The Met at Night

We ended our vacation by spending one long, glorious day and most of an enchanted evening at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

We’re big fans of the Met. In fact, until I reacquainted myself with London a few years ago, I thought that the Met was pretty much the greatest place in the world.

Sorry, the Met. London is just a little bit more magical.

But still — the Met comes in at a close second. Which isn’t too shabby, when you think about it.

There was a small — but excellent — exhibit of caricature in the paper & drawings section on the second floor. Since the Regency era was kind of a heyday for brutal caricature, it will come as no surprise that I ran into more than a few old friends there.

The entryway alone made me feel that I was among My People. Check out the life size mural that greeted you as you walked into the special exhibit gallery:


And, also no big surprise, there was a tremendous amount of Napoleonic imagery. Which reminds me — I need to tell you at some point about the fist fight I nearly got into with a docent at Washington Irving’s house about the Napoleonic Wars, and about whether or not Washington Irving would have been affected by them in his travels in Europe.

In early 1815.

Anyway, like I was saying: The Corsican Spider!


We hefty Hanoverians are not frightened of you, you silly little emperor!


I actually like this next one because it doesn’t make Napoleon look physically grotesque in any way (which is the reason why I usually don’t care for caricature, especially of this era — it all usually boils down to gags about various people being fat).

In fact, Boney looks rather dapper here, if a bit, ah, overextended:


Complicated metaphors are complicated:


Uncomplicated ones are less so:


Even people of the time thought those high collars and face-swallowing bonnets were silly. This one is called Les Invisibles.


Oh, those dandies on Rotten Row. Funny how it was clear that men wearing corsets would have a hard time riding horses. But women in ridiculous costume? Pft. Whatever. That’s just ladies bein’ ladies.

This one pretty accurately sums up how I feel about fashions of the 1820s-1830s:


Later, in the American Wing, I was a little startled to stumble across Prinny himself, looking more than a little corseted, too.


And then my visit rapidly devolved into me fangirling over various dead guys in cravats. Welcome to life on the road with me.

Alexander Hamilton.


Washington Irving.


My main squeeze, Grant.


And oh my god this guy. THIS. GUY.


I actually had to sit down on a bench in front of that guy and his horse for a while before I could move on. I mean, I’ve seen him around the neighborhood before. Even featured him once or twice over on But it’s another thing entirely to go waltzing innocently around a corner and suddenly be confronted with a 20-foot-tall version of the man himself.

Am I exaggerating? Maybe. Maybe not. You weren’t there. Don’t you judge me.

Of course, when I finally gathered my thoughts, rose shakily from my bench, avoided the curious stares of museum guards and German tourists, I turned around and saw this old friend, too.

And down I go onto my bench once more. WHOMP.


And how many of us have had impure thoughts about this next guy over the centuries?

Honestly now. You can tell us. We are your friends.


Yeah. I know.

At the end of the night, we splurged. We’re members, and apparently members have access to the extremely poncy restaurant on the top floor, overlooking Central Park in all its glory. So we booked ourselves a table for the last seating of the night, and took that velvet-roped elevator on up to the penthouse suite.

The restaurant was just what you’d expect — really pricey, really good, really well served and plated. We were without question the least affluent people in the room, but fortunately we were both raised by middle class strivers who taught us which fork to use and how to behave like fit and proper people.

So dinner was lovely, and a very nice way to spend our last evening in New York before the long drive home the next day.

But the real treat was yet to come.

We booked ourselves at the last seating in the Members’ Dining Room, remember? And the Met is open late on Friday nights, but not as late as the restaurant is. So we walked out of there, all alone, at ten o’clock at night. Through a silent, cavernous museum that we had all to ourselves, except for one or two security guards.

The guards kept us moving, of course, in their gracious, solemn way. But we managed a very civil, very leisurely stroll nonetheless, through an entire wing of the Met with only our own footsteps ringing off the thick marble walls for company.

It. Was. Awesome.

For somebody raised on From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, it was pretty much a dream come true.

The only thing missing was a little midnight bathing in the fountain.

Next time, maybe.

Next time.


I saw you look at the japanese maple

I’m a cheap date, let’s face it. Gardens, great houses, and museums can pretty much keep me happy for days. Throw in a few historical sites and some old train tracks, and I’m the happiest little tourist you ever did see.

All of which means that the Hudson River Valley and I were made for each other.

We’re camped out now in our homebase, a tiny house rental midway between Tarrytown and Rhinebeck. Tomorrow, we’re off to Tarrytown, to revisit Kykuit (the modest little abode of the Rockefellers), Sunnyside (home of Washington Irving and some stupendous views), and a wee little church nearby with one or two casual stained glass windows by Chagall and Matisse.

But tomorrow it is going to rain, so I don’t know how great the photography is going to be.

Don’t worry, I made up for it today, by snapping a million billion photographs of the amazing gardens at Stone Crop.

