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Traveling New York City in Winter

Subfreezing Big Apple Visit “Weirdly Romantic”

Recent N.Y.C. vistor Peggy Grossman stops by “Snowman,” an installation in the sculpture garden at the Museum of Modern Art.
Josef Woodard

As much as we Santa Barbarans tend to be a smugly self-admiring lot and — on most days — convinced that we reside on a particularly God-kissed little acreage, we also love getting love from reliable outside sources. There was the New York Times recently, mighty arbiter of American taste, deeming Santa Barbara as the third-best destination spot — mostly as a new foodie magnet this time — on a list of 52. (We got beat by Puerto Rico and Hampi, India.) Of course, New Yorkers and other Easterners (such as the bone-chilled Chicagoans who settled here starting in the late 19th/early 20th century) love Santa Barbara partly because of its temperate climate, a delectable escape route for the serious winter-afflicted. They like us. And vice versa.

Consider this reverse logic: New York in the chill of the winter, the proverbial “off-season,” makes it an out-of-season apple well worth the partaking. Hotel prices drop, the cultural season is fully in gear, but tourist hordes are manageably minimal. With the proper layers of coats-gloves-hat-scarf garmenting, the subfreezing weather is doable, even weirdly romantic, for winter-deprived Santa Barbarans.

My wife and I were there for the business of N.Y.C.’s Winter Jazz Festival last month, a crazy, dense thicket of showcases at various venues. Much of our music time was spent at the Village’s Le Poisson Rouge for a two-night mini-fest of artists on the 50-year-old ECM label, including Norwegian sweetheart Mathias Eick and a riveting piano duo set from Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn (check out their forthcoming jewel of an album, The Transitory Poems).

Having not spent much concentrated time in N.Y.C. for a few years, the “new” lures put a spring in our step, and most of the savory “old” enticements remain. On the latter list: a cheap breakfast at Zabar’s, mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and a lazy strolling around Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall. Of course, there was also the day-long pilgrimage to MoMA, currently hosting dryly madcap conceptualist Bruce Naumann’s Disappearing Acts, and such permanent-collection crowd-pleasers as Van Gogh’s kitschy-by-proxy “The Starry Night.”

World Trade Center Memorial and Museum
Josef Woodard

The “new” riverfront Whitney Museum, for instance, is an asymmetrical architectural wonder in the Meatpacking District, presently awash in the multi-floor Warholia of its big Andy overview. That very spot is also a fine entry point to the miraculous “High Line.” The grassroots-energized pedestrian pathway along the Hudson is a magical mile-and-a-half stretch on elevated and formerly dormant railroad tracks, rescued from development. Now, it affords visitors and locals a meandering hang zone and sight lines on a New York civic landscape of both the vintage structures and wild new buildings, like the soon-to-open puffy-skinned performance space/tilted romper room The Shed and a dazzling new apartment complex by the late and heralded architect Zaha Hadid, blessed with visionary “Jetsons chic” flair.

In and around N.Y.C., Ruben sandwiches beckon, as does theater: We took in Blue Ridge at Atlantic Theater Company, a tasty and cathartic halfway house number, and grabbed some delectable cioppino and oysters in the tiny, loud, delicious and freezer-free restaurant Upstate. Tipped by The New Yorker, we swung by the new Taiwanese street food eatery called 886, ordering everything mentioned in the review and happy we did.

On a more sobering note, just as New Yorkers in Santa Barbara might feel obligatorily drawn to La Super-Rica and the Old Mission, we were pulled inexorably to the now elaborately developed memorial site of the World Trade Center. The impressively imposing structures on the site — the winged shopping behemoth that is the Oculus, the jaggedly elegant Memorial and Museum, the towering World Trade building — are hauntingly offset by the hole in the center. The dark, mournful chasm and reflecting pool, fringed by a scroll of thousands-fold victims’ names, pays disarmingly effective homage to 9/11’s horror and humanity.

The site also bespeaks the resiliency of America, and her most prominent city — ever a prime destination, even in the lively dead of winter.

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