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Christmas in New York
It snowed all night that Christmas Eve. It snowed heroically, with some flakes so large they were like parachutists floating waywardly down. The snow continued hour after hour. I was in bed in my Soho loft, and I watched the snow through the windows as I finally fell asleep in that vast room.
The next morning, Christmas Day, I was going to my mother’s apartment on the East Side for the opening of presents. But before I made that journey uptown, I wanted to see New York City in the snow, and there was only one place I wanted to go.
I took the shaky elevator down from my loft and walked outside. It was still snowing. A white maelstrom. The sidewalk, and even the cobblestones in the street, were puffy white versions of themselves. This was the advantage of getting out on the street early, especially on Christmas. People never emerged that early in New York on weekends and especially on holidays. I had this white perfection to myself, at least for a while. The purity wouldn’t last long. While it did, though, the snow made me a child again, full of wonder.
There are no trees in Soho, that domain in lower Manhattan that was once a manufacturing hub. No shrubbery, no plants — except on rooftops — no eye-level windowsills, no cast iron gates protecting small plots of earth — nothing to catch or hold the snow, except the street and sidewalk. There was nothing upon which the snow could make soft white sculptures and remain on display. Snowy perfection was transitory in Soho, because it was realized on the cobblestones and on sidewalks where people walked and drove. That’s why when it snowed significantly, I always sought out Greenwich Village for the most stirring New York snow experience.
That early Christmas morning, I walked north, crossed Houston, walked up to Bleecker, then turned west toward Seventh Avenue. There were only a few people trudging along in the furious swirl. Any movement was in slow motion. I passed by the Italian bakery where I would return later that day to buy some green and red Christmas cookies for my mother. I passed by Zito’s bakery and my mouth watered thinking of the crusty loaves they sold and how many I had bought there. I passed Ottomanelli’s butcher shop with its pig head in the window wearing a red Santa hat. I thought of the white-haired man and his four burly, genial sons who ran that family place. There was so much to brighten your day here.
I crossed Seventh Avenue. The swirls of flakes landed on my eyelashes. They flew against my cheeks. I trudged on and arrived at my destination: West Fourth Street. When most people think of snow, they probably have a Robert Frost image of easy wind and downy flakes in the lovely, dark deep woods. In my mind, I see West Fourth Street. It’s a brief length of street, between Seventh Avenue and West Twelfth Street in New York’s Greenwich Village. When you walk it, you pass by century-old brownstones and cross some of the city’s prettiest streets: Bank, Charles, Perry, West 11th. It’s quiet. It’s narrow. Trees line both its sides. In the snow, it’s as gorgeous a place there is to be in New York.
I walked along, my footsteps muffled, my progress slowed, my legs breaking trail. That’s how deep the snow was. Just a few cars had gone by leaving parallel impressions in the street. I could smell the snow. As I walked, I looked into the huge brownstone windows to see life stirring inside. Some windows had curtains, some did not. Some were decorated with lights outside, blinking at me. Some brownstones had wreaths on the doors, always such a simple, lovely gesture. I saw a woman indoors in her robe pass by the glass. She was wearing antlers. There was a huge Christmas tree, decorated madly and festooned with an array of lights, framed by the brownstone window. A cat stared at me from the windowsill, its eyes following my every move. I could feel its inside warmth
I walked on. I saw enviable kitchens, some with Christmas food on counters from the previous evening. I saw paintings and mirrors on the walls. The world of families. The brownstone life. Everything you could want: intimacy and the tensile strength of families in the heart of Greenwich Village. That was the life I wanted, anyway, especially today. It was love and comfort. The only sound was the wind. I inhaled coldness. I crossed Perry. I was tempted to turn off West Fourth and follow that street. Every street I crossed was tempting. The snow was molded on grates and on plants and on sconces to the very brim, waiting for the one flakey addition that would force it to calve. That hadn’t happened yet. Everything was soft, white perfection. I didn’t want Vermont. I didn’t want Robert Frost. He could have his dark, deep woods. I wanted West Fourth Street covered in snow. Today, of all days, I wanted New York.