For the final instalment of my New York adventure I’d like to share my experience of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Now you might think I’m a cultured cat given that I portray myself as refined and sophisticated but I’m self-taught so my knowledge of the visual arts is limited. I’m familiar with a few famous painters like Renoir and Picasso, I’ve heard of Michelangelo and I’ve admired a poster of Le Chat Noir from 19th century Paris once in a coffee shop; but I’ve spent more time in the countryside than I have in art galleries. I felt like a child in a sweet shop as I wandered through the imposing façade of this Gothic-revival style building and stood in the entrance hall surrounded by numerous corridors leading to halls filled with sculptures, jewellery, pottery, ornaments, textiles, costumes, musical instruments and paintings spanning 5000 years and representing cultures from all over the world.
I was dawdling because there was so much to see and John had to keep chivvying me on but you know how curious cats can be and I wanted to investigate every passageway. The paintings area was split into multiple rooms dedicated to a particular artist each with a concrete bench in the centre of each room. When I hopped on to a bench I noticed that many of the tourists were looking at me and taking pictures as though they’d never seen a cultured cat at an art gallery before. I’m sure John thought I was spending time mesmerised by serenity of Claude Monet’s Waterlily Pond or captivated by the work of Gustave Courbet and his portrayals of people and scenes from the 1800s but really I was posing for the cameras! Anyway, the sight of Van Gogh’s abstract portraits and still-life pictures had given me a wibbly-wobbly feeling that I didn’t enjoy so it was time to explore the Halls of Arms and Armour which displayed weapons and protective military clothing from the Roman Empire, Ancient Greece, Dynastic Egypt and the Americas. My fur prickled as my eyes caught the stare of a dark shadow behind an enclosed metal helmet that formed part of a suit of armour worn by Henry VIII of England. I don’t know how people moved let alone fought for their lives wearing heavy layers of chainmail and steel plates from head to toe. There are more comfortable ways of looking stately and formidable I’m sure.
The Egyptian pharaohs had the right idea with their hand-woven linen robes embroidered with bold patterns and head-dresses adorned with feathers and jewels. The pharaohs such as King Narmer or Queen Nefertiti were the most powerful person in their kingdom, head of government and high priest or priestess often worshipped in a temple such as the Temple of Dendur. The Temple of Dendur was built during the reign of Augustus who ruled Egypt from 30BC to 14AD and was situated on the West bank of the River Nile in Ancient Nubia before it was dismantled and transported piece by piece to the United States at a cost of around 9.5 million dollars before finally being installed at the Met in 1978. The temple is dedicated to the goddess Isis and the gods Harpocrates and Osiris and is engraved with hieroglyphs, images of the sun, the outspread wings of Horus the sky god and scenes of kings holding sceptres and the ankh. Head held high, I strode regally between two enormous columns decorated with carvings of papyrus and lotus plants into a large chamber surrounded by a reflecting pool. I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the still silvery water and looked up to see a vision of myself wearing a golden crown and a brightly beaded girdle waving majestically to my adoring crowd. I would call on them to devote themselves to the miracle of nature, to the earth and all its complex forms of plant and animal life, and to support the development of wildlife sanctuaries across the lands. Cats from every species would be free to meander through the lands and crowds would stop to gaze in awe at their furry beauty. All cats would become a symbol of grace and poise and Shad the Cat’s silhouette would be deified in inscriptions on the sandstone walls. What a wonderful world this would be!
Docked in the Hudson River as the centrepiece of the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, the aircraft carrier Intrepid stands as a witness to the atrocities and friendships that have been borne out of war. More than 50,000 men have served on board since its launch in 1943 surviving kamikaze attacks and missile strikes as it continued on its mission to defend its honour and provide a safe haven for its occupants during World War II, the Cold War and the Vietnam War. I wonder what life was like at sea during conflict and whether they would have liked a cat on board to help control the mouse population and give them something furry and warm to snuggle at night. Perhaps that’s a question best answered by someone who was there, like one of the US Navy veterans who volunteer at the Museum educating visitors on how the ship was run and speaking about their personal experiences. I got talking with one of them who stood proudly in the Squadron Ready Room wearing his USS Intrepid bomber jacket and cap with his rank insignia and service stripes on his arm. He let me take the helm on the navigation bridge and showed me the chart tables, radar consoles and communications equipment. As I sat on the comfortable slightly torn tan leather chair in front of the radar scopes and plotting boards, I imagined the burden of responsibility held by the Captain the moment that red phone rang with the orders to engage the enemy.
