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Trip Report New York City at Christmas, one more time entranced by the city's magic

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My husband and I spent a wonderful week in New York, celebrating the 20th anniversary of our meeting on Christmas Day, 1992. We arrived at the Hotel Beacon on Christmas Eve, stocked up on food for a week at the almost empty fabulous Fairway market, then woke up Christmas morning to a view of the skyline of the city looking out over Central Park. We walked across the Park to lunch in the Upper East Side townhouse Jean George restaurant, JoJo's, where we were given a lovely table on the second floor, excellent service and a dessert saying "Happy Anniversary" on white chocolate. We found the food too spicy (Creole?) for our taste and would next time order the entrees labeled "simply cooked", but the squash soup was outstanding and the desserts excellent. We will happily return to this lovely setting the next time we are in New York for a special occasion. Christmas dinner was a simple pasta cooked by my Italian husband in the room.
On the 26th, we again walked across the park to the Metropolitan museum, where we arrived close to opening time, avoiding the HORDES we saw as we were leaving. Our $60 out of state membership allowed us to peruse the main parts of the museum quite untroubled by crowds and then return Saturday night at 6:30 to see the Matisse exhibit unencumbered by the 10,000 people who had already been to the exhibit earlier that day. Once again we returned "home" via Central Park, stopping always in Strawberry Fields to see people come from all over the world to see John Lennon's "imagine". We napped for a bit in the hotel (which we love), then met a close friend and native New Yorker for dinner at the excellent Bistro Cassis before going to see a knockout performance of the African American Alvin Ailey dance company. I cannot overstate the beauty of their bodies and the grace of their movements to quite wonderful choreography.
The next day had us up early again with yet another crowd evasion technique, arriving at MOMA at 9:30, where as out of state members, we were allowed into the exhibit of Munch's "The Scream" and much of the most famous parts of the fifth floor, before the area opened to the general public at 10:30. We liked some of the other paintings in the Munch room better than "the Scream" itself. We had a cappuccino in the 5th floor cafe overlooking the sculpture garden, shopped a bit in the Museum Store (discounted because of our membership) then went on to the Asiate at the top of the Mandarin Oriental hotel for an excellent $34 prix fixe lunch and a wonderful view of the city and the park. There is also a bar on that floor that serves snacks and looks very inviting.
On Friday, we yet again arrived early at the Natural History Museum, were enchanted by the butterfly conservatory, where not one but TWO butterflies landed on me and stayed for some time. Even after a cappuccino to refresh ourselves after spending almost 45 minutes in the very hot and humid setting of the butterfly room, we could not bring ourselves to deal with the thousands of children and their parents filling the museum on all sides. We had been before, will return again and were happy to see the butterflies. I left my husband to play with some of the computers, made an expensive but satisfying stop at Eileen Fisher and arrived back in the hotel for a bath. Marco returned and we watched an episode of "Big Bang Theory" on my new iPad, before sharing a steak dinner delivered from the restaurant Viand (very good), aimed to give us the strength to last through the very long opera of "Aida". Our plan worked, the Metropolitan Opera House was beautiful and the performance more than satisfied even my very critical Italian husband. I vote "yes" for the subtitles in English in the ongoing controversy between tradition and technology.
Saturday morning we slept in, took a taxi to the Tenement Museum, where both our guide and the exhibit were truly first rate, then went back to the hotel and spent the rest of the afternoon with the pleasure of doing nothing, before heading back to the Metropolitan Museum in the evening to see the Matisse exhibit and buy me a new generation of an Egyptian emerald ring which I had first acquired in the 1980s, then died somewhere on the streets of Paris sometime in 2003. Marco and I again walked through the Park at 9 at night, this time with snow falling everywhere. It was magical. Four young Chinese college students offered us their protection, as I was a bit shy of walking through the park at night. I could envision my midwestern father's Republican horror at our having asked the help of visiting communists, which made us enjoy their kindness all the more. I taught Marco how to make snow angels (he grew up on the Mediterrean sea), we sang winter songs, and again stopped at Imagine, where I somewhat sentimentally played the song on my iPod. A passerby took a photo of us which we hope to turn into a belated Christmas card in four languages: English and Italian for us, Hebrew and Arabic for hopes of peace in the two languages which are currently most seriously at war. I hope Lennon would be pleased.
Sunday had us out early once again, this time taking the subway to the 911 memorial, unfinished but very moving. As UC Berkeley people, we were especially touched by the wall of the reflecting pool dedicated to flight 93 and its mention of Mark Bingham, UC Berkeley rugby player, gay man and hero--one of the leaders of the move to fight back, which saved Washington DC and the nation from another lost symbol and many more lost lives. A park is being built as well as an indoor museum. I hope that like Hiroshima Peace Park, someday there will be families and children picnicking there, with the horror of our specie's capacity for destruction side by side with its capacity for renewed life, happiness, and joy. Hiroshima had touched me intensely and kept away any feelings of self-righteous innocence I might have had at the 911 memorial.
After a latte at a nearby Starbucks to rejuvenate ourselves, we began a long walk up Broadway, stopping at the Museum of Sex on 5th and 27th then walked up the MOBBED Fifth Avenue, with a brief stop at St. Patrick's to light a candle for our friend Steve, me listening to lullaby tapes to calm my claustrophobia, finally arriving at the haven of our outdoor home Central Park. If the gods ever move us to New York, we will be Upper West Side people. I need the peace of the green and love the contrast between bare trees and surrounding skyscrapers. We walked back to Eileen Fisher on 78th and Columbus, then hobbled back to our hotel before going to see the musical Once. Once was one thing too much for me, but Marco loved it. We will see the movie again soon, before we lose our feeling for the play.
Monday was New Year's Eve Day. I was coming down with a cold, we spent the morning in bed napping and reading, then reluctantly packed for our Jet Blue flight home, unfortunately delayed 1 1/2 hours, but MUCH more comfortable than standard airlines, especially with the extra legroom seats. We had three New Years moments in the air, arrived home at 3 am, spent New Year's Day recovering from the arduous trip back, and are now already looking forward to our next trip back to the Big Apple and the Hotel Beacon. We HEART New York (that reminds me, I also taught Marco how to make designs on snowed over car windshields).

Tips: In the holiday season, push yourselves to arrive early, walk, take iPods for sound protection, be nice to people and they'll be nice back, travel always with Thera flu, Kleenex brand kleenex and silk long underwear. And if you haven't seen the Statue of Liberty up close, more than any other one thing, you will be overwhelmed by its beauty, proud to be a United States citizen if you are one, seeing a true symbol of our country at its best if you are one of its many visitors from other parts of the world.

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