It is about 0° Centigrade/32° Fahrenheit. Since we are at a loose end we decide to take a stroll in Central Park. It’s the kind of harsh, winter day when the brightness of the sun belies the ferocity of the cold.
We always check the weather before we set out. The temperatures in these parts, within our double paned windows, are always in Fahrenheit. Yet, after years of being in the US, those numbers in Fahrenheit never give me a sense of the cold. I always need the Centigrade measure in my head in order to feel the number. Moreover, I am never quite prepared for cold temperatures of this magnitude.
So despite several layers of clothing, I can feel my nose freezing when we come out at the Columbus Circle subway station. We see a lot of people crossing the streets crouched within their coats and hats rushing to their nearest destinations. We rush to the beautiful, monstrous glass cube jutting out of the ground at the Apple Store. On our way back, we stand amongst a group of giggling teenagers as the glass elevators at the store rise to the surface. We feel like we’re entering a dazzling frozen planet, populated by hooded figures, on a spaceship.
I walk fast to avoid the cold. My glance is lowered to the ground as my head remains bent so that my jacket collar buries the greater part of my neck. So my glance chances upon a white hoof attached to a white hairy leg stomping on a glassy, frozen drain along the sidewalk. My eyes follow the leg to see a huge body covered in a raincoat-like material and then a face with eyes turned to me looking through opaque blinkers.
The horse is tethered to a colourful cart. It seems to me that the huge thing is stomping to get the chill out of its legs or maybe to shake off the boredom of standing for hours. I look around and see more horses. Brown. Black. White.
As we near the gates of Central Park, a man comes rushing.
He has an accent I can’t identify. He is certainly not Indian.
“New York,” says my husband.
The man’s tone is both jovial and hopeful. The cart says a ride is $3 per minute.
“Do you dance like Shah Rukh Khan?” He persists.
“My wife,” says my husband almost as an explanation. We don’t need a horse cart ride is what he means. “We’re from here.”
All I keep saying is “Thank you. Thank you.” I’m always bad at saying no. Always embarrassed when people approach me to sell something.
We rush past the woollen hat sellers and the hot dog vendors. The artists who do pencil sketches and caricatures of people are not here today. It’s too cold.
It’s then that parts of the interior of the park come into view beyond the concrete fence. People are taking pictures balanced on the slippery edge of the short wall that’s frozen into ice. Very few people are here today considering the number of people who usually hang around on other days.
We go down balancing ourselves on the slippery steps. There’s no one else around this area except a strange man mumbling to himself on one side of the park in the cold.
There are tiny dogs trammelled up in warm clothing, no bigger than cats scurrying along in the snow. Some people come into view climbing the scary-looking slippery monoliths along the frozen pond. Strange reeds that survive in the cold stand still in the frozen lake while some greenery is visible frozen under ice where the water had been.
Beautiful but treacherous. Such is thin ice.
My legs start aching through the careful steps I’ve been taking in the cold. My shoes don’t have any warm lining. So we retrace our steps towards the road to head to a warm tea shop.
As we come to the path in the park we see a line of horses beautiful against the slowly darkening sky. As they pass me by, their legs and hooves come directly in the line of my vision at eye-level. I wonder if their hooves are warm enough because they still have some daylight hours of work left.
As we walk out of the park we pass a row of unattached carts. Each one has a blanket on the seat. In one of the carts, we see two human cart drivers huddled under a blanket.
It would need an exceptionally romantic couple or a desperate traveller to brave a cart ride in this weather. But there’s always hope.
The tea shop is quite full as are all coffee shops. We have to come back later. So we head to The Shops at Columbus Circle at the Time Warner Center. The interior is decorated for the holidays with stars that look like they drop to icicles in the temperature-controlled environment. I welcome the warmth.
The stars change colour from blue to yellow to purple.
Columbus Circle and the park beyond look beautiful beyond the glass. The shops are all selling woolen socks and leg warmers. Even looking at them makes me feel cozy. The mall houses a Whole Foods in the basement where people are buying cake and a bakery on the third floor where people sit and chat and sip steaming coffee.
Beyond the glass walls and the city streets, a horse circles the park barefoot amidst the romantic, icy beauty of nature.