The New York Love Affair Especially at Christmas

I don’t know that I can really put this into words. It’s sort of how it is when you are deeply in love with someone but cannot really explain the feelings precisely, simply because, they are feelings. That’s how I feel about New York. Oh, it is not all love and glory by any means. New York is about as tough as it gets and no, the residents are not particularly kind or nice. In fact, most of the time, they can be irritable and unforgiving. They dislike being bumped into and when you apologize they don’t respond with sweet forgiveness. The weather is cold and often gray. The crowds make getting from one spot to another a complicated labyrinth of sorts. Most things are expensive, though there are ways around that. It isn’t a clean place if that is a priority of yours, and that by the way, does include restaurants. And it is very challenging to the handicapped or moms with strollers. There is no way around an expensive hotel room. And yes, crime rates are still fairly high despite the wand waved by Guiliani some years ago. The subway is really ugly and noisy and its stairways up and down and down and up again make no sense much of the time. Most things are harder to do than anywhere else in the world, but one really comes to believe “it’s harder because it is better.” There are many downsides.

But, having just returned from New York City for four days during Christmas week, my heart and soul have been renewed beyond expectations. To me, the beauty in New York is literally endless. The art is staggering. The creativity is like none other. Fashions are sublime and original and over the top. And, short of Bethlehem, there is truly no more Christmas-y place on Earth. Shep and I walked around for four days and nights except for one stop at a glorious New York wedding in the NY Health and Athletic Club on tony Central Park South. I also got to the ever corny Christmas show in Radio City Music Hall, which despite having lived in New York for most of my life I had never seen! I loved it. I wish we had worn pedometers because I figure we covered some 15 plus miles on foot this week.

The amount of black clothing in New York rivals a funeral in Rome. It is staggering really to see an endless sea of black coats, shoes, hats. And by the way, fur, not of the “fun” sort, but the serious “animal rights violation type” is back, big time. No protestors arrived with red spray paint either. All those Blackglama (What Becomes a Legend Most?) full length minks, red foxes, bright red or green furs and the like are around everywhere. It is disconcerting to me for sure, but seems perfectly acceptable once again amidst New Yorkers. The coat de rigueur though still tends to be the black puffy down coat that reaches the knees or beyond. Smart women have them belted with a cinch belt which I bet keeps them even warmer. Lots and lots of scarves and beautiful high leather boots with ear muffs abound. Waiting for a bus last night for nearly an hour, I got to appreciate the idea of a longer coat as my legs were freezing!

The tree. Ahh, the tree. I always start to quiver a bit as I turn the corner on Fifth Ave, knowing that Rockefeller Center is about to be within sight. And suddenly, magnificently, there it is in all glittery, glowy, glory. There resides the sparkling, golden Prometheus above the soaring ice skaters. I am not sure which part of the scene it is, or if it is all of them together, but darn it, I cry every single time. My whole childhood flashes in front of me (the good parts) and I am thrilled to the core by the historical nature and the official Christmas scene that it is. For some unknown reason, I feel close to God in that place. I stand there watching with freezing tears the whole time until I can take no more, then, take some photos and leave. My typical next stop is Saks where I stand in awe of the best merchandising around (you WANT everything in the store and part of you believes you NEED to have it all as well, BELIEVING it will make you hip and happy). I have never purchased a thing there, except for the one time my friend and I had our makeup done at the Bobbi Brown counter and bought mascara. Makeup costs the same price everywhere, so it makes no difference where you purchase. Then, I head to St. Patrick’s Cathedral every time. This time, we walked into a Christmas concert, SRO, every seat in every pew taken. “The First Noel” sung by choir did me in of course. I struggled some more to keep my voice from cracking amidst the throngs. I couldn’t sing and resist crying, so I stayed silent, listening to the cavernous recital.

All of Fifth Avenue blows me away. I mean Tiffany, Cartier, Gucci, Vesace, Henri Bendel, Hermes, Elizabeth Arden’s Red Door, Bergdorf Goodman not only look beautiful dripping in lights and building sized bows, but they exude all the best that a store can offer. The F.I.T. Buying and Merchandising major in me comes alive once again, burying the stodgy lactation consultant in exchange for a damned good display. I love it. The cutting edge fashion. The buttery leathers, lighter than air silks, shiny taffetas, plush velvets, the hip home items, the highest shoes and the diamonds, oh the diamonds. One whole entire street, both sides of nothing, but millions of diamonds. 47th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues is the diamond district. Not for the faint of heart, this is an event where you really need to know what you are doing and the competition for your business is fierce. You can be physically pulled into a jeweler’s kiosk where he insists he knows just what you are looking for. This used to be a field for only the most religious and mostly Hassidic Jewish vendors, but no longer it seems, as we were accosted by all nationalities desperate for our business. My intention was to have my engagement ring reset, but even I, became completely intimidated and untrusting. After all, do I really know the difference between a good diamond and a bad one? Nope. Going into Tiffany’s is so much more civilized, more trusting albeit completely unaffordable. The sales clerks in Tiffany’s used to bang on the glass cases with their key rings whenever they made a sale and then a runner would take the buyers money to be processed. I always loved that, hearing all that glass tapping, but they don’t do that any longer.

We got to skip going to FAO Schwarz this time because we were kidless for once. But, my forever thrill is The Plaza Hotel. I instantly picture Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford in my all time favorite movie, The Way We Were. Usually, I brush Shep’s hair back and say, “Oh, Hubbel!” Again, I usually get teary. I think I love this area of the city most of all as to me, with horses and carriages and Central Park and Fifth Avenue, it is perhaps the most glowing epitome of New York. We forced ourselves to bear witness to Ground Zero with which its new fountains and engraved names may be even more heart wrenching than ever.

