Beyond the Big City . . . a Christmas in New York
26 October 2010
Fresh flowers drape the stairway and a basket perches on the kitchen bench, filled with cards sharing smiling faces in terrible jumpers decorated with Christmas motifs. One stands out.
“These people are weird,” says our host of the family renouncing the holiday jumper look. “No one likes them.” I’m in Greenwich, Connecticut – the place wealthy Manhattanites go when they have families.
Unlike Manhattan, which proudly embraces difference – at least on the surface - the people of Greenwich Connecticut are firmly “fit in with the neighbours” types.
But it’s a pretty decent neighbourhood. Our host is taking us to see a Christmas lights display at a private house in nearby Belle Haven; we imagine something akin to the Franklin Road lights in Auckland’s affluent Ponsonby.
We turn into the gated community past classic, oversized Colonial homes with obligatory white picket fence or in black brick with icing sugar dusting.“Tune into the frequency,” says our host’s daughter, used to taking newbies on this route.
The radio shrieks till Christmas music takes over. A policeman stops us. “Got the right station on, folks?” He’s out on patrol with around twenty others to help the locals in cars enjoy the display put on by hedge-fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones II.
As we wait in the queue of traffic snailing past we notice the special FM station created for the display has its music synchronized to the holiday lighting display. Now if only George FM could oblige the good folks in Franklin Road with this sort of sync in the city.
The next morning we head into the Big Apple with the morning commuters on a 30-minute dash to department stores and concrete jungle.
Disembarking at Grand Central Station we’re confronted with explaining to our pre-schooler why the men and women are going through the rubbish bins. “They’re making sure children are eating their vegetables,” we decide. “If they detect any vegetables thrown in the bin, they will track you down…”
We walk down near-deserted alleyways with the kind of shops we’ve read about in glossy magazines – each shelf dripping with desirable objects. Our children munch with vigour on the carrot sticks we’ve prepared for them.
Our bundled up toddler braves the weather as we enter toy heaven at the most famous toyshop in the world, FAO Schwarz. Rows after rows of bears greet us – all waiting to be picked up and taken home.
Frederick August Otto Schwarz opened his ‘toy bazaar’ in New York in 1870. Today it has three floors and an ice cream parlour with milkshakes, floats and pastries for those game enough to take on the queues.
As we push our way OUT of the store, we see the city has woken up to the pre-Christmas ring of shopping tills. Mild panic sets in as we wrestle our buggy and baby through the teeming streets. We take the advice of hundreds of fellow shoppers and walk on the busy road, which seems the safer option.
Central Park across the street saves us from the sweaty shoppers and our toddler enjoys rides on the swings in the concrete playgrounds. Nannies enjoy conversations, while their own Richie Rich’s race around.
Despite months of envious friends giving us inside tips on the best shops in Manhattan, we give up jostling with a buggy against the icy weather and suburbanite shoppers and head back to Greenwich.
The stops on the New Haven Line steadily deposit the workers in one station and the townpeople they service in the next. The rich and poor divide is obvious from your choice of stop.
Picking up a coffee the size of a milkshake we take an easy stroll through Greenwich Avenue, which has the feel of a small village yet with many of the best and premium Manhattan stores in a lot more enjoyable conditions. Police officers direct traffic in the wide and well-maintained streets.
From fairy lights to city lights to lighthouses – we are taken to Darien (pronounced to rhyme with mary ann), which is home to four country clubs, two yacht clubs, a hunt club and two beautiful beaches on Long Island Sound.
It’s more ‘Let’s do Lobster‘n’Lunch,” than “let’s meet for Fish’n’Chips on the beach’ and it’s no surprise that The Stepford Wives was partially filmed here.
Still, the landscape is filled with dusky light and smokiness from the waves gives the outlook a misty, sentimental feel. Tall pine trees majestically shelter the adventurous looking for seashells on a shivering day.
A text message comes in as we watch the yachts yelp in the whipping wind. “Back at the Bach, Christmas weather looking fine. Wish you were here.”