Friday, December 24, 2010

Walking Manhattan during the holiday season

Today is a day of acquiring food, planning food, wrapping presents, cleaning up, and staying home. It occurs to me that I have been in Manhattan every day for the last ten days or so. The excuse has been shopping for presents and meeting up with a few folks. The reason is that I like the crowds, the activity, and the expectation of celebration that pervades the place. From neighborhood to neighborhood there is a combination of good cheer and crowd chaos.

Subway buskers do not seem to be as plentiful this year but those in play are high quality. Sister Monk and her two guitarists at Union Square were the best seen in a long time - can't believe they're underground. Central American pipe bands dominate the train station areas and they are more like orchestras now, not three or four but maybe ten people. Beautiful but predictable, they now soothe more than entertain. Really spontaneous performances are rare at the moment, but some solo acts can be attention grabbing like the old style blues guitar man at 34th, the 1,2,3 platform steel drum guy, or the Asian man playing a mildly screeching and nerve tingling saw of sorts at the Shuttle.

Walking requires patience at this time of year. The place is packed with locals, tourists, and with suburban folks in with families for that visit to see the tree at
Rockefeller Center or to shop and eat for a day of pleasure and bonding. Some of these happy people are not accustomed to moving well in crowds. Hit the bottom of a station escalator, why not stop and look where to turn, forgetting that fifty people are coming down on top of you in the next 30 seconds. Your smart phone alerts you, stop on a sidewalk that's 95% humanity and contemplate the text, causing gridlock and heel creasing behind you. Having a nice conversation, then walk haltingly three abreast on a narrow sidewalk blocking progress in both directions. It's Christmas, take your time.

Shopping may be a rationale but looking for that unique non-impressive gift that makes an impact takes time. I may look around for a day and come back with two six dollar tins of mints, the mints being beside the point and the tins being keepers. How do you get to that coffee cup that is the perfect fit for a certain person or the wooden box of marron glaces from Nice that makes the gift stand out, contents worth sampling by all. It's looking off the department store and chain store grid that lots of fun with benefits hopefully accruing to the recipients.

Eating is a fundamental reason to be in New York City at any time but in this season it's the best. Every restaurant with good food, from casual and inexpensive to off the charts on both counts, is full of people in a generally good mood. A lively setting is a good thing, totally offsetting any inconvenience. Hey, you know the food is not sitting around and the competition brings you the best to the table. Any neighborhood can bring a surprise but downtown east and west is the prize, hell's kitchen is the surprise, and the upper west side without some shoe leather is almost hopeless.

It seems that the Feds have done away with their terrorist alert color coded system but every day as I left Manhattan over the past few weeks the level of concern was telling. Three weeks ago Penn Station was covered by the usual array of uniforms, NY PoPo's and Transit Authority overweights. Last week the Army folks in fatigues, desert style, showed up, walking the floor with their holsters mid thigh. For the last few days the Army personnel include guys carrying the big automatic guns and rifles, right there at every turn. I guess we're at an alert stage.

The last day, yesterday, finally found me dragging home, shopping done, and ready to walk the local small town today for a quart of Manhattan clam chowder at Louie's, a chicken roll at Gino's, some real sliced bacon at A&F, and sea bass and salad at Casa Mia.

Now to hang all of the cards on door sills. Family at home, candles lit, fireplace set, remembering those before us - not thinking about all the dishes, pots, and pans that will need to be cleaned. WWOZ on now(New Orleans) keeps me level.


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