Skiing in an urban jungle turned winter wonderland
New York City’s record blizzard brings back fond memories and creates vivid new ones for this tourist
There is something mesmerizing about snow falling, the hypnotic way sleepy flakes drift to the ground. As a San Francisco kid new to the snow country, in grade school, I was reprimanded repeatedly for not paying attention when it snowed. At the time, I was certain that if I turned away from the window and focused on my lessons that the snow would stop falling.
If in Manhattan when it snows, you can rent skis at Scandinavian Sports, 16 East 55th St. (between 5th and Madison avenues). Call (212)-757-8524.
I relished hearing my parents tell me wintry stories involving snow, like the story of Snowshoe Thompson the mail carrier, who in the late 1850s, delivered the mail across the Sierras through white outs and deep drifts of snow without Gortex to keep him dry or a Global Positioning Device to assure him that he was headed in the right direction.
Snowshoe delivered mail years before the mail carrier's motto -- "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds" -- was inscribed on the Farley Post Office building in New York City. I'd like to think that he adhered to the adage: "A job worth doing is a job worth doing right." I'm still not clear as to why it was that he was called Snowshoe Thompson, when in fact, he skied on 10-foot roughhewn planks.
Sadder stories like Jack London's "To Build a Fire" hit home as well.
So sharply honed was London's writing, that the reader (or in my case, listener) could feel the piercing cold and panic of the traveler succumbing to hypothermia.
I can remember earnestly telling my best friend at the time that even if he was freezing, to never ever try to build a fire under a tree -- not that we would have ever built a fire anyway without parental supervision; we both had acquired our Junior Smokey the Bear patches and knew the dangers of fire.
And then there was "The Cremation of Sam McGee," which my father brought to life by altering his voice for each character.
"Yet 'tain't being dead; it's my awful dread of the icy grave that pains," moaned my father, as a dying Sam McGee, the delirious gold prospector, in a way I found wildly humorous.
"So I want you to swear that, foul or fair, you'll cremate my last remains."
JEFFERSON FINNEY / JFINNEY@STARBULLETIN.COM
The writer goes skiing in Central Park, one of the few who could navigate the fresh powder.
The saga continues with the miner keeping his promise and hauling the corpse of his deceased (and now frozen) friend over the frozen tundra searching for something to use as a crematorium -- a good lesson in the importance of keeping one's word.
So when I learned that snow was predicted during my recent visit to New York City, I was delighted. I'd seen photographs of Central Park, lightly dusted and looking silent and honest, in the manner of an Ansel Adams photograph. During the afternoon of Feb. 11, the snow began falling steadily, and by the evening was sticking on the pavement and in the branches of the trees. I watched from the window as long as I could to ensure that it kept falling.
When I awoke the following morning, the snow was still coming down heavily. During breakfast I overheard a couple near my table speculating on the storm's magnitude. "If the snow continues, if could surpass the blizzard of 1888," said the gentleman with an authoritative tone.
Finishing my coffee, I returned to my room and Googled "NYC blizzard of 1888" and found that this storm, then coined as the "Great White Hurricane," dumped 21 inches of snow that paralyzed the East Coast from the Chesapeake Bay to Maine. Next, I Googled for ski shops in Manhattan and found Scandinavian Sports on East 56th at Fifth Avenue. A terse phone recording told me exactly what I wanted to hear: "We are open and we are renting skis -- cash only, credit card deposit." Buoyant with this news, I bundled up and exited the hotel.
JEFFERSON FINNEY / JFINNEY@STARBULLETIN.COM
The Winged Victory statue is blanketed by snow during a February blizzard that surpassed a snowfall record of 26.4 inches set in 1947.
I WAS GREETED by the hush of falling snow, broken only by the muffled sounds of snowplows, which were enormous garbage trucks with plows attached to their fronts, and a few taxis sliding about. Elegant apartment buildings looked like well-frosted cupcakes, their doormen busily shoveling to keep pace with the falling snow. In line at the ski shop, there was talk about the storm surpassing the record of 1888. At the counter I asked, "Are we in for a new record?"
The ski fitter who was handing me my poles replied, "We'd have to beat the 1947 record of 26.4 inches."
These snow records became the common topic of conversation with everyone I met that morning.
I skied up 5th Avenue, past St. Thomas Church; the spring fashions (white seems to be in) tastefully displayed at Bergdorf Goodman; the Plaza Hotel; the brilliant gold statue of William Tecumseh Sherman, the famous Civil War general, and his loyal horse, accompanied by the female Winged Victory; and into Central Park. Now midmorning, the park began to come alive with children sledding, snowball fights, dogs frolicking.
"That's the way to get around," commented a well-dressed woman with an elderly terrier, admiring my skis.
"Yes, it's great way to see the park," I replied. "Think we're going to beat the snow fall of 1888?"
Later, pausing for a rest in front of the sea lion pool at the Central Park Wildlife Center, a man pulling his wife and young daughter confirmed that we had in fact broken the record of 1888.
