One of the most iconic moments in the original Star Wars movie was the moment the Millennium Falcon jumps into Hyperspace, and the view from the cockpit is of stars streaking by in unbroken lines. That’s exactly how Christmas felt this year; one continuous blur. Our Christmases are always a bit of a rush as we drive the width and breadth of NY state to visit family and relatives, but an ill timed project deadline and last minute work crises left me trying desperately to balance work and family time. In this circumstance, it was akin to trying to juggle Buicks. I was so busy, I purposefully didn’t bring my camera, relying instead on my meager smartphone[i] (so, sorry for the picture quality here.)
Christmas in Manhattan (Ok, I cheated with this pic which is from a real camera in 2009)
We flew into NYC to see my sister and her husband. I love Manhattan at Christmastime. No better place in the world. We only had a day and a half there, but we crammed it fairly full. We had a fantastic meal at the Fig and Olive the first evening, and went out for drinks in the Meat Packing District, which is a lot nicer than it sounds. We walked under the High Line, though sadly we didn’t have time to check it out. One of the things I love about NYC is that it proudly wears the layers of its history[ii].
One drink makes you smaller, Old Street - Meat Packing District, the High Line[iii]
The next day we went on a grand tour, with an extended sojourn through Central Park. On the way we passed through neighborhoods in a variety of Christmas décor.
, Christmas Décor, Somewhat Creepy Sign[iv], On the Move through the upper East Side
Central Park is such a wonderful nexus between things I enjoy…urban planning, public spaces, natural areas, wildlife, history, etc. It never fails to amaze me that such a dense city has such a large and naturalistic feature at its core. We entered through the Engineer’s Gate and walked a bit around the Reservoir before heading South through the Ramble toward the southern end of the park. No matter how many times I walk through the area, the simple genius of Olmstead and Vaux’s vision is still somewhat inspiring, especially given the time in which it was developed…long before we had invented the smothering barrage of planner jargon to apply to the open space and walkability concepts it embraces. The King Jagiello statue has a great history behind it, but out of context it is possibly the most overstatedly badass depiction of Poland I have ever seen. There really should be an exclamation point after the “Poland” carved on its pedestal. For one of the most urban areas in the world, there is a surprising amount of non-domestic wildlife in Central Park. I stopped a birder briefly and asked him what he’d seen, and a lot of the species he named were things I would never expect to see anywhere near human civilization[v]. I tried to maintain my air of nonchalant NY cool while internally counting species.
Reservoir panoramic, POLAND!, Belvedere castle, Bridge and Archway, Lake Vista
The Bethesda Terrace is one of my favorite places in the Park. It speaks to a different time in its ornate grandeur, but also to the level of concerted effort that has been expended in recent decades to renovate the Park back to its former grandeur. The delicate tiles of the Arcade ceiling gleam like they were just installed.
Bethesda Terrace, Bethesda Terrace and Fountain, Concert in the Arcade, Park Musician
The tourist quotient increases exponentially as we got to the Mall, but it’s still a grand thing to saunter down. My wife, the geologist, stopped to admire the exposed bedrock along the way. Personally, it just all looked like pieces of schist to me[vi].
The Mall, Skating with Skyline, Festive carriage, Festive carriage.
The normal horse drawn carriages explode in holiday décor this time of year, each one its own unique little mobile piece of flair. We meandered down through the City and then got some ice skating in on Citi Pond, amongst the Christmas shops under the shadow of the NY Public Library building. You really couldn’t cram much more Christmas into this scene[vii]. I even managed to stay mainly upright on the ice.
Radio City Musical Hall, Christmas Shops at Citi Pond, Shops at Citi Pond, Ice Skating at Citi Pond
After a brief stopover at the venerably NY Public Library main branch, we dashed back home to change for dinner and a show. We had booked last minute, third row (!) tickets to Nice Work if You Can Get It[viii]. It was a decent show, but our thrill of being in the third row was somewhat lessened by getting the understudy for Matthew Broderick instead of Mr. Broderick himself. The Gershwin tunes were still pretty fitting for an evening in NY, but the potential to be inadvertently spat upon by a celebrity was to elude us that evening.
Patience the Lion, Chrysler Building from the NY Public Library, Times Square
The next morning we leisurely made our way out of the City to our “country estate” in the Catskills, to visit my aunt and uncle on their sprawling farmstead in the Delaware River valley. There are few places I love more on this Earth than that piece of land and the people who live there. When we lost our parents, this place really became the word for home on my lips. On the way out we stopped for some fantastic bagels.
Tal Bagels, Bagel Spreads, Lox and stuff!,
We got in just in time to be swept up in a Christmas party with an amazing spread, so the rest of the day quickly blurred. The next morning we caught up with family and friends and toured my uncle’s massive new solar array. Between the conservation easements and other watershed landowner programs they are involved with, and this solar array, I do believe that my aunt and uncle are about the most progressive farmstead I know of[ix]. We spent a wonderful Christmas Eve and Christmas morning with them, including a wild romp through the countryside to surprise friends with carols lead by an Israeli Santa Claus[x].
Party!, Peacocks, Best Bread Ever[xi], Solar Array, Solar Array, Rama Christmas Décor, Christmas Tree, Israeli Santa
Kate and I reluctantly bid everyone goodbye and made our way across the state to Rochester to see her family. I had intended to only be there a day, to celebrate Christmas with them, and then leave on the 26th. A massive blizzard had other ideas, and I was stranded there for three more days. Given the incredible workload I had to wade through, I ended up secluding myself in a room and coming down for meals. I felt absolutely horrible about it, especially after getting some fantastic gifts, including a restored late 1800’s banjo from my father in law.
Restored Dobson Victor Professional Banjo
It was all a mad rush, but work notwithstanding, was still a good holiday. Next time, I don’t care how much I need to do...I’m bringing the camera.
[i] This taught me many lessons. Primary among them was that my smartphone camera is pretty horrible.
[ii] Houston is more like LA, in a great big hurry to forget whatever meager history it has.
[iii] The High Line is a linear park built on a former elevated train line. This is the stuff urban planners dream about.
[iv] I would expect a sign like this to say Watch FOR Children or even Watch, Children. Stating “Watch Children” seems like a creepy imperative to stare at kids.
[v] Things like Bufflehead ducks, Northern Flicker Woodpeckers, and New Jersians.
[vi] Though pretty gneiss, actually, if you got to see some cleavage. Ah, poorly wielded geology humor.
[vii] Others must have thought so to, because the same location became the setting for an unbearably schmaltzy scene in a recent Christmas episode of Glee.
[viii] Mostly because Book of Mormon, etc, were sold out.
[ix] They are pretty impressive folks in general.
[x] Some family friends we look forward to seeing each year were not going to be able to make it out while we were there. So we brought the party to them. Imagine, if you will, hearing a knock on your door, and opening it to see an swarthy Israeli (my brother in law Shoham) dressed as Santa Claus, asking to see your wife, and then to have friends jump out of bushes singing Christmas carols. In military terms I believe this is called “shock and awe”. There was red wine involved.
[xi] My Aunt Merry is one of the most stylish people I know. She sent my cousin Mike out to get some items for the party and he brought back a massive bread-sculpture thing in the shape of a snowman he was immensely proud of. I could see the war between maternal devotion and