I moved to New York City so I could, on any given day, listen to some of the world’s greatest classical music, see some of the world’s finest art and eat at some of the country’s most exciting restaurants. Three months later, everything shut down.
OK, that’s not quite true. I moved here to take a job at the great newspaper Alexander Hamilton founded. But Gotham’s cultural greatness had long been a lure.
So thank God for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I’ve visited it three times since it reopened, and it’s been a balm to my shattered soul — and a reminder that this city is well worth its expense when not under lockdown.
There are some changes at the Met, of course. You must wear a mask and submit to a temperature check before entering. Water fountains are disabled, and cafés closed. But you can still eat a New York hot dog on the museum steps and marvel at the life outside one of the city’s best rendezvous.
That main entrance has a long line, but I’m not sure it’s because the museum can only operate at 25 percent capacity. Buy a timed ticket online — or become a member — and breeze in much more quickly through the 81st Street doors.
Do so and you’ll enter into the museum proper in the Hellenistic and Roman galleries. That light-filled court has always been my favorite place in the museum’s 2 million square feet. The benches now contain signs advising patrons to “maintain physical distancing,” but there are plenty of them, and I never pass up the opportunity to sit silently in that grand room amongst the beautiful human sculptures.
It was there, among the incomplete figures — a head missing here, a limb there — that I felt I might finally become whole again.
As I walked toward the fountain to throw in a coin and make a wish, I saw a woman sketching the headless but still breathtaking Three Graces. We’re lucky to have this font of inspiration once again.
After nearly six months without art, of course the great masters stuck out. The one-of-a-kind light of a Vermeer painting; the workmanlike genius of a Michelangelo chalk drawing; the hypnotic folds of a bright blue dress in an Ingres portrait.
But other things among the museum’s one-and-a-half million objects drew me, too. Rodin was one of the first living artists the Met collected, and his sculptural forms taking shape out of a void touched me now more than ever. Various sculptures and paintings on the theme of artist-as-life-giver seemed essential after months of life coming to a screeching halt.
That’s not to say I wasn’t also struck by less life-affirming works. I’m still haunted by Alexandre Cabanel’s 1864 academic painting “Echo,” with its redheaded solo subject, half-dressed, holding her hands over her ears in some distress: Had someone in the past envisioned my pandemic life?
Manet’s “Young Lady in 1866” was more reassuring: This redhead, standing tall in a pink dressing gown next to her pet parakeet, plays with a monocle, her vision challenging our own.
Portraiture is my great love, and I had to commune with some John Singer Sargents before leaving on my first visit. His masterpiece “Madame X” is part of the interesting “Making The Met: 1870 – 2020” exhibition (yes, there’s another line for that). But the American Wing, though a little harder to access, had its rewards: I could be alone with some of the most interesting personalities of the Edwardian and Gilded ages.
Having spent the day with a collection of the best the world’s civilizations have had to offer, I felt refreshed. Walking to a wine bar to continue contemplating, I ran into Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn on a nearby street. I had to tell the director how much I enjoyed his memoir published this year, and he pulled down his mask to reply. “Stay safe,” his wife told me as I walked on.
My first year in New York City might not be so bad after all.
Kelly Jane Torrance is a member of The Post Editorial Board.