On the way back to Scandinavian Sports I came upon Balto, a bronze statue of an Alaskan malamute created by Frederick G.R. Roth in 1925. Balto was a black-and-white Alaskan malamute who heroically led a dogsled team through a driving blizzard to deliver an antitoxin needed to cut short a diphtheria epidemic. The inscription below the sculpture reads, "Dedicated to the indomitable spirit of the sled dogs that relayed antitoxins 660 miles over rough ice, across treacherous waters, through Arctic blizzards from Nenana to the relief of stricken Nome in the Winter of 1925."
That evening, the snowstorm, exuberantly referred to as The Blizzard of 2006 by every television newscaster, did indeed dump enough snow to surpass the 1947 record by .5 inches.
Wanting to find out more about Balto, I did a little research. According to the official Central Park Web site, Balto and his dogsled mates, Tillie, Fox, Sye, Billy, Old Moctoc and Alaska Slim, lived out their elder dog years at the Cleveland Zoo.
When Balto died at age 11 in 1933 he was stuffed and mounted and is currently in the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. This is just the kind of story that would have captured my attention as a boy. The message? Teamwork.
Some people go for the 65,000-bottle wine collection; others go for the superb cuisine served by former Bouley chef de cuisine Shea Gallante, plus the excellent service. It'll cost you, though. An appetizer of three tiny pieces of hamachi sashimi, for instance, is about $25. At 24 Fifth Ave.
» Fig & Olive: The small and simple menu of bruschetta, cured meats and salads is an advertisement for the extra-virgin olive oils imported from France, Italy and Spain and sold at the combination boutique/cafe. It works if you're looking for light lunch while shopping the Upper East Side. At 808 Lexington Ave. between 62nd and 63rd streets.
» The Modern: I never actually got to eat here because it was the hot place to be and booked way in advance of my visit. At home in the Museum of Modern Art, chef Gabriel Kreuther is said to be an artist in the kitchen. It's a dress-up-to-be-seen kind of place for art patrons and other guests of distinction. At 9 W. 53rd St.
» ñ: Don't ask me how to pronounce that, but I always enjoy sampling what's unavailable in Hawaii. Here, the mojitos, sangria and caipirinhas flow, and tapas are plentiful and cheap (gambas al ajillo, or shrimp with garlic sauce, is $5), served in a narrow bar setting in Soho. Cash only. At 33 Crosby St.
» Payard: Foodwise, this is home base for me. Start the day with coffee and croissants, finish with elegant bistro fare, and don't forget to stop by for omiyage of fine chocolates. At 1032 Lexington Ave., between 73rd and 74th streets.
» Spotted Pig: It's not Italian, but Mario Batali's charming Greenwich Village bistro serves a mean burger accompanied by a tower of shoestring fries. Casual but not cheap. At 314 W. 11th St.
» Spice Market: You don't have to eat here because we've got all the East-meets-West fare right at home, but the open setting's nice if you need to take a break from shopping in the Meatpacking District. It is, perhaps appropriately, a meat market for the stylish set at night. At 403 W. 13th St.
Just about every designer worth talking about has a boutique somewhere in the city. You can search for them by name based on your interest. Here are a few shops worth seeing:
» Alexander McQueen: No, you can't afford it, but the clothing is remarkable, displaying intricate details and excellent workmanship. On the racks are wearable, if pricey, separates for men and women. In the windows are museum-quality pieces you can inspect at close range. Those who claim not to understand fashion or couture will have a eureka! moment here. Meatpacking District, 417 W. 14th St. Stella McCartney is a few doors away.
» Atrium: Denim and young hipster labels, including Gwen Stefani's L.A.M.B. and Bono's Enud. Yes, as music stars they already make a lot of $$$, but they're not giving fans a break on clothes that are not cheap, in the $200-to-$400 range. At 644 Broadway.
» Century 21: This is not about real estate, but heaven for fashion fans, with brands from Juicy to Plein Sud to Dior, all at bargain prices (as in $60 for Betsey Johnson dresses, $200 for Prada or Gianfranco Ferre tops) and neatly categorized by designer. This is the only place I know of where you'll see men fighting for a piece of Dolce & Gabbana. Save up your money for this place. You won't be sorry, and you'll probably end up stopping here more than once. At 22 Cortlandt St., near Ground Zero.
» Cherry: Vintage is rarely in such pristine condition, at prices that have more in common with European luxury lines than Savers. At 19th and 8th Ave.
» H&M: Emporium for guilt-free international style. Hawaii shoppers can now head to San Francisco for the nearest outpost of Hennes & Mauritz, but for pure frenzy try shopping here in fall when special designer collections-for-less, by the likes of Karl Lagerfeld and Stella McCartney, have appeared. Who knows who will be featured this year? At 515 and 558 Broadway and 640 5th Ave.
» Mexx: Delivers a more polished sort of H&M international style with classic daily wear geared toward young professionals. At 650 5th Ave.
» Zachary's Smile: Vintage wear is mixed with stylish reconstructed pieces sewn from cast-off T's and sweats. At 9 Greenwich Ave.