One floor down is the flight deck which exhibits a collection of lovingly restored aircraft, propeller driven jets that supported US ground troops in Vietnam and helicopters that recovered the NASA astronauts in the 1960s. I strolled along the deck under the pale blue sky admiring the different shapes and abilities of the flying machines before me when a sleek dark lean machine caught my eye. It was the A-12 Blackbird and reminded me of myself, jet black, powerfully built and formidable. Don’t laugh! I might be more generously proportioned and a lot less intimidating, but I’m just as glossy and appealing to the eye. Shape-wise I’m probably more akin to the H-19 Chickasaw chopper with its chunky dark blue body, soft rounded nose and nifty foldaway blades. Many of the planes had menacing names like the delta wing Skyhawk, the Crusader, Sea Cobra and Fighting Falcon. I noticed several were named after my own kind like the Cougar, the Tiger and the F-14 Tom Cat which was the fighter jet featured in the movie Top Gun.
The hangar deck displays some of the technology and hardware that supported the ship before it was decommissioned in 1974 and chronicles its history as well as telling the human story through archival footage. My attention was drawn by the sound of a human in distress and I looked up to see historic videotape of a crew member being interviewed, weeping as he spoke of the horrors he had witnessed during a battle. As I walked away I looked behind me and noticed that the people watching the video screen with sorrow in their eyes were from many different countries. It filled me with hope for humanity to think that if different races could be united in their sadness, perhaps they can face other challenges together towards a goal of peace. Cats like peace and I’m lucky to have lots of it at home, apart from when the cat from down the road trespasses in my garden and we have fisticuffs under the kitchen door much to John’s displeasure. The gap under the door is one inch wide so the only thing that gets damaged is our pride as we smack each other’s paws in territorial defiance of each other. It’s ridiculous really and I soon grow weary, amble back to my food bowl to check for leftovers and curl up on my favourite bed, gathering my strength for the next skirmish. By the way, in answer to my earlier question, the veteran told me he would have loved a cat a board but it probably wouldn’t have been fair to the cat. So he now has a cat at home who sounds like she’s as happy and spoilt as I am.
John is fond of all things aeronautical and used to work in the aviation industry where he spent a significant amount of time in airports. He most recently worked in airport automation (installing IT solutions for baggage handling and check-in systems) but started off his airport duties as a ramp technician, loading and unloading commercial airliners, refuelling, and waving around those little orange flags that guide the aircraft as they taxi on and off the runway. These days he tends to keep his hands clean and stick to admiring planes from a distance, although he can never resist pointing out an Airbus A380 or a Boeing 747, or telling me something about planes that have recently retired or become operational. So if John ever asks you if you’ve experienced a Garuda Indonesia, a Mexicana or a China Eastern, he is referring to airlines not restaurant dishes!
Our trip to the Fleet Air Arm Museum in Somerset was a real delight for John as it combined 2 of his passions in life – photography and aviation. The journey in the car was long but I didn’t mind because an extended nap was called for to recharge my batteries in preparation for our tour of the halls that hold the assortment of aero engines, drawings, models and military and civilian aircraft on display. The Museum is Europe’s largest naval aviation collection and stores thousands of objects including examples of the first manned kites towed behind naval vessels, to helium filled airships and modern Sea Harriers.
As I stepped in to the hanger, I looked up to see an enormous fuselage of a modern jet plane hanging from the high ceiling and on the ground was a Hawker Sea Fury – a single seat fighter bomber used by the Royal Navy in the Korean War (1950-1953). It made me think about the sadness of war and the brave individuals who defend their country’s freedom and pay with their lives. May be one day there will be no more fighting and humans will be truly humane to each other and to animals. As the Dalai Lama once said, ‘my religion is simple, my religion is kindness’. I gave a little nod of respect to the memory of all those who have felt the devastating effects of conflict and continued my adventure through the museum.
There were helicopters taking off outside and staff working meticulously on restoring custom-built engines and the curved blades of a propeller. My favourite piece was the Concorde 002, the second prototype of the Anglo-French invention which first took off in April 1969 and achieved supersonic speed on 25th March 1970. Her test career lasted 7 years and she was placed on display at the Museum in July 1976. I sat under the delta-shaped wing while the museum guide explained how the aerodynamic centre of pressure moves rearwards during the change from subsonic to supersonic flight and the implications this has for the aircraft’s balance and handling. It was fascinating but a tad too technical for a feisty feline like me so I snuck off to explore the cockpit nearby while John listened to the physics lecture. I was having a lovely time playing with the knobs and buttons when it all got a bit embarrassing. The museum staff had to fetch John because I was allegedly misbehaving. He came to pick me up rather sheepishly and we beat a hasty retreat! It wasn’t my fault I got a bit over excited given all the interesting things there were to sniff, jump on and slide down!