On Friday afternoon I joined the congregation at Trinity Church to sing about realms beyond the clouds and a few hours later I was climbing into one.
The hymn, “Lamp of Our Feet Whereby We Trace,” was a fitting preface for my trip in and around Cloud City, a structure by Argentine artist Tomas Saraceno currently on view at--or on--the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s rooftop garden.
The garden is one of my favorite New York locations, even though I haven’t been there in a few years.
There are great views of Central Park and the New York City skyline. You feel like you’re far away from the city, even though you’re right in the middle of it.
The Met describes Cloud City as “a constellation of large, interconnected modules constructed with transparent and reflective materials” and I’m certainly not going to argue, though the phrase “giant Plexiglass tarantula” did run through my mind upon first viewing.
This…thing is cool, especially since you can actually climb inside of it. There’s no charge, but you do have to get a ticket and go at the appointed time.
When I heard I had to get on yet another line—something I seem to do all the time in New York—I initially said “screw that, I’ll just do my viewing from the outside.”
But I reconsidered. What’s the sense of coming this far and then stopping short at the front door? There are ton of rules to follow before you can enter Cloud City—including no drinking before climbing aboard (ouch!)— but I wasn’t going to let them slow me down.
As I reached the first level, I thought, “Wow, I’m so glad I’m doing this. What a great idea!”
Come Into My Parlor
And then I went to the second level, where I could look straight down through the clear plastic floors and see just how high up I was, not a good thing for a man who has a problem with heights.
“Wow,” I thought. “I wish I hadn’t done this. What a terrible idea!”
This was freaky. I felt like I was being taken aboard the mother ship in “Close Encounters of The Third Kind” and I really wished the Met would reconsider that drinking ban.
The structure supposedly rises only up to 20 feet above the roof garden, but it felt like a hell of a lot more than that to yours truly.
I thought of the cat I saw months ago walking over the skylight of my doctor’s office that inspired my haiku, but the big difference between me and that high climbing kitty was that I was scared out of my mind. Cloud City was definitely not my kind of town.
I forced myself to keep going higher, to the last module. A guide said that only two people are allowed in there at a time and my mind started ricocheting all over the clear plastic walls.
Why is that? My brain shrieked. Because this goddamn thing can’t hold the weight, that’s why. This tarantula is going to come crashing down any second and you’re going to be squashed like a bug.
It’s amazing what my mind can conjure up when it shifts into the panic zone.
I could actually “hear” the metal chords snapping and the giant framework groaning out its last breaths before it collapsed in a heap of transparent and reflective materials—with me at the bottom of it. It’s like having a disaster movie playing in my head.
I got to that last module, did a quick scan and then headed down the ladder to terra firma as I am a strong believer that more firma means less terror.
I was ready for that drink—big time. But the wait at the rooftop bar was so long that by the time I got to the head of the line all I wanted was a Diet Snapple and some roasted nuts.
I thought I had earned an “I Survived Cloud City” t-shirt, but I didn’t get any offers.
Now I am glad I did something different and overcame—more or less—my fears long enough to take in this sculpture/structure.
I do wish I hadn’t gotten so crazy in the first place, since there was nothing to fear, but that’s going to take a little more work on my part.
When that day comes I’ll definitely want a t-shirt. And maybe a Diet Snapple.