I recently spent two days in New York City remembering why is was the greatest city in the world for my youth and the worse city in the world for my extremely advanced middle age. If you want to really know what feeling out of place is like, go into Tiffany’s on Fifth Avenue in New York City wearing your $15 winter coat from Value Village and your lovely aqua wool gloves and sweat suit from Costco. The entire time I wandered around the various display cases I could feel the eyes of the security guards on me.
So much of New York is iconic because it is the backdrop of some of our most memorable Hollywood fantasies. Can anyone really look at the Empire State Building and not see King Kong swatting at planes from its top? Or not picture Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan standing there staring at each other, finally meeting, at the end of one of the most romantic movies ever made in which the main characters never even kiss?
As my sister and I wandered Chinatown, I could glimpse the new buildings going up at One World Trade Center between the towering structures that seem to create granite canyons throughout the city. Little Italy and Chinatown abut in downtown Manhattan with the line between them blurring more each day.
My sister and I finally found what was left of Little Italy only to discover that most of it was now under the watchful eye of Mid-Eastern immigrants trying for their foothold in America in much the same way my grandparents had over one hundred years ago. The streets of these immigrant neighborhoods were full and vibrant with stands containing fruits with exotic names that my sister and I had once only found on our travels to far off lands. People were scrambling to find their piece of the American dream while their children spoke with a distinct New York accent.
If you want to find a city where the supposed War on Christmas has been lost to the overwhelming spirit of the season, walk the streets of midtown Manhattan. The tree at Rockerfeller Center is impossibly tall. The skaters in front of it look like an updated Currier and Ives image. And yes, I stood in front of the window while the Today Show was being taped and waved whenever it seemed the camera was facing us.
But it was the stores that blew my mind again and again. Their Christmas windows were truly childhood fantasies come true, even those in which Mr. and Mrs. Claus were dressed up in fashions we might not always associate with the North Pole. But really, if you think about it, there is nothing in the Christmas myth that precludes Mrs. Claus from wearing a sexy bustier.
It being New York, it should come as no surprise that one block from our hotel the sneak preview of “The Hobbit” was happening with all the stars in attendance – and apparently for no reason we could ascertain – Chevy Chase and his family. Chevy, may I add, needs to find Weight Watchers fast. My sister stood with a crowd of screaming teens and young twenties girls as they waited for Elijah Wood to appear. He dutifully crossed the street as they screamed uncontrollably and signed autographs. By that time I was in my hotel room reading.
Perhaps most eye opening of all, and most fun, was the pedestrian area that Mayor Bloomberg carved out of Times Square. It was fun to just sit in the middle of the Square and watch NYC go by. At midnight, Yoko Ono was having a scream-in or some such event there. That was something I might have hung around for in my youth. Now I figured I’d catch it on YouTube.
After two days of walking on sidewalks so crowded that you get shoved into the street if you dare to wait for the light to cross, I was happy to leave. It’s like I said, NYC was the greatest place in the world to be when I was young. Now Anchorage is my idea of more than enough urban life.
NYC may have Yoko Ono but Anchorage has moose. NYC may have big movie premieres but Anchorage has… well, moose. It’s a tradeoff I happily make.
Elise Patkotak is an Alaska writer and author of “Parallel Logic,” a memoir of her 28 years in Barrow. Web site, www.elisepatkotak.com.