In late March 2019, just a little over a year ago, two friends and I had the privilege of spending 48 hours in the Big Apple. The original purpose of the trip was to see the Off-Broadway production of Gloria: A Life*, a play focusing on Gloria Steinem’s life and path to activism.
A PBS interview with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg tipped me off to her childhood visits to the Brooklyn Museum. Curious to learn more, research revealed that Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving, the largest U.S. exhibition in ten years devoted to the Mexican artist, would be underway.
Our plane touched down at LaGuardia and we made a beeline for lunch in Brooklyn before spending an afternoon at the Frida exhibit, which was the first to include a collection of her clothing and personal possessions that had been locked away after her death in 1954. From there we wandered through Washington Square before enjoying a glass of wine at the iconic Caffe Reggio.
The following morning was open. It was decided that after a stop at Bluestone Lane, an Upper East Side café adjacent to the Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest, we would make our way to the Guggenheim. It was a delightful surprise to find 95% of the storied museum displaying the work of Swedish artist and mystic Hilma af Klint. Winding our way up the museum’s spiral, I learned that her significant collection of abstract work predates what has long been to be presumed as the first purely abstract compositions by Kandinsky. It was refreshing to find an entire museum filled with the work of a ground-breaking woman artist and teeming with women and men, many of whom were learning about Hilma af Klint for the first time.
On our way to the play that had been the impetus for what had miraculously become a 48-hour organic Women’s Learning Journey in New York City, we happened upon a bronze statue of Gandhi in Union Square Park.
Once inside the theater, we signed a poster board birthday card for Gloria Steinem before taking our seats in the circle theater to watch actresses explore and engage us in her life and legacy.
The next morning, our 48-hours of enrichment nearly up, we caught a car back to LaGuardia. I headed home grateful and buoyed by women from three countries — Frida, Hilma and Gloria — and by my eager and willing companions without whom I knew I would not have made the journey.
Fast forward to the previously unimaginable March 28, 2020, a moment when New York was the U.S. epicenter of the coronavirus. Museums and cafes in the city closed. Broadway and Off-Broadway dark. Iconic streets and famous squares empty. As of today, May 14, The New York Times reported that the city had experienced at least 192,314 coronavirus cases and at least 19,815 deaths.
I look back at our 48 hours with a mixture of awe, admiration, and sorrow. The air travel, freedom of movement, museums and theaters, cafes, and sense of safety and security we experienced seem part of a distant past. Especially in the wake of COVID-19’s ravages, it feels important to express my gratitude to New York City for its rich tapestry, the sweeping grandeur of its vision, and the moxie and resilience of its people. Sending healing, strength and appreciation to our nation’s largest city and its more than 8 million residents.
With care and gratitude,
*Gloria: A Life will be featured on PBS this summer.