Bryant Park is the loveliest place now, with chairs and tables for anyone to rest upon and at this time of the year, an ice skating rink with wonderful music. There were dozens of kiosks with artsy, fabulous gifts that we loved. And then, in the gorgeous twinkly lighted restaurants was a private party going on. Everyone looked amazing, mostly of course wearing black and seeming to have the most romantic, happy time by candle light. Lucky office workers for whomever was throwing that soiree. We contemplated trying to slip in, but realized we could never pull it off. Jealousy arrived. And, we saw many other private parties on that Friday night before Christmas, each one looking more delightful and warm than the last. I find it impossible to describe how in love I am with those scenes. It’s magic and always, black magic.

On Thursday night we finally snuggled into a great Turkish restaurant and both splurged on some good red wine. It was 9 pm, and we were mighty hungry. No sooner had we sat down and ordered than my friend, the mother of the groom called and asked where we were as she was waiting for us at her son’s loft apartment where we were supposed to have arrived at 7 pm! Disaster as we realized we had gotten the nights mixed up and thus, chugged our wine, grabbed our food to go, jumped into a cab, totally in inappropriate play clothes and got there a mere two and a half hours late! It had been a pizza and beer party, but the pizza was gone and so we now sloshed more red wine into our empty tummies quickly becoming trashed. When we left there, we were both laughing so hard that we could hardly walk. But mostly, we did walk and walk and walk and went down to Soho for drinks following the rehearsal dinner the next night. This was in a real southern style rib place (irony) where again, everyone was having a rip, roaring good time. We stayed awhile chatting with the family, then, left and walked some more on that warmish December night. As Shep said, “There’s just so much to say.” Indeed there was.

Suffice to say, the wedding in St. Ignatius Loyola, Jackie Kennedy’s Catholic church where she was baptized and eulogized was magnificent. For most of the mass, I thought I was in Florence in one of the churches there. Ironically, the bride, Kim looked identical to Carolyn Bisette (John Kennedy Jrs. bride). The reception at the NY Athletic Club where the groom is a member was classy and understated. For once, I was one of the attendees at a New York event and I loved every minute of it. My attempt at wearing high heels was disastrous as we had to dodge into a Duane Reede pharmacy for some foldable slippers. The Club was on fire when we arrived! Typical New York with many fire engines, ladders up to the windows, and people running outside with just a towel wrapped around them as they rushed out of the sauna. It was an amazing site and we were all displaced in the cold but in true New Yorker fashion, no one fell apart, many laughed, some got angry, but after wandering into the Essex House for awhile, the reception was able to begin, though quite late.

We stayed in a classy hotel, a first for us who usually reside in cheap motels with kids crammed into sleeping bags. Used up all my flyer miles and it was well worth it as we stayed in The Warwick Hotel, home of the first stop for the Beatles in 1965! What a thrill and what a lovely room. Loved it. We took a few cabs but mostly subways and buses including the long arduous bus ride from Manhattan to LaGuardia airport. It’s slow and tedious, but always a fascinating experience through Spanish Harlem with a fare of $2.25 all the way to the airport!

“We were tired, we were merry, we had ridden all night on the ferry…” from an old poem my mother wrote. Well, it wasn’t the ferry, but it was a completely joyful experience being in the hubub and the magnificience of New York at Christmas.

It makes me feel love and well loved. It reminds me of all that is still good and sweet in this world. It makes me be ever so grateful for all that I have and for all who I have ever been loved by. I don’t know why this happens to me more in New York than anywhere else I have ever been. Perhaps, there are many of my ghosts there including my young successful self in fashion design and retail and all the jobs I had in Betti Terrell Children’s Wear, Peau D’Ange Bridal Designs, Coco Creations, Michael Murray designs, Valentino, Benton and Bowles Advertising, New York Hospital Gift Shop, B. Altman, Macy’s. Then, my father as a court officer on Chambers Street and in later years, as a messenger darting around the city and my mother as an employee for Esquire magazine’s advertising department along with my aunt in children’s wear. I can picture my mother’s best friend Bill as a New York-o-phile when we met for coffee in Macy’s Cellar a few years ago before he took his life, and my friends who had various jobs around Manhattan. The wealthy women, mostly doctor’s wives who volunteered under my direction at New York Hospital from whom I learned everything I know now about good manners and taste, who I still wonder about. The apartment sitting I got to do on Park Avenue and on Sutton Place. The tall ships I got to go on in July, 1976 and the sailors I spent that fun evening with from all ports. The Macy’s fireworks every July 4th. The pizza that remains unduplicated anywhere in the world. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parades. The food, the food, the food, including the newest star on the block and completely overwhelming at that, Eataly. The Statue of Liberty. The completely unforgettable dinners I had at Windows on the World served to me by someone probably no longer with us. The friends I had who lived across the street from the UN. My stint as a coat check girl in a disco on Second Ave where I brought home so much cash and change at night, it would spill from my pockets in my cab rides home.

When Shep and I moved into New York City we lived on the Upper West Side first until we were robbed and then, moved to the Upper East Side where we felt safer. My friend just reminded me of the night we had our farewell party as we were moving to Texas. The singing messenger sang that night, “Good bye to Shep. Goodbye to Ann. Off you go to San Anton-io. Good bye to New York for you two. We’ll miss you lots and hope you will come back but for now, it is time to pack.” Poor rhyming, yet well said. But, thank heavens, I can still come back for visits like this one for as long as I am able.