I’ve made a few trips to New York over the last two months, seeing the city for the first time through fantastic meals, lots of walking, incredible food, successfully navigation of a tiny portion of the subway system, hitting of a few of the Times-designated best coffee spots, eating some more, and a single museum (me! in nyc! and just one museum visit under my belt! clearly I need to get my act together). All in all, my New York experience to date can probably be summed up by this morning: coffee from the place around the corner, and the sunny Brooklyn rooftop where I’m sitting right now. In other words, not bad.

Back to the museum for a moment though. Nate had a day of work to get done so I decided to knock a couple of touristy things off my list. I walked through Central Park. I saw the Strawberry Fields memorial off W72nd. I walked in front of the Dakota to pay my respects (a very gracious doorman allowed no fewer than three groups of people to take his photo during the four minutes I was there. Clearly an oft-visited spot). I hoped Yoko would magically decided to go grocery shopping or something and I’d see her walk out of the building, but alas. I ate a super-cheap-and-delicious hot dog from a street vendor. I walked down a little bit of 5th avenue and felt scruffy. I walked back through the park, read a book on a parch bench, and watched some amazingly inept rowers row backwards around the lake (yes, rowers generally FACE backwards. But rowing so the boat is moving stern-first? ouch).

The best part, though, about my solo ramble through an eensy portion of the city came when I went to the Met for the first time. I only had a few hours so seeing everything was impossible; I picked out a few spots for which to aim and started wandering. The Monets, the Van Goghs…all expectedly beautiful, all with plenty of admirers. The Modern Art wing was a different sort of crowded, more art students and squinty-eyed reflection. I took a guy’s picture in front of what was clearly a much-loved canvas of splotches.  I heard polite murmurs around the displays of pottery, and louder shouts around a super-weirdly-awesome Victorian collage exhibit that read more like the original Etsy.

You hit reminders at nearly every turn that you’re in a Really Famous Place. It is also Really Crowded. In every room there are at least three different languages being spoken, children’s groups on scavenger hunts (THERE’S THE PURPLE FEATHER!), sketching students, arguments over what to see next, proclamations about the importance of THIS painting. Museum fatigue sets in after about two hours. You know there’s a lot more to see, but your feet hurt and you still have a lot of walking to do to get back to Brooklyn. You look at the map one last time and decide to do a quick lap through the American wing to see if there’s anything spectacular.

There wasn’t. At least not on the first floor. Some recreations of rooms, a mural of Versailles, lots of silver. I was walking pretty fast at this point, and felt a little like apologizing that the art wasn’t awesome enough to break my stride. And then, randomly, I turned a corner into a room labelled “Visible Storage.”

It was the emptiest room I’d been in all day with just three other people walking the rows on rows on rows of plexiglassed-in art. Visible Storage is the extra stuff, the lesser known painters, the endless variations of Shaker chairs, more glassware than goodwill. The tiny labels were hard to read, so I just meandered, stopping to look closer at a few things, glorying in the solitude. Row after row…when my feet started complaining again I made one last turn, and did a double take.

Hanging on my right was a full-length portrait. No frame, just a stretched canvas. A profile of a woman in a black gown who clearly could not have cared less about who was looking at her: John Singer Sargent’s Portrait of Madame X, two inches from my face. I peered closer, she kept looking over her shoulder, unimpressed that I knew who she was. My nose touched the glass–the closest I’ve ever been to a painting that enormous, that gorgeous–and I could trace the faint dark stripe on her upper arm where Sargent had originally painted the fallen strap of her dress. I looked around, wished someone was there to share my total disbelief that Sargent’s favorite painting was mine alone for a few minutes. She sighed a little with an “I KNOW.”