Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas in New York City

Yesterday I drove down to New York to spend Christmas at my brother's. This involves no hardship whatsoever, except perhaps for the tedious drive itself. There's a bunch of parties, a great deal of fabulous food (each day spent there is good for a net gain of approximately two pounds), and much conversation. Oh, and probably a couple of presents as well, but that's exceedingly secondary.

I've written before about the fact that I'm "in transition"--thinkng about moving--and that I don't really have a single city that I consider home. You'd think that New York, the place I grew up, would fit the bill. But it doesn't. Oh, it's familiar, all right. But even when I was a child and teenager here (I left at seventeen, never to return except for visits), it didn't feel all that "homey" to me. Too overwhelming, too uncaring, so huge that to traverse it took hours. No. I always knew I'd leave as soon as I got the chance. And I did.

But still, but still...when I drive in on a clear night, as I did yesterday, and see that skyline suddenly loom in the distance to the right of me (I come in over the Bronx-Whitestone bridge and then onto the Brookly Queens Expressway), it's not only an impressive sight, it's an iconic one, as well.

Somehow New York has become the American city. That feeling has only been accentuated, post-9/11. It's the biggest, the best, the everythingest, "if I can make it there I'll make it anywhere." LA may be a great big freeway (I've lived there, too, and I can attest to that), but New York is just great and big.

And beautiful. In recent decades New York has lit itself far more colorfully than it ever did in my youth, the tops of the skyscrapers (particularly the Empire State building) sporting seasonal red and green lights, makng the skyline look from far away (as I saw it last night) like a string of sparkling jewels, diamonds and emeralds and rubies. New York at Christmastime was always a very special place, anyway, with the tree at Rockefeller Center, and the skaters, and the elaborate store windows, and the tempting smell of roasting chestnuts.

The temperature was in the mid-50s yesterday and the same today, however; not so very Christmasy. In fact, we've only had one or two days of cold so far this winter. So I feel a bit as though I've been transported to the Carolinas or thereabouts rather than New York City. That's better, though, than the Christmases I spent in Los Angeles, where the holiday decorations always looked oddly out of place no matter how elaborate they might be.

In contrast, where I live it usually looks like a Currier and Ives print around this time. Although the lack of snow this year makes it a little less perfect, visually, it's still the qunitessential Christmas scene (wish I'd had the prescience to have taken some photos to post here, but I didn't, and a search didn't reveal any of the sort I'm seeking). In New England the most popular type of house decoration is minimalist: a single candle (electric, for safety's sake) in each window--classic and simple, and lovely in an old colonial home or antique cape.

And now I'm going to be out enjoying this beautiful day--and the first party. I hope you do the same, wherever you are, whatever the weather and whatever the scene.

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