartache! I've been to NYC twice, once back in the 1960s and again in the 1990s.... so I think it's about time for another visit, but please, don't try to make me eat a hot dog.... I can't stand the smell!