3 Unexpectedly fun COVID-era things to do in NYC, mostly free

After one too many frigid Central Park meetings with friends, I welcome any “safe” indoor meeting spots/activities. With the right mask, these activities below might be alright?. As Mayor-to-be Andrew Yang so keenly observed, it’s hard to live in a city apartment during these times!! I have no Hudson Valley escape, but the next best thing…

  1. The Ralph Lauren Mansions on East 72nd street

This idea might not work for whole families but for a masked friend meet up, it’s a funny option. My friend Erin and I had coffee at Ralph’s little cafe outside the women’s store and sat at some well-spaced tables. When the cold wind became unbearable, we moved inside and ascended the staircase to admire the perfectly framed prints and fashion photos on the walls. (See a nude Kate Moss with her hair in a big bun that threatens to topple her small frame-classic!) The mansion smells faintly like tangerine and florals.

The one or two sales women we passed barely looked our way as we cautiously settled on two plaid couches artfully layered with a cacophony of different plaid blankets and pillows. (It took every muscle of restraint not to take off my shoes and go full hammock mode; these couches are quality!) Maybe I don’t need a weekend home as I’ve always wanted! This could suffice. This place is serene and completely untrammeled right now and I suspect, maybe was so before COVID. Never really realized I loved Ralph’s clothes until that day. Far from the watchful gaze of staff, we could fully examine and appreciate the soft leather of a belted brown dress.. This $3,000 leather is so fine, it has no odor.

The piece de resistance is the top floor; it has a large living room with two long white d couches and no joke, a sleek white fire place complete with what appeared to be a true crackling fire safely behind glass. In one corner, you’ll behold a vintage book cabinet with enviable, swipe-worthy books. I saw not one cheesy volume (e.g. the collected works of Monet) but stuff like a vintage book of Kathe Kollowitz’s macabre prints. Someone curated this collection and I suspect few shoppers really notice (The travesty of hoarding such great books here irks me. It’s akin to how some law firms have enviable art collections displayed on their walls for lawyers to run past on the way to their conference rooms). If I had more time, I’d crack open a book and really leave a dent in those couches! Beneath intricate moldings and high ceilings, we luxuriated and enjoyed the feeling we had unearthed a little known treasure. Maybe I will return and go gonzo; I’ll set up my laptop and enjoy a luxe, kid and husband-free office. I’ll hide my Keto cookies in a couch cushion. Take a lengthy snooze and try not to drool.

En route to exit, Erin and I did enter a room and interrupt a strangely quiet meeting with cross, well dressed employees at a conference table but it was our only moment of feeling we had overstayed out welcome. Secret is out!

2) The Jewish Museum on 5th Avenue

My Jewish Museum treasures—Free touch sticks etc, postcards and cute sketchbook
Geez I’m a terrible photographer. This painting meant to be about Ethiopian Jews has an amazing frame inspired by the cabinet that holds the Torah (name forgotten) and I cut the photo off.

Why is this place my spirit animal? It’s not just my Jewish roots calling to me and the fact that Russ and Sons (normally open but not these days) provides the museum grub and I never say no to the type of Jewish delicacies my baker grandmother used to make me. (On my pre-Diabetic diet, I would kill for a good babka. Grandma Libby I’m thinking of yours. I would tear into it like a rabid animal!).

I can’t forget the memorable, fun exhibits I’ve seen here (Maira Kalman, Leonard Cohen etc) and it is most days, so quiet you feel akward entering a room—the guard, listless, studying you.

Right now admission is FREE. I went on a Friday afternoon and my friend and I were the only people other than a mom barreling through the galleries with her wailing baby in a stroller. Best part was the exhibit of the permanent collection of the museum, which had some fun paintings of iconic famous people, an Alex Katz painting on metal which seemed novel to me, a pop art painting of some lovable Yiddish words as pictured in the postcard above and modern sculptures that would make it enjoyable for some kids. (There’s also an exhibit about artists and social justice that was mildly enjoyable but not so memorable.) Bonus points for the gift shop that has some unique, quality merch and best of all gives away free little “touch sticks”for want of a better word as pictured above in the photo.. Now I can touch elevator buttons, ATM screens and credit card machines with sheer abandon (or at least can give these chapped hands a small reprieve from incessant Putell). I asked the kind ladies of the gift shop and they let me take four of these marvels for my entire family. What mazel!

Painting by Louise Nevelson whom my mother says is is distantly related to her. I’ve never seen her paintings only sculptures.

3) Museum of Arts and Design, Columbus Circle

Another of my favorite places in the best of times and it’s not bad now. Admission isn’t free but it’s still a solid choice for a quick indoor activity. A friend and I went during the day and there were about four other people milling around, far away from us. The jewelry exhibit is small but inspiring. Made me want to go home and bend some serious metal. Why can’t I make a bracelet that looks like a human fist like the one pictured below? Then the exhibit of Brian Clarke’s work pretty much blew me away. He uses many materials including stained glass, canvas and embroidery in such punk ways. Remember the dorky stained glass of your youth? All the labor you’d endure and the wake of burns and glass splinters? This guy elevates this form beyond church windows and the ugly hinged jewelry boxes I made at My Quaker Camp Netimus. . I never imagined adding it to a canvas like he does. Plus there’s this elaborate display of what inspires Brian from music to personal effects that reminds me of the “crazy boards” and bulletins I so admire. He’s my art God!

A blurry photo of a fist bracelet.
Stained glass and canvas. See the skeleton on the right? Brian Clarke.
Brian Clarke inspiration display.again blurry.

I wish someone would add to this list of places to go now. I’m stir crazy like many of you are too i imagine. Tomm I test out the MOMA to see if it feels safe/ unpopulated.

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