Chasing Pyramids

In the mornings, while Matt does his writing, I stalk through the streets and museums of New York. If this was France and the Metropolitan Museum of Art was the Louvre, I would have sighted a pyramid before the week was out. Alas, this is New York and the Metropolitan Museum of Art is just the Met and I have had to make do with the contents of pyramids.

I’ve had to make do with 90,000 year old stone tools, evidence of the beginnings of metalwork and ivory knife handles that, if you look at up close, you can see the ferocious expressions of carved lions. Middle Kingdom wooden models of boats, breweries, bakeries and butchers. Granite statues of Sekhmet, Thoth, Horemheb and the ‘hoteps. Sure, the Met has grave goods, a tomb and a temple. But the pottery? Not even remotely pyramid shaped.

I shall take comfort in that if were I in France, knowing the exact location of a pyramid, I would not have the thrill of the chase, the hunt. Also, I think the Louvre pyramid might be too slippery to climb.

Pyramid Hunting in New York

The Guggenheim Museum, with its Frank Lloyd designed spirals and curves, was not conducive to pyramid-sighting. There were some well-formed triangles from Kandinsky, some inspired cubism from Marcel Grommaire and Leger, and some pointed ballerinas from Degas. Cones, yes. Pyramids, no. Otto Dix seemed more interested in blood and guts than geometry. I made my way up and down the spiral path, determined not to be seduced by Frank Lloyd Wright or the Chaos and Classicism exhibition. I had a mission.

Next in my quest for pyramids was the American Museum of Natural History on 81st Street. For a paltry $1 I learnt that the earth was approximately 4.8 billion years old, learnt how different types of rock formed and how to take an icecore sample. I saw a slab of the oldest known rock formation on earth (imported from Greenland) and several large meteorites, one so dense that it required concrete pylons to be constructed deep into the museum’s foundations to support its display on the 1st floor. I found a Tyrannosaurus Rex, an Albertosaur, an Archaeopteryx, a specimen of the Australian lungfish, Pleseosaurus, and the antecedents of birds, fish, frogs and turtles. I took a refresher course in human evolution and dragged Matt from cast displays of Lucy, Turkana Boy to Achulian and Levallois stone tools dating back 300,000 years. They had a cast of the skulls recovered from Lake Mungo (c. 35,000 years ago) and Kow Swamp (c.10,000 years ago/Pleistocene era). I casually made it known that I had participated in a minor capacity in excavating Pleistocene-dated stone tools in Wonthaggi, Victoria. I waved my arms enthusiastically in front of a mammoth, Diprotodon, giant proto-anteater and proto-sloth (Lepradon). I found some dioramas representing salmon traps that had been made by the North-west Coast Indians. It reminded me that I never finished reading about the eel trap settlement around Lake Condah, Victoria. I spent 8 hours over two days in the Natural History Museum, seeing approximately 45% of the collections on display. I am grieved to report that I did not locate any pyramids. I also didn’t find any unnamed dinosaurs I could name after Katie*. But all is not lost: a little plaque on the fourth floor said there were many fossils in their collection and too few archaeologists paleontologists to study them. I could always retrain…

*When a high school friend of mine found out that I got a job in archaeology she made me promise under duress that I would name a dinosaur after her. I am still looking. I just tend to get distracted by things that have existed within the last 30,000 years.

Things I have found amusing in New York

Despite the ambiguous name, the 3 Star Coffee a great friendly place for a cheap, decent feed. Family run for over 45 years.

Eight dollars before tax and tip at the Plaza Hotel’s Oak Bar. The service was the worst I’ve had since arriving here. The Plaza Hotel may be a good source of funds for building a pyramid.

A common sight in Central Park and the Upper West Side.

3 December 2010 – In transit to New York

View over San Jose, California.

We arrived in New York at 9pm on 3 December. We rode a shuttle bus to the International Student Center (the cheapest hostel in Manhattan) on 38 West 88 Street. A slight administrative error had resulted in our accommodation being booked for the 4th, not the 3rd. The slight administrative error may or may not have our reading of the calendar. The International Student Center graciously found us a reasonably priced bed at the Chelsea Star Hotel (302 W 30th Street). This hotel had narrow aluminum corridors with burgundy floor runners, yellow walls and brassy mirrors. It was loud. Some might say fun. The reasonable price was due to the lack of heating in the room. I checked for bed bugs. There were none. We got dinner at Amadeus Pizza across the road. The Hawaiian pizza was good and cheap. A homeless person got Matt’s mushroom burger as the mushroom burger comprised less of mushroom and more of beef. We walked passed Penn Station to Times Square at midnight. It was as loud, busy and garish as television suggested.

2 December 2010 – San Francisco

Final day in San Francisco. A short day. Breakfast in Cafe el Greco on Columbia and a brief wander along Fisherman’s Wharf via Lombard Street – a Vertigo filming location and home to a crooked street. Got shocked by one of the street performers. His gimmick was to hide behind a bunch of leaves and then roar at distracted tourists. I had seen him play the same trick on someone else two days earlier. Fisherman’s Wharf very much the tourist trap. Sipped water and swallowed panadol on the the San Francisco’s National Maritime Park wharf. Disturbed a great orange ginger tom from his nap. Lunch in a tacky Johnny Rocket diner. Chrome fittings and red leather chairs. I had a chocolate milkshake. The table jukeboxes were alas not functioning but they played Motown – not a complete loss. We made our way to San Jose on the Caltrain in the afternoon to rest up in the Ramada hotel. Finished Charles Portis’ Norwood. Good book. Flying to New York in the morning.

1 December 2010 – San Francisco

Matt and I sat at a round metal table near the tram stop on the corner of Castro and Market Street. We had walked from the Green Tortoise Hostel in North Beach down Market Street, 12th Street, 16th Street stopping at a Malai/Thai restaurant, bookshops (Adobe and Valhalla) and the Dolores Mission. I had done about all the walking I was prepared to do with the flu and four hours sleep. Matt munched on a peanut cookie, me on Starburst jellies. A black homeless woman in a red sloppy-joe came up to our table and asked Matt for some food. He broke off a portion of the cookie. She walked off but returned moments later to retrieve a crumb that had fallen on the asphalt. I gave her the rest of my lollies. We got on the tram and headed back to our hostel to a free meal of burritos.

Street Art (16th, 17th Street)

On the way to the Green Tortoise Hostel

San Francisco – Day 1 – 30 November 2010

Lunch at Cafe Zoetroppe – the cafe of Coppola. We entered through old wood and glass rotating doors. The floor was a mosaic of warm red, green, yellow and white tiles. The walls were lined with wine racks. The labels of the wine bottles were rich colours too – purples, burgundy, dark greens. The tables were dark green and white marble. Bottles of balsamic and olive oil sat on the tables. Matt had pasta, I had Pizza Regina. A nice treat to start our trip.

I was surprised to find something a lot like a pyramid in San Francisco. I wasn’t even looking for one there.