Columns

Defiance, New York style

Allan Fotheringham January 14 2002
Columns

Defiance, New York style

Allan Fotheringham January 14 2002

Defiance, New York style

Columns

Allan Fotheringham

Christmas in New York can be a magical experience. Snow falling against the lights of Broadway. The calèche-drivers, wrapped in blankets, steadying their steeds through the curves and trees of Central Park at midnight, steam rising from both the horses and whatever is going on in the back of the carriage.

This time, in the wash of 9/11, even the snow did not dare to arrive. Cartiers on Fifth Avenue was wrapped in a sixstorey red ribbon. Shoppers who could never afford to go inside jostled each other for room like Tiny Tim to view the wonderful windows at Saks. Everybody treated the cops with new respect.

Beneath the respect was a new attitude for Noo Yawk, the town that never sleeps. It was defiance. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere, as Frank told us, and the town exuded defiance, from Rudy everywhere on down to the guys selling knock-off Gucci purses for 30 bucks, to the guy next to them flogging the hot sausages. Nobody pushes over America. You can push over the Twin Towers, but you ain’t gonna push around America.

Shoppers worried about coming to downtown Manhattan? Bloomingdale’s has pashmina mufflers, regular

$150 (U.S.), for $75. You don’t like _

that? The regular ones at $270—now $135. A steal for anyone coming in from Brooklyn. Or Cleveland. The New York Athletic Club, on Central Park South, has a special room rate: $160. The St. Regis nearby, where Pamela Wallin once stayed: $700. Macy’s has 50 per cent off “all furs”—mink, fox, beaver, raccoon. We’ll show those jerks in the caves.

Outside Radio City Music Hall at Rockefeller Center—the skaters wobbling around the ice rink, none of them threatening Henri Richard—there are three huge camels wobbling about. No frankincense or myrrh is visible. There is, of course, no such thing as Boxing Day in the United States. With any mention, the inhabitants think Ali rather than China. A clerk on Fifth Avenue, the most expensive street in the world, asks the customer where he hails from. “Canada.” “Where’s that?” It’s all so innocent. On the car windows: a simple picture of Osama bin Laden and a sign—Dead or Alive.

At Ground Zero, the most remarkable impression is the silence. Total silence from the thousands trying to view the devastation, an instant shrine to madness, a complete puzzlement as to why the most generous nation on the globe would

Macy’s department store has 50 per cent off ‘all furs’-mink, fox, beaver, raccoon. We’ll show those jerks in the caves.

be so hated. There is The Wall, a direct descendant of the phenomenon of the Princess Di funeral that smothered Buckingham Palace gates with flowers and tributes—here in New York now as in London then decorated with children’s poems in crayons and patriotic banners and wilted bouquets.

In England, it was one recognizable person who had perished. Here, it is the innocence of the only superpower left that suddenly found it was powerless against suicidal nuts who had been taught death was beautiful because 72 virgins waited aloft. All around the 16 acres of rubble is the “collateral damage.” Peters Candy and Groceries is closed. Downtown Deli is closed. Roy Rogers is closed. No stockbrokers, no bankers, no business. More than the 3,000 killed was killed.

The New York Athletic Club, founded in 1868, sponsored the first U.S. indoor track meet. It sponsored the first national championships in track and field, wrestling, fencing, boxing and swimming. Club athletes have won more than 100 Olympic medals. The NYAC dress code advises: The follow-

ing are never appropriate—capri pants, bare midriffs, spandex or Lycra, baseball caps, and—I like this best— footwear without socks. The Kennedy boys were the ones who first made that a fashion item in Florida. But someone has to keep up standards. That’s called defiance.

There’s defiance on Broadway, where when Mel Brooks’ The Producers opened last spring, the going ticket on the black market was $1,500. Canada’s ambassador to the UN, Paul Heinbecker, allows that he can probably find a ticket for $450. Starring Nathan Lane, the funniest man in the world now that Peter Sellers is dead, and Matthew Broderick and featuring the now-famous Springtime for Hitler plot, it is the funniest thing these theatre-weary eyes have ever seen and perhaps the most brilliant spectacle ever witnessed—with the possible exception of Stockwell Day announcing he was resigning so he could run again.

Noo Yawk, of course, can lapse into its abiding disease— hubris. When Time reveals a sad chauvinism and circulationseeking by calling the newly-admirable Rudy Giuliani the “Person of the Year”—a title it once gave to Uncle Joe Stalin as the most evil chap in the world, as The Man in the Cave so obviously was last year. That’s really tacky, since no one in New Zealand has ever heard of him.

Well forgive, however. Frank was right, and Rudy was latterly great, and Manhattan at Christmas is magical.