If there is one thing you need to add to your bucket list, it is a trip to New York City sometime between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. The city comes to life with all the cultures and traditions of the season (Fashion Week in September is the next best time in my opinion).
This year, I thought “What fun it would be to take the red-eye flight the night before my mom’s birthday and spend the entire day and fly back that night”. My mom’s birthday is December 22nd just days before Christmas (and Hanukkah this year). She died twenty years ago and I typically go to Santa Fe for dinner or as far north as Mora, NM, to her resting place, when the weather permits. This year I thought I needed to do something a little more adventurous. This trip would require some heavy duty planning to get in all that I wanted to see within the span of 15 waking hours and primarily by walking the city because that’s the only way to fully enjoy the splendor of it.
There was no need to pack, but I needed to be ready for the weather. The forecast predicted a high of 47 degrees and partly cloudy skies, but to ensure I was ready for anything, I planned to dress in layers with walk-able, lined boots. In my Burberry bag, I packed an umbrella, a hat, gloves an i-Phone charger, a tooth brush with toothpaste, a folded up 2nd bag (for shopping of course) and a few snacks. I wasn’t worried about getting stuck in NYC for the holidays. I found out from experience that Macy’s is open until midnight the week before Christmas (NYC trip 2005 when American Airlines lost my luggage for 3 days–which was just another reason to shop). Wednesday afternoon I took a nap because I have a hard time sleeping on planes. It wasn’t a long nap because I was just like a kid on Christmas eve and this was my Christmas present. That evening, I got to the airport and to the gate by 10:30pm. It is much easier traveling without luggage. I boarded the plane and set up the space with my headphones in, playing Christmas music. I put on my eye mask and settled in for a “not so” long winter’s nap.
Upon arrival and not entirely restful sleep, I found a bathroom because I would not be the friendliest person with this morning breath. I brushed my teeth, used the amenities and found my way out to the AirTrain. Yes, believe it or not I am taking the subway into the city this time. I’m working on a budget and while I normally take a shuttle or cab, I don’t have the time or excess funds this visit. While the subway generally makes me nervous, I always have dreams of not paying attention when my stop is called and ending up in Vermont, riding it this time is a great way to ensure I’m alert. Taking the LILR, I arrive at Penn Station just before 7am local time. Walking out of the terminal, I feel it, the buzz and hum of the city. Being an introverted person, I am in my element. The twinkling lights of dawn, the crowds, the crisp air and swirl of conversations, traffic and the city make me feel like being a part of something bigger while just fitting in. On my way traveling along 34th Street, I’d be remiss if I didn’t stop to look at the Macy’s window display. Before doing so, I run into a Starbucks and get a grande Christmas blend coffee. I doctor it with half-n-half and honey and head back out.
At Macy’s, this year’s theme is Believe in Magic which is the absolute perfect way to start the day and in that moment I’m taken back to Miracle on 34th Street. The underlying theme is to believe, even if it may seem impossible. With my limited time, I’m on a mission so after walking a quarter of the building I head east. A secondary goal of this birthday celebratory trip is to see the window displays of Macy’s, Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Bergdorf Goodman (Barney’s and Bloomingdale’s are just a little out of my way this time around). And, I will happily ogle many others along the way.
Someone used to send me photos of beautiful clothes, or the outfits I’d style and tease me by calling it “clothing porn”. I guess in a way it is. To me fashion is an art form, a wearable art form. What other form of art can you wear and change your entire mood or impact a scene. I’m guilty in saying I love the beauty, creativity, and psychological and communicative impact that fashion has. Every year, these windows transcend the mundane and take you somewhere where only your imagination inhibits you.
I have short legs however I’m pretty stealth and know how to walk this city. I make it to 5th Avenue and head north. My first real stop besides “window shopping” is Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, but before I reach the church I get to enjoy the windows of Lord & Taylor. The Enchanted Forrest reminds me of going to my family ranch in Mora, NM on the first weekend in December to cut down our Christmas tree. When we are lucky enough, it snows and we get to enjoy outdoor activities like sledding. Also at that time, I decorate my mom and grandfather’s resting place with ornaments and/or seasonal flowers. I continue traveling up 5th Ave capturing all the sights of the season, while listening to Bing Crosby through my headphones. His hauntingly beautiful voice always reminds me of Christmas. As a child, my mom would play his album and especially the Littlest Angel when my brother and I would get rambunctious and impatient, wanting to open our gifts.
