Entertaining Family in New York City

Or maybe this post she be titled: Entertaining Myself in New York City While Dragging Family Members Around Until They Beg For a Nice Nap in Front of the Television Set.


I have family coming to town for the holidays (both familes, both holidays) and am planning some fun touristy days around the city. I have to admit that I might be slightly more interested in the tour's highlights than, say, my father in law, but that is why New York created the Mickey Mantle Pub, which is located within easy crawling distance of Bergdorf Goodman. My Mother in Law, on the other hand, loves All Things Beautiful and Free, which makes her an absolutely ideal window shopping companion. I need to make an extra effort during her visit this year, because I screwed up a bit last year, when we took her to Ellis Island. I made the mistake of convincing her that we didn't need to get off our ferry when it stopped at the Statue of Liberty because it's new security rules made it impossible to get close to anything except Liberty's enormous feet and we could see her perfectly well from our seats, but then as we began to pull away after letting on lots of cheering tourists (who seemed perfectly happy to have spent a chilly hour having their picture taken in front of giant sandal clad feet) she began to cry a little so I bought her one of those foam crowns and promised we would come back. TC, who can always be counted on to lighten the mood, put the crown on improperly until she was laughing again. Come to think of it, I also misjudged my father-in-Laws interest in Ellis Island altogether. I had a solemn and respectful hour planned at the island's museum researching his ancestors journey to the New World, assuming his Irish heritage and love of family was an almost guarantee of a tearful, touching moment, a perfect holiday event. Five minutes into the process, at about the time I had expected to cement my lead as Best Daughter In Law Ever, I actually caught him yawning and sizing up his chair to see if it would sustain a nap. His favorite moment, it turned out, was when we discovered that for a small fee we could have our pictures taken and then, through the magic of photoshop, applied to the faces of an exhausted immigrant family disembarking their ship in an old sepia toned photo. Hello, Fleming family Christmas Card. That's the thing about my husbands family. They love Fun.

This year I am planning big things. TC has reminded me more than once that in his family everyone is perfectly happy to lie around in the living room together like a pile of golden retriever puppies falling in and out of a completely uninhibited state of deep sleep with football games and viagra commercials providing a constant soundtrack. It is no secret by now that this is not my idea of a well-spent day off, and for this reason the job of planning activities is largely mine. Luckily, TC's parents are up for almost anything within reason and easy reach of indoor plumbing and a cocktail hour. 

 

My Sister and her family of five are coming for Christmas, which is huge. There has already been a trip to American Girl Place planned, which is more than fine with me. I am hugely fond of all things American Girl. I love that the characters are smart and brave little girls, I love that their stories are about overcoming hardship, friendship, heritage, and problem solving. I love that they are the opposite, in terms of identities marketed to young american girls today, of Paris Hilton. Though not a huge critic of Barbie, I would rather spend a day in the little log cabin of Swedish Immigrant American Girl Kristen fending off bears and carrying heavy wooden pails of water than one minute trying on white high heel shoes in that horrifying Dream House. This Christmas will be my niece Quinn's first and much anticipated visit to American Girl Place, and her parents are preparing themselves. The average customer spends more at this store than they do in mortgage payments each month. As my cousin Ruth (the mother of three little girls) put it, say what you will about Barbie, but at least she's cheap.

My sister and I would have visited another little girl in New York City had we had the chance at Quinns age. We would have headed straight to The Plaza, in search of Eloise. Eloise's life, described in Kay Thompson's wonderful books, was nothing like ours. Eloise was a city child, we were undeniably country children. Eloise made New York City seem like an opulent playground for little girls, filled with stern hotel managers, fancy ballrooms, debutantes, and a glamorous but silly cast of players who existed solely to be mocked. Eloise was too chubby for her tailors, too wild for her tutors, too clever for her nanny. We loved her. Our copies of the Eloise books belonged to our mother, who, like Eloise, had been raised by nannies and tutors in big fancy houses, which made Eloise even more special in our eyes.  The Plaza  has recently been transformed into condos after falling slightly out of fashion as a grand but crumbling hotel, causing many to wonder if Eloise would still live there until the new management announced that "there would always be a place at The Plaza for Eloise", which touched my heart completely and made up for the fact that they had employed her image in their massive marketing campaign.

Eloise and her pug, above, and taking center stage in a marketing campaign for the new Plaza residences.


 

Just across the street from the Plaza is another must-stop on the tour: FAO Scwarz. FAO never ceases to amaze with it's custom made menagerie of full sized stuffed bears, dragons, horses, and gorillas. On her visit last year, my niece was especially impressed with the enormous replicas of the dragons from the Harry Potter movie, which corrected some of her disappointment that the big floor piano (made famous by the movie BIG) was commanding a twenty minute wait.

Just around the corner from The Plaza and FAO lies Bergdorf Goodman.

Bergdorf's holiday windows are of the stop and stare variety, and are breathtakingly good year round, thanks to the very talented Linda Fargo. Linda designs and builds the displays at Bergdorfs (hello, Dream Job.), and has for a very long time. In 2003 the high high end publisher Assouline released a book about her and her designs. It's highly sought, even used copies command $75 or so on Amazon, but still a must for anyone who loves fantasy, costume and drama.
 

Linda Fargo Windows at BergdorfsThis years pre-holiday windows featured a new favorite artist of mine, Mark Gagnon, who has created a series of paintings depicting every notable era of fashion in history (more or less) as modeled by beasts large and small.

Mark Gagnon's paintings on display at Bergdorf's.



Oh, and one last note about The Plaza. When renovations began a few years ago and the old rooms and halls were gutted, some very unusual items began showing up at the Flea Markets and quirky boutiques around
the city. If you acted quickly, you could buy a huge mirror flanked with molding from the hotel's hallways, a picture frame made from tim ceiling tiles, or, my personal favorite, a necklace made from one of the elegant gold numbers that once hung on each of the rooms tall front doors. These have been so popular that designer LuLu Frost has made casts from the originals, and a very well priced collection of reproductions will soon be offered at the Plaza'a gift shop as well as online.

I have found it pretty easy to imagine Eloise at the The Plaza post-redo after all, currently twenty and starring off broadway in a dark comedy. She sits with her mother at one of the corner tables in the Champagne Bar discussing something serious and smoking, (she will quit next year, when she goes back to Barnard and finishes her degree in Literature) dressed in a simple silk blouse, flannel trousers and devilish Louboutin Mary Janes .  An oversized golden "6" hangs on a chain around her neck, mostly hidden from the familiar waiter, who suspects but forgives that she stole it from her apartment's front door the day that she moved out. She lives downtown now.