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.”
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.