Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas in New York

Greetings from New York! I have never blogged about New York before because I wouldn’t know where to begin or end and a post on a website seems inadequate to capture the many charms of this city. I would need a novel or an opera.  Christmas in New York, however, is a moment in time capable and worthy of description.
I am pleased to report that there was snow on Christmas Eve; not falling from the sky, but piled up along sidewalks and balanced on top of mail boxes.  I arrived to find a pleasant nip of winter in the air – the sort of brisk chill that is invigorating and fresh, worthy of mittens, not balaclavas.
I set out on my search for Christmas splendor in Union Square where the annual Christmas market was in full swing, with artists and jewelers and craftspeople selling their wares from red and white stalls decorated with pine tree garlands.  I didn’t buy anything, but I spend about an hour strolling around.  I had a pleasant chat with the world’s greatest sock puppet portrait artist, Marty, of whom I am a great fan and then I enjoyed a small cigar as I walked onwards in the winter sunshine. 
Marty: the Sock Puppet Portrait Guy
Later I found myself in Times Square, having decided to pick up my theatre tickets ahead of time.  Times Square looks the same at Christmas as it does at every other time of year, but it feels Christmassy nevertheless.  After all both Times Square and Christmas are all about colored, blinking lights and insatiable consumerism.  I collected my tickets for my upcoming shows (Billy Eliot, Hair, and A Little Night Music) and meandered over to 5th and 42nd to have a cigar at Nat Sherman.

The fellows at Nat’s welcomed me warmly and I enjoyed a 75th Anniversary non-Cuban Montecristo Robusto in their Johnson Club Lounge, where I chatted about the injustice of the anti-smoking regulations with some local guys.  The cigar lacked complexity, but it was fairly strong, well-constructed and tasty.
After my cigar, I dashed over the Grand Central to have a cocktail with my friend Dave. Grand Central Station was buzzing with Christmas travelers boarding trains with bouquets of flowers, giant wreathes, bottles of wine and shiny, wrapped presents.  We sat at one of the bars, overlooking the station and taking in the light show on the ceiling, which was cool in a 1970s sort of way.  Eventually we boarded one of the trains north to Chappaqua for Christmas dinner with friends (sadly, not the Clintons).
Grand Central
On Christmas day I was insistent that we take in all of the typical Christmas sights.  We took the subway to Columbus Circle and walked along the south border of Central Park to 5th Avenue; as we approached, you could actually feel the Christmas spirit intensify.  The streets were overflowing with people (almost all tourists) gawking at the impressive decorations and waiting in line for horse-drawn carriage rides. 
Cartier Building
The decorations on 5th Avenue are impressive.  Every building is tarted up with lights and elaborate displays.  The window displays at Bergdorf’s were amazing; each window is a self-contained world of magic. They had sort of an Alice in Wonderland Theme – not especially Christmasy, but very cool.  The Cartier building is wrapped in a massive red ribbon and bow made entirely of glittering scarlet lights.
As I said, 5th Avenue was thick with tourists, which meant that is was also crawling with those wanting to profit from them. There were about a half-dozen guys on every block selling fake designer purses, watches and sunglasses.  There were stalls selling souvenirs and winter accessories food vendors selling pretzels and knishes and then there was my favorite: the three card monte guys and the guys who play that game with the three cups and the ball.  It is fascinating to watch these guys, because they always draw a small crowd of interested onlookers, planning to profit from what seems like an easy game.  My favorite part is watching the one plant in the crowd – the guy who bets $40, $60, $100 and always makes a profit by picking the right card or cup.  Of course this guy is in on the con.  Quickly others in the crowd, inspired by the easy with which the plant is winning his money, start placing bets with less success.  For me, the entertainment is free.
pedestrians on 5th Avenue
I crossed the street and went to the Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, which was filled with the pious and the curious.  The music was beautiful, but the crowds were a bit too much to bear, so I did not stay too long.
Finally, the Mecca of New York Christmas cheer: Rockefeller Centre.  The centre is decorated with illuminated snowflakes, angels blowing gilded trumpets, towering toy soldiers and, of course, the massive Christmas tree.  It is all very lovely.  I had hoped to go ice-skating, but as with my previous trip to Christmas New York, the line is ridiculously long.  If you have your heart set on skating at the Rockefeller rink, I recommend getting there as soon as it opens.
Rockefeller Center
On the streets surrounding Rockefeller centre are dozens of people dressed up as Santa, Sponge Bob, Dora the Explorer, Hello Kitty, the Grinch, et cetera. For a dollar you can have your picture taken with them.  I think these people are just entrepreneurs who rent costumes and take to the streets in the hope of making a buck.  Not a bad idea, really.  I saw one child staring up with utter bafflement at group of costumed characters composed of two Elmos and two Cookie Monsters.  The poor kid must have thought he was seeing double.
Boxing Day was a day of theatre.  I saw “Hair”, which was joyous.  Every member of the cast had an amazing voice.  The best part was at the end when they sang “Let the Sun Shine In”, they invited people to join them on the stage to dance and sing along.  I bolted down from the mezzanine and clapped and sang and danced on the stage with all of the hippies.  It was awesome.  In the evening, I saw a performance of “A Little Night Music”, starring Angela Lansbury and Catherine Zeta-Jones.  It was a wonderful production and I loved it.  In between the two shows I enjoyed a cigar at Nat Sherman’s where I also attempted to dry out from the unrelenting rain outside.
Today I plan to go to the MOMA and the rest of the day is a mystery.  The snow and rain are both gone, the sun is shining, and my flight is not until 9:45pm, so almost anything is possible.  It is the 27th and there are still the faintest wisps of Christmas still in the air.