You guys. Stone. Crop. Go to Cold Spring, swing east for a few miles, and go up into the hills on quite possibly the most perfectly beautiful, tree-lined, leaf-strewn winding road you can imagine. Pay the paltry five dollars admission, and then enjoy hours and hours of incredible gardens and grounds to wander through.

Also, there are cats.

Cats! Who will let you skritch them and everything!!

I’m on vacation and therefore lazy, so I’m not going to do the full-on photoblog extravaganza I usually go in for. Instead, I’m just going to embed a dreamy little slideshow, go make some tea, and have some chocolate.

See? I told you I was a cheap date.

Tales of Old New York

I’m off tomorrow for a long, uninterrupted week of meandering aimlessly around the Hudson River Valley on my annual Autumnal vacation.

Of course, this will primarily consist of swanning around some of the more glorious 19th century homes in the area, badgering the docents for answers to arcane historical questions, and pretending that I am wearing a corset.

I mean. I’ll be pretending that I’m wearing a fair bit more than just a corset, you understand. But it does all begin with the corset.

At least, it always starts there in MY mind.

But enough about me and my wildly overactive fantasy life.

I will, of course, take lots of pictures and possibly videos and also many notes and share them with you here, as well as transcribing whatever Tales Of Adventure And Heroism might occur to us along the way.

In the meantime, have a lovely, lovely weekend, tell each other great, wild, thrilling stories, and then maybe go jump in a pile of leaves.

I’ll see you on the other side.

rhinebeck 156

Lady Ada At Your Service

Ada Lovelace by

When I was a kid, I used to play some epic games in the bathtub. You did too, don’t try to deny it.

All those silly little storytelling games you made up while the water slowly cooled?

One game I remember playing in particular was the one in which I was a daredevil spy for the British Crown, and my codename was Lady Ada.

I thought at the time that I had totally made this name up, that this combination of letters and sounds simply hadn’t existed until I had come along to devise it and claim it as my own.

Also, I thought it kicked all kinds of ass.

Imagine my surprise and amazement when, later in life, I discovered the awesomeness that is Ada Lovelace! While my high opinion of my own creative powers may have taken a blow, I consoled myself with the fact that my namesake was so undeniably kickass as to render the point moot.

Yeah, I was forever rendering points “moot” when I was a kid. I bet I was pretty freaking annoying, when it comes right down to it.

So Ada Lovelace, as you surely already know, was Lord Byron’s only legitimate child. Born of his extremely misguided union with the unfortunate Anne Milbanke, a very serious-minded young woman who had high hopes of reforming the mad, bad, seriously dangerous Lord Byron.

Oh, ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

“Reform” Byron. Honestly. That one never gets old. Excuse me while I wipe the tears of hilarity from mine eyes.

So anyway, the two mismatched turtle doves stayed together long enough to produce a child, who was born just before Anne decided Byron was well past redemption and that she was better off prosecuting him — in excruciating detail — for all of his admittedly beastly behavior.

Look, I know Byron was a jerk on an absolutely monumental scale. But honestly, Anne, could you not see that one coming? Just one teensy little bit?

No, I guess one never really does. Alas.

So Ada turned out to be a right sharp little nut, despite the unalloyed nuttiness of her forbears. In fact, her story is so phenomenal that I honestly think it can only best be told in a dramatic black and white webcomic format, by the altogether delightful 2D Goggles, AKA Sydney Padua.

Seriously. Click on the picture to read the comic. You will not be sorry.

Ada Lovelace by Sydney Padua

Lovelace - The Origin (by

For a somewhat more traditional and, I suppose, restrained biography of Ada Lovelace, you should maybe read Essie Fox’s post from the other day, over on her blog The Virtual Victorian.

See, Ada Lovelace here was the very first computer programmer. Her buddy Charles Babbage had created plans for the first mathematical computing machine (his “Analytical Engine”), but Ada is the one who worked out the algorithm that would make the machine actually, you know, useful.

Pretty sweet, huh?

Ada Lovelace Day is now celebrated around the world every October, in an effort to bring to light more stories of women who have changed the world or inspired others in the fields of math, science, and technology. The event is organized by Suw Charman-Anderson, who will be instantly recognized by alert readers of this blog as the woman behind Argleton, that fantastic Kickstarter book project I was raving about not that long ago.

I’m doing my bit for Ada Lovelace Day here by spreading the cheer about Ada herself, and I’ve also posted an article on the history blog Wonders and Marvels (where I am now a monthly contributor) about 19th-century photographer Julia Margaret Cameron.

And if you don’t think that a photographer in the 1860s was every bit of a scientist, chemist, experimental designer, and technologist, well then I’m just not sure we can be friends anymore.

Of course, by the time Julia was snapping pics of her buddies Darwin and Tennyson, Ada was dead. She died at age 36, when she was really only just getting started, dammit.

The Analytical Engine was never built (although some people are still trying), but Ada’s notes on the machine and its governing algorithm went on to directly inspire Alan Turing’s work on the first modern computers in the 1940s.

So I think I was seriously on to something in that bathtub — Lady Ada is a kickass codename. You just can’t make this stuff up.