The weekend before the Fourth of July, Andrew went on a trip with his friends, everyone else seemed to have vacated the city, and I found myself alone, holed up in my bedroom, the only room in the apartment with air conditioning. I spent the better half of Saturday morning scrolling through Instagram, envying everyone else’s fun weekends and feeling sorry for myself.
To make me feel better about myself, I started looking up cool day trips from New York in order to plan a trip later on. One easy trip that kept popping up was the Cloisters, which are literally 20 blocks from my apartment. The Cloisters are an arm of the Met Museum that specializes in Medieval art, architecture, and sculpture. The building itself literally feels like a medieval castle.
I had been once, albeit very hungover, and I didn’t fully enjoy it. But I had been wanting to go up, since they’re housing some of the “Heavenly Bodies” exhibit with the Met Costume Institute, and I wanted to see it. What sealed the deal though, was the promise of a cool, stone, air conditioned castle in the middle of an ungodly heatwave.
And so, I packed up a bag and headed up to the Cloisters. It’s so easy to get to from the West Side, it’s embarrassing that I don’t go up more often. All I had to do was hop on the M4 on Broadway and it takes you directly up to the museum. It took about 20 minutes door-to-door.
For New York residents, the Met museums are donation-based admission, so I showed my licence and paid $5 for my ticket. I’d like to someday pay more, but I work in publishing and am on a budget.
The exhibit was amazing. I’m a sucker for any museum, but the collaboration between the Costume Institute and the Cloisters was stellar. Since this year’s Costume Institute theme was “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination,” the Cloisters felt like the natural place to showcase fashion, since the medieval ages were quite possibly when religion was at its most marvelous.
I found the whole exhibit haunting and a little bit creepy. The different garments were displayed within the existing scenes in the museum. For example, right when you walk in, there’s a small courtyard and there were two habit-inspired dresses elevated about eight feet in the air, giving the illusion of floating, faceless women. Or, in front of a super ornate alter with a crucifix would be a faceless mannequin in a long, gorgeous white dress under a spotlight.
I was expecting the different dresses to be displayed all together in a separate area of the museum, like how they are in the Met. But the mingling of the garments with the existing exhibition was eerie and breathtaking in a way I haven’t really experienced in a museum before. I was actually listening to my own music (specifically, Florence + The Machine’s new album High as Hope, which was an excellent soundtrack to the museum) but the museum was playing church hymns in the background. I heard Ave Maria at one point, and coupled with the centuries-old art and the faceless mannequins, I felt like I was transported to two different worlds at once — both the Catholic church I grew up going to, and a creepy haunted house based on The Conjuring 2.
The Cloisters itself is on a beautiful property in Fort Tryon Park overlooking the Hudson River. There are a few balconies in the museum where you can get gorgeous panoramic views, and it feels like you’ve completely left Manhattan. The last time I visited the Cloisters, it was a cold, gray December day, and visiting on a beautiful summer day was completely different. The blue skies and the lush trees and the river views made me feel like I was in a castle in the Hudson Valley.
One thing I really want to start doing more is spending time in museums. They’re free, they’re always changing, and they’re far more interesting than just a coffee shop. Since I wanted to make a day of it and spend some time out of my apartment, I brought a book along with me and posted up in one of the museums courtyards. Even though it was over 90 degrees outside, the shade of the cool, dark courtyard was comfortable, and I did some decent work on my book. What’s more, the museum has a small cafe with food and drinks, and free wifi.
After I left the museum, I poked around Fort Tryon Park a bit, before I started sweating too much. I always forget that Washington Heights is super historical and played a huge role in the American Revolution and has a ton of landmarks. Fort Tryon Park is lush and sprawling and I need to spend several days exploring. The only caveat is that it’s SUPER hilly.
It seems dumb, but I was really proud that I went on this small adventure. I’m a very anxious person, and I’ll usually opt for doing nothing over doing something new on my own. I was in a place where I was wallowing, chastising myself for not making pre-Fourth of July plans and being sad about how lonely I was, and all it took to make me feel better was a 20-block bus ride. And I enjoyed it so much! Probably more than I would have enjoyed it if I had made someone come with me. I could go back through twice, take a reading break, and poke around at my own speed. It was truly relaxing and I’m already planning to go back up soon.
The moral of this story is that it’s easy to do nothing and be miserable, and it’s also super easy to do one thing and have an absolutely wonderful afternoon. And that the “Heavenly Bodies” exhibit at the Cloisters is 10/10 worth visiting.