Before heading into church I enjoy Saks Fifth Avenue’s Land of 1,000 Delights themed windows and boy am I delighted! To me it’s Barbie meets the Nutcracker meets Napoleonic design. I arrive just in time for the 7:30am Mass. I make my way to a pew and kneel to pray. The ritual and tradition of Christmas is what I love the most about this holiday. Unfortunately, there is no music or choir for this Mass. However, all around me is the preparation of the holiday and the celebration that’s coming. The focus of the reading and gospel are that of giving and realizing what gifts you bring to the world.
Mass is short, only a half hour. Once it’s over I cross the street to Rockefeller Plaza to see “the tree” in all of it’s splendor. I stand and watch in awe as many visitors are seeing it for the first time, especially the children that are wide-eyed and enjoying this larger than life vision of Christmas. The crowds swell this time of year especially in the morning as the Today Show captures live segments with the crowd. After a few minutes, I head back over to 5th. It’s 8:30 am and I have much still to do, so I keep on walking north. Again, I’m trying to take in all the sights from my peripheral vision while making sure I pay attention to the oncoming pedestrian and motor vehicle traffic. I see the fabulous windows of Henri Bendel and pop in. They used to carry a candle that reminded me of the incense burned in church during the holidays. Oh how, I would buy a candle every year and burn it throughout the season. However they have since discontinued it, so while I’m here I pick up the “Firewood”, which is the next best thing. The shop is sparkling with beautiful jewelry and accessories and as I walk by the cosmetic area, I know the sales team is drooling at the opportunity to work on my blank canvas. I smile but don’t make eye contact. I pay for my candle and place it in my bag and move on. As I walk out and look north, I see democracy in action–where people are protesting in front of Trump Tower. It’s interesting; for years I’d run into the Starbucks in that building to warm up or take a break on my various treks, today, I’d be taking my life into my hands if I tried walking in for coffee. Instead, I head up to the light at 57th and then head back south to the windows at Tiffany.
They are incredible, but the business has also been affected by the recent election with its own security out front. As much as I want to go inside, I head back across the street to my favorite department store in NYC, Bergdorf Goodman.
I am transported to a tropical paradise with these windows. The designs are right out of Eden. I head inside to find a restroom (the coffee has kicked in) and to do a little shopping. I first head to the basement and the Kiehl’s counter to stock up on my daughter’s favorites (because I’ve been a good girl I pick up a few treats for me too). I then head up to 5F, to the contemporary floor and my favorite designers. I walk over to the sales rack to see what I might be able to get for an incredible deal (like a pair of Marc Jacobs turquoise peep-toe pumps for under $100 or a DVF chiffon tunic dress for just over $100 from previous visits). Today isn’t my “sales rack” day. It’s been picked through and there really isn’t anything that screamed to go home with me. I step back out on 5th Avenue and decide to head west towards the Plaza Hotel. As much as I want to run through the first floor like Eloise and have a cocktail in the Oak Room. I opt to continue west. I’ve got a bakery on my mind. I cut across the street and decide to walk through Central Park. There was a time that I’d walk through, then I learned to tolerate to run in the park. We have so much open space in New Mexico that I sometimes take it for granted, but the magnitude of Central Park is always mystifying to me.
I follow the winding paths and exit out on Central Park and 65th. Heading west on 65th to Columbus. I then head north to 69th. I cross the street and step into Magnolia Bakery. It smells of sugar and butter goodness. While in town, I had to stop by to purchase a peanut butter and jelly cupcake. When I was a rotten teenager, my mom would remind me of the best birthday cake my brother and I made her when we were kids. It was a peanut butter sandwich cake with multiple layers. I think we ended up using it to feed the birds but she loved it. So in honor of her birthday, I had to get a real peanut butter treat.
It was 10am and that sweetness had my stomach grumbling. I wasn’t ready to sit down and I really needed to eat something hardier. I grab a cab and ask to be taken to Barney’s Greengrass on Amsterdam Ave and 86th. I’m sorry but you can’t visit NYC without having an authentic delicatessen meal, plus I heard they make the most incredible latkes. Not on the menu, I try to order them only to find out that they are available on weekends and every day during Hanukkah…two days away from both. Somewhat disappointed, I opt for the hot pastrami on pumpernickel and matzo ball soup. Of course in the spirit of a true Jewish deli, the sandwich is bigger than my head. I get my order to go and grab a cab. I need to sit to enjoy all of this deliciousness and I know the perfect place.
