ONE 3 • Mean City to Big Apple III: Heading South

Christmas in New York means doing some really touristy activities. First I took a train up to mid-town to see the ice-skating and the huge tree in Rockefeller Center, then trotted along to Radio City Music Hall to see the legendary Rockettes—which was the most spectacular show I have ever seen. Sharp choreography, talented dancers and elaborate costumes, light toys, soda and pretzels make for one fine afternoon. Me and my partner were sitting in the very front row of a peculiarly quiet audience. No one else seemed to feel the need to join our screams and our whoops, except for a few little girls in the seats just behind us. At times we whipped ourselves into a frenzy along with hundreds of dancing Santas, dancing girls and jumping bears. Then, the serious bit. Everything goes quiet, and they wheel out the baby Jesus and bring some enormous real camels onto the stage, and re-enact the wise men scene just before the curtain falls. A stark contrast to the product placements and neon nativities that littered the first half of the show. Shopping seduction and spiritual realignment American style — all in one afternoon!

Ho, Ho, Ho!

Christmas in America: Part II. Back in the autumn my partner and I decided to visit his family in North Carolina over Christmas. North Carolina is where a large portion of Scottish immigrants settled during the 19th century… which means a lot of them have Scottish ancestry…which means they all believe they are Scottish. Apparently, I have far more relatives than I first realised.

Going down south was really an excellent opportunity to see a different side to the country I temporarily describe as home. I love loud, flashy, blunt and to the point New Yorkers, but I found North Carolinians to be super friendly, polite and amenable. It was lovely to have a break form the big city and be surrounded by people who have so much energy for being nice to strangers. My Scottish accent served
me well.

There is a small town in NC called McAdenville whose local council pays for every resident to hang Christmas lights on every inch of property, from mailbox to gable to white picket fence. The electricity bill for the month must rival that of a small country. As tacky as this seems we got in the Christmas spirit and took a drive down—on the same night as the other 10-some-odd-thousand cheerseekers. The traffic jam proceeded in a 1kph crawl, but unlike most traffic snags, the town was beautiful and everyone was in good spirits. As we crept past the myriad of multicoloured houses, trees and various lawn ornaments, we heard some rather odd noises. A squealing sound of ‘mmeeewikweeesmmmmasssss’, ‘mmmeeeewikwiiisssmasss’ ‘meeewikwismassss’ coming from the other vehicles. Little heads bobbed in and out of minivan windows. A louder “Meeeewwwy Chwistmas” came from another small child, who I’d usually avoid like a pothole in the middle of a motorway, but just this once, the small children, made the holiday even more special.

There’s a special place down south where all the families go after an energetic night of Chwissmass-light driving —the Fish Camp: a food hall seating 300 or more people for the fattiest time of their life in every delectable fish flavour. Fried haddock, fried scallops, fried crab, fried potatoes, fried hushpuppies. I bet they’d even fry the coleslaw if you asked them to. Being from a country that prides itself on frying chocolate bars, this a place I naturally had to visit. It was difficult to choose which combination plate I wanted but in the end, every item I got was a crispy golden brown. Only once a year. Please pass the salt.

New Year’s Eve in New York is magical. The build-up in the city can be felt from miles around and as every newspaper, TV and radio station was busy planting reporters in Times Square I was planning my big night out in the city that would not be sleeping. Me and my partner, a former New Yorker, avoided Times Square which becomes an even more nightmarish area full of excitable tourists and overpriced kiosks. On top of this, the rest of the city transforms itself into one huge bar charging $20 minimum for a drink, or $200 to get in the door.

There was only one option: Central Park, handily situated next to the Upper West Side where we were staying with our friend Gaya. We all filled our coat pockets with a cup each and some bottles of champagne and marched with the other residents to find a comfy place at Bethesda Fountain. The park was filled with runners for a 5K race complete with free bagels, juice, an outside DJ playing music to a native crowd. At midnight, an enormous fireworks display lights up the city sky. This was truly the best way to celebrate. Get this: New York City. New Year’s Eve: no hype, no build-up and the best time to be had.

I enjoyed another American tradition: the Superbowl. Oh you just have to love sports. I was given an assignment to watch the 2.7 million dollar-per-30-second adverts this year so they were supposed to be really elaborate. This is the one and only time I’ll say thank heavens for adverts, because this football is the most boring game ever invented. The clock stops literally every 30 seconds as the ball is thrown out of bounds, deflected or dropped. Then we watch a bunch of guys walk around and talk and pat each other on the bum. Then a few more seconds of ‘play’ and then more talk, more parading around the field. In the end, a game with a clock of 30 minutes goes on for something like 4 hours. My favourite part was the last five minutes, which lasted 30 minutes. With one second left, everyone started celebrating and I thought the agony was at long last, finished. No such luck. All the players were called back to play the last remaining second, then finally, the end.

As I made my way to the subway, the scene on the streets was better than the game after the NY Giants finally won. People were beeping their car horns, running topless in the street, screaming, yelling — just like rush hour.

Only in New York!