I don’t really celebrate Valentine’s Day. Maybe too many Februarys without a sweetheart scarred me; maybe I find overpriced red roses and prix fixe meals at crowded restaurants annoying. However, as a person in a ten-year relationship, I do appreciate an excuse for romance. So on February 13, Carl and I did some sweet things—saw a movie, relived memories from our early relationship, held hands. But on the 14th, we eschewed all things traditional and headed off to Harlem.
We met Carl’s brother Kenneth, who was visiting from California, at 125th Street and took the A train uptown to The Cloisters, a medieval art museum at the northern tip of Manhattan. From the subway stop we climbed up the winding paths of Fort Tryon park, the icy breeze invigorating as our hearts pounded, not in romantic thrill, but the effort of climbing up to the museum, though the quiet snow-covered park, the views of the Hudson, and arriving at a medieval monastery did have a certain charm.
Once inside my husband asked at the coat check if the museum had anything special happening for Valentine’s Day. The clerk looked even more surprised by this question than I must have, finally saying, “You being here, that’s what’s special.” As if that wasn’t sweet enough, fifteen minutes later, he tracked me down to tell me he had thought of some romantic items on view in the Treasury, including a wooden box depicting the German goddess of love spearing someone with an arrow. Standing in front of that box later, I squeezed Carl’s hand and kissed his cheek, seized by Valentine’s spirit.
We left Medieval Europe and traveled back to Harlem, searching out the outpost of Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, a Syracuse institution, where the brisket and ribs are worth the hour wait, especially when you can watch The Orange on TV. The red bows in the bartenders’ hair, little bottles of champagne on many tables and Valentinis splashing out of glasses were festive without being obnoxious, and the crowd of mostly large family parties was perfect for our own party of three.
Leaving Dinosaur, heavier and slower, though happier, we walked from 131st and 12th Ave, peeked into Grant’s Tomb, continued on to Columbia where some enterprising students had built an actual igloo on the quad. (We peeked into that too.) Onward we marched to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the largest gothic-style cathedral in the world, longer than two football fields and tall enough to accommodate the Statue of Liberty (without her pedestal).
The size of the building is what impressed me most, though I also loved the rosette stained-glass window and the American Poet’s Corner, which included Edna St. Vincent Millay and this quotation of hers: “Take up the song; forget the epitaph.” Maybe not romantic, but inspiring to this poet.
From there we walked through Morningside Park, up 125th Street, the commercial artery of Harlem, past The Apollo, and all the street vendors with their hearts, teddy bears, and flowers, ending up where we had started.
Exploring New York, visiting museums, cathedrals, parks, wandering down streets known and unknown, feasting on barbeque, sharing it with two people I love—that’s pretty close to my ideal day. What more could I ask for in Valentine’s Day?