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A la recherche de temps perdu

November 28, 2011

Amazingly, after all the travelling I’ve been doing, I was really happy to step off the plane into New York City this morning. It’s been a month and a half since I’ve been there and I’ve been missing it.

I’ve been missing it so much, that I walked the two miles from work to my apartment with my luggage in tow. It was snowing when I left Chicago this morning, but it was freakishly warm here – T-shirt weather. I have the windows open. Last time I was here, it was not yet Halloween. Now the Christmas decorations are up, although it’s a little strange to see them when it’s this warm out.

Much of my rose-colored love of New York is due to my first experiences of it at Christmas as a child growing up in Fairfield County, Connecticut in the 1970s. Every Christmas, we would take Metro North into Grand Central Station, whose constellation-spangled ceiling gave me the first taste of the magic to follow. Part of the magic was Christmas, but mostly it was just the city itself, which seemed so exotic and interesting compared to the manicured suburb where I lived.

We’d walk up Fifth Avenue to see the windows – our favorites were Macy’s and Lord and Taylor’s. Steaming pretzels from a street cart were the perfect snack (the one time we tried roasted chestnuts, we were sorry). F.A.O. Schwartz was the one store we actually went inside. One memorable year, we came out and took a carriage ride. The driver let me sit up front and hold the reins. We had lunch at Uncle Tai’s restaurant, the first Chinese restaurant I ever ate at – we loved it most for the candied walnuts they served while you waited for your food – over to Rockefeller Center to see the tree and the skaters, and on to Lincoln Center for a performance of The Nutcracker before taking the train home again. On the way home we’d stop in the bar car for watery hot chocolate.

I have a feeling that we only did this once. Or that all of these elements were divided up into several years worth of Christmases. But in my head, this all happened every year in the city where anything can happen.

This will be the first year I will be in New York at Christmas time since I was a kid. I have two weeks in New York between now and Christmas. I need to do a lot of my Christmas shopping while I’m there. But I’ve also want to see if I can find some of the magic I found there when I was a child. Uncle Tai long since retired and moved to Boca Ratoan, along with much of his clientele from those days. Tickets to the Nutcracker may be a little above my budget. But the rest of it should be within reach. So the question is this: can you revisit your childhood? I’ll let you know.

Here’s the list of activities I plan to revisit. I won’t get to all of them, but I’ll do my best. Some of them, like visiting Christmas windows, should be easy – Macy’s is only a couple of blocks from my office. Others, like the Nutcracker will be more challenging. If any of you in the New York area want to join me for any of these, let me know!

1. Eat a pretzel from a street cart.
2. Visit the store windows on Fifth Avenue.
3. Shop in FAO Schwarz (I’m not sure I actually want to do this, but I wouldn’t mind walking by it)
4. See the stars on the ceiling of Grand Central Station
5. Take a carriage ride through Central Park (or watch others doing it)
6. See the tree and the skaters in Rockefeller Center (bonus points if I skate myself)
7. Visit the former site of Uncle Tai’s (1009 Third Avenue, between 62nd and 63rd) or eat one really good meal in a Hunan restaurant of my choice
8. See a performance of The Nutcracker by the New York City Ballet
9. See Santa in Macy’s
10. Discover something new to add to this list.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. November 28, 2011 10:11 pm

    I’m quite fond of the tastefully lit trees on Park Avenue. Also, the holiday fairs in GCT and at Union Square are great. GCT is a bit more upscale, being inside and all.

  2. November 29, 2011 12:43 am

    My girls are flying in early Friday with their grandmother to take in all the Christmas in the city excitement. They’ve visited before but never t this time of year. They are so excited about skating at Rockefeller Plaza and seeing the Rockettes show. And, yes, shopping!

  3. November 29, 2011 8:43 am

    When I lived on the east coast, I’d sometimes take the train up to NYC and meet my mother and some of my female relatives for Christmas shopping. We always included afternoon tea at one of the fancy hotels.

  4. November 29, 2011 3:56 pm

    Sometimes you can see a performance free/on the cheap by ushering. Why don’t you look into that for the Nutcracker?
    As for the rest and the question “can you revisit your childhood?” I’d say that no, you can’t, but that taking your own child to experience similar events can be even better. Even something so simple as catching one of my favorite Christmas specials on TV and watching it with my kids- actually, I watch them more than the screen- that can be as good as revisiting it myself.

  5. November 29, 2011 6:30 pm

    I work at Rock Center! We go to Jacques Torres for hot chocolate after, if I pass my glucose test.

  6. November 29, 2011 9:01 pm

    Maggie, that’s great to know about. GCT is not far from my office and I can walk up Park to get there. LSM, I hope they have a magnificent time. It doesn’t feel very Christmasy here at the moment, but it’s supposed to cool down soon. Jeanne, that sounds lovely. Jill, I think LC uses pros. But that’s a good idea — I should consider that for other things. Jen, YES! I would love to meet you and visit Jacques Torres. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for the glucose test.

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