Less than 15 minutes later, I arrive at the Hudson Hotel. Walking in like I own the place, I head upstairs to the Commons. Grab my fav sofa in the corner and unload. I then go to the bar and order a Pink Slip.
I gift myself the pink slip at least once, every time I’m in town. According to Thrillist.com, it’s made up of hibiscus vodka, Combier pamplemousse rose, champagne, and Peychaud’s bitters. To me it’s heaven in a glass. I’m kind of afraid to sit down and get to comfortable as my lack of sleep may overcome me, but my legs really need this. I make myself comfortable, cut apart my meal (saving half for later) and dig in. However after a few bites, I’m stuffed and the champagne has kicked in. I package it all up and say goodbye to the Hudson for 2016. I head back east on 57th to 6th Ave and walk south to Radio City Music Hall. What is so interesting is the life that is found in Manhattan. All walks of it, together at any given moment and yet I always feel at home where ever I go. I walk across a make shift home for a man and his dog. I decide to share my oversized deli sandwich, hot soup and cupcake. I offer it to the man and he gladly accepts it.
I’m always open to catching a play or musical, but during Christmas time it’s a tradition to see the Rockettes and I’ve missed the 11:00am showing. The next performance is at 2:00pm. I buy my ticket and decide to catch a cab to see the latest exhibits at the FIT Museum (the cost of the cab offsets the free admission). I study Proust’s Muse, The Countess Greffulhe and Black Fashion Designers exhibits. Totally inspired, I head to the fabric store, my favorite in town. While I love Mood because of the variety–it really is the fashion designer’s candy store–I have found a little mom and pop (or just pop) shop that has a great variety of fabrics and incredible prices. I love it. I don’t go in for months and the owner asks where I’ve been. I pack up a few yards of stretch taffeta and a couple of prints, grab a taxi and head back to Radio City Music Hall just in time to get in line.
We shuffle in and for the next hour and a half I am totally enthralled by the choreography, set design, costuming and big lavish event that is Christmas Spectacular! Again, it’s all about traditions for me and the Rockettes debuted the Christmas Spectacular in 1933. I’m always amazed when something has that kind of longevity. One of my favorite parts of the show is the live Nativity scene which includes, real-life camels, sheep and a donkey. I just wonder where they go for their breaks?!? After stopping by the restroom and checking out the gift shop, I head out again. I decide to go southwest to Times Square. I am not a fan of hanging out in Times Square, but I always go once when I’m in town. The crowds, the horrid smells and the lights are a little overwhelming for me, and yet exhilarating (for about 5 minutes). However there is this vendor that sells tartan Pashminas that are a steal and make wonderful gifts, so I track the cart down and pick up a few last minute items.
I decide to head back to Penn Station (hoping I remember the correct train to take back to JFK). I get on my train and about 60 minutes later I arrive at the airport. After going through security I sit in the concourse settle in with a glass of wine and my notebook to start journaling about this trip. I love that I got to return to my second home, but as the Christmas carol goes…
“I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.”
Yes, I was planning on flying into NYC just for the day, but because of a last minute snafu the trip was canceled. This was how I was planning on spending my day. When it didn’t happen, I decided to let it come alive in this blog. I hope you felt like you were there with me. On my mom’s birthday, I spent the morning with another mother figure in my life and then went to Santa Fe, my mom’s favorite, with my son. I was able to enjoy the beauty of the plaza and say a blessing in the basilica and picked up some tchotchke stocking stuffers. For dinner, with more family, we talked about her and the impact she had on all our lives. A believer that everything happens for a reason. I feel that my mom had a role in the day. I thought I needed a solo trip to NYC, but I have a feeling she wanted me to be surrounded by family on her birthday.
This holiday season I hope you remember:
“Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things you can’t see.” Polar Express
Create memories, create your life and don’t forget to dream.
With light and love,
Window display photos via NYMag.com/thecut (click on the photos to see the other incredible shots) Rockefeller Tree photo via Refinery29 Instagram Rockettes photo via Rockettes.com