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the most wonderful time of the year

Day 78-79 Still in Midtown, Broadway, and Times Square


Last night, we sweated it out in the overheated basement of Strand Books, getting flustered by the giant stacks. One floor up, somewhere in Fiction, a lucky stranger will happen upon a lurid raspberry wool hat (seen here in 2009), dropped by yours truly during a feverish hunt for a non-existent paperback version of Emily Gould's Friendship

I mourn it overnight until I realise there's an Anthropologie on Fifth Avenue that's five minutes from where we are. This store is a legitimate tourist destination for me. I touch everything possible in the store. Even Rob manages to occupy his time fiddling through the mindblowing range of pretty unnecessary decorative door handles and drawer pulls. He looks at them like an alien life form arriving on earth for the first time.


I leave the store with a green wool hat bedecked by a stonking big black bow across the forehead. Vowing never to leave it behind in a scroungy bookstore full of damp grad students, we walk across the road and can go no further. In a shop window, there's a lone doughnut displayed on a glass pedestal like a culinary fairy tale waiting to happen. There's just no way we're not going into Dough.


Inside, couples are sharing one donut between them and girls are delicately sawing away at their yeasty doughnuts with a plastic fork. These two things combined are very annoying to me. Rob and I show everyone how it's done. He eats two donuts with his fingers. I take my Instagram photos then stuff mine in my face with total joy. 

One store down, I wince at the overpriced Muji cashmere and Rob buys some pens. We've seen so much art during our trip that it doesn't surprise me that at least one of us has started drawing. It was never going to be me, let's be honest. 


Our next errand is to stomp all the way up to Broadway to buy Cabaret tickets. Emma Stone and Alan Cumming's are the headline acts. Our foreign cash passport credit card is spat out by the machine like a bad taste. We track down an ATM with a crippling $3 cash withdrawal fee and pay by cash.


We entertain notions of getting into a nearby Shake Shack. The lines are out the door and people stand there, like lemmings, in the freezing cold. I peer inside. People are standing in the aisles chomping down. I think back to Harajuku where the Shake Shack was empty and spotless. The next night when we're out at dinner, we recount our futile efforts. Carol, our resident born-and-bred New Yorker, rolls her eyes heavenwards and says, "Oh Shake Shack?! Fugghedabout it!" On our way back to Union Square, we're hit Times Square again and there's an adult baby in a diaper running around. 


After yesterday's marathon walk through New York, my feet are still swollen and my clompy boots aren't helping matters. I don't perk up until later that night when we order Chinese takeaways and they come, movie perfect, with a delivery boy at the front door and those tiny white containers. 


I wander the Strand Books stacks once again; a Southeast Asian shade. I lose my shit when I go up to the second floor and find Rob reading a book on the Fault in Our Stars bench. "That's the Fault in Our Stars Bench," I half-gasp, half-garble, pointing a flailing finger and fumbling for my phone. Rob has no idea what I'm on about and just calmly, carefully stands up.

  
The next day, we're at another American diner, the Gramercy Cafe, staffed by efficient Hispanic men. My uncle, over four orders of pancakes with corned beef hash, bacon and fruit, wants to talk Obama and immigration. I try to push a rolling stone uphill by ordering my pancakes in wholeweat with fruit and limiting my syrup intake to two plastic Kraft containers. The food in America is killer, in all senses of the word.


It is sloppy wet outside. The yellow cabs are streaking through the roads. It's the kinda of day that makes two tourists who've been travelling for seventy-nine days wish they could excuse themselves from sightseeing and just stay indoors.


Rob takes refuge with his laptop at Joe's Coffee and I flee into the bowels of Nordstrom Rack. Two hours later, I emerge, wide-eyed, shaken, and terribly disappointed with my mismanagement of travel funds that has led me to leave behind racks and racks of 80% off Kate Spade shoes, tops and dresses and a beautiful pair of purple lace Manolo Blahnik flats.

We're headed towards Radio City Music Hall and Rockefeller Centre sans camera and my big duffel coat. From some truly insane reason, I thought it would be a good idea to go outside at night in just my thin polka dot raincoat. In mid-December Manhattan. The cold has frozen my brain cells. As a result of these bad decisions, I come out of this night outing fearing pneumonia, with two grainy cellphone pictures of the Rockefeller Christmas Tree and a zamboni on the ice rink. I croak, "It's Thirty Rock! It's Thirty Rock!" as we pass the NBC offices. No one takes any notice.


I don't know where they're hiding these speakers but in the perimeter around Rockefeller Square, It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year is on repeat. Again. And Again. It's like a mantra, echoing around the buildings. Hear it enough times and magically, it becomes true. We huddle in a doorway, safe from the dripping rain, waiting for the Christmas show projected on the front of the Saks Fifth Avenue. It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year plays again. The Christmas Windows are fairy-tale themed but New York because Cinderella isn't worried about Prince Charming but devastated by the loss of her amazing shoes. Ladies, we're such feminists, aren't we? Trading in true love for capitalism. Beyonce, move aside.


At Joe's Pizza, it's an hour wait for a table and everyone is crowded around the bar like people waiting for a night train. I clutch my warm glass of red wine and try not to spill as people jostle past. Everyone gets a number and when you're called up, grown adults are cheering like lotto winners. When we get a table, my uncle asks the waiter his name then turns to the table and announces, seriously, "Tonight, we are being served by Jesus."


Outside Radio City Music Hall, there's some serious crowd control going, even for people with tickets. We're marshalled into a line that extends down the block. We only move when we're told.


Inside, there's a six foot, Christmas tree-shaped shaped chandelier casually hanging from the ceiling. The line for the ladies' bathroom is prohibitive but moves smoothly. It is huge. Enormous. The biggest bathroom I've ever seen. There's a section with tables and mirrors, another with a lounge that's nicer than my actual apartment, and the bit with the actual toilets and sinks.


Rob gazes at the Chase-sponsored lit up Christmas wreaths and mutters something about advertising. Ever since stepping foot in NYC, we've been advertised to every moment. In the cab, passing a subway station, watching a credit-card sponsored Christmas Spectacular featuring the trademarked Rockettes. It's invasive and it doesn't stop.

The Rockettes are mesmerising in their same-ness. It's like gazing into funhouse mirrors; the kind that replicate you to infinity. They're all legs and sequinned onesies. There's a height restriction and the shortest Rockettes are always put at the end of either line, with the tallest acting as a fulcrum in the middle. It was less than twenty years ago that the dance company admitted their first African-American dancer. Before then, they argued that a non-white Rockette would ruin the illusion of uniformity that was trademark Rockette.

There's a live nativity scene that my uncle has primed us for. "There's live camels!" he told us excitedly over brunch. Apparently, they walk the animals around the streets for exercise at four in the morning. As well as the live camels, there's also sheep and donkeys. I watch the donkey trudge across the stage and can't help thinking of Jordan. All those donkey rides we were offered but didn't take. On the way home, I'm shivering so much in my coat that my neck starts to ache.


off the island

uptown midtown downtown crosstown