There was a time when if anyone reminded me that a trip to New York in January was imminent, I would have questioned his or her sanity: “Are you crazy? You’d leave Florida in January to risk freezing?” I have had a lifelong love affair with that city and all that it offers, but the idea of visiting it mid-winter is more than I would want to consider.
Last year, I was invited to attend a fabulous international conference of women educators in New York — the last week of January. In the throes of planning and packing for a trip to Australia and New Zealand, I regretfully declined with the words of my hostess ringing in my ears: “Next year for sure!” Next year just arrived, and as I made plans to leave a chilly Florida for a freezing New York, I kept wondering, “Am I crazy?”
Manhattan in New York was just recovering from a snowstorm when I arrived wearing all the clothes I could possibly swaddle myself in and still move, plus a pair of knee-high, hand-knit woolen socks from Hobart, Tasmania, under my boots. I had an epiphany of sorts the morning I left home: I grabbed a lightweight mohair throw off the guest bed about the size of one-quarter of a blanket. If all else failed, I could wrap myself in it and pass as Pocahontas.
I received my first dose of reality as I walked out of JFK Airport to line up for a taxi. I have not skied for many years, and I had forgotten how it felt to be slapped in the face by 17 degrees accompanied by a brisk wind. Fortunately, it was a short wait. I did not venture out after arriving at my destination.
We ex-Canadians are a sturdy lot, so the next morning, mummified by two of everything — sweaters, long pants, a jacket and a coat, gloves, hat and the miraculous mohair wrap — I faced the elements.
New York for me has always been all about the walking. That’s how I see the city and all its lovely sights, and it’s not unusual for me to strike out from my midtown location and cover 20, 30 or 40 blocks. After a mere 6 blocks, blinded by tears and before the biting blast of a wind chill factor tore my face off, I silently cried “uncle” and ducked into a store. Wrapping your head in mohair is a great idea as long as you can still see where you are going. Mentally, I planned the rest of the day. With enough tea bags and the reading material I had brought, supplemented by Internet access, I would survive. After my face thawed, I headed for a deli across the street from where I was staying and enjoyed lunch, wondering if there were some way — other than threat of weather closing JFK — that I could change my return flight by a few days without penalty.
By Canadian standards, this was a normal winter day (although I might spend it indoors beside a roaring fire). How had I become so vulnerable to cold in such a short time, and why hadn’t I borne the inconvenience and dragged along a fur coat? What was I thinking? Where could I get a wool face mask (and would I be apprehended as a potential threat)? What a wimpette!
That evening, I joined friends at a nearby restaurant for dinner. It was a 10-minute hike from where I was staying, and with my 100-pound addition of extra clothing, I didn’t think I’d make the waddle over there. In addition to not being acclimatized, I must have been seriously out of shape. I was torn between lying on the icy pavement and weeping for my former physical prowess and thanking New York for helping me discover this invaluable information, just in case a trip to the Arctic is next on the agenda.