New York is a city with many iconic sights, but one of the most iconic is the skating rink at Rockefeller Center. I don’t know how many holiday movies and TV shows I’ve seen where the hero and heroine skate across its snow-white ice, or kiss in front of the famous golden statue.
And just by chance, the rink at Rockefeller Center was one of the first things I saw when I arrived in New York on my recent visit. It wasn’t really winter yet, but as I walked out the doors onto Rockefeller Plaza, the famous scene played itself out right in front of me, skaters whirling around the familiar rink in front of the soaring, art deco tower of 30 Rock. It was one of those odd but wonderful moments when an image you’ve seen a thousand times suddenly turns real in front of your eyes.
After I got over that “eureka” moment, I stopped to look around a bit more. And I realized I’d never really seen the whole scene, only the vignette that features the rink. But that’s only a part of a bigger, more impressive tableau, and one with a beauty all its own. There’s the rink itself, installed on Christmas Day in 1936 and commanded by the famous statue of Prometheus, who “brought the fire that hath proved to mortals the means to mighty ends,” as the inscription behind it reads.
But zoom out a bit, and there, encircling the ice rink, are the 200-plus flags representing the countries of the United Nations, plus the U.S. states and territories. Then, a row of trees that are lit up at night, to give the whole scene a magical touch. Zoom back even more and the whole scene comes into focus: the white ice surface surrounded by the plaza and beyond, the huge, classic skyscrapers of the 1930s, glowing softly with the reflected light of late afternoon.
It’s a wonderful sight, and one that seems to capture the essence of big city life — particularly, New York City life. To skate on a patch of ice surrounded not by a city park but by the rising towers of one of the world’s great cities, a short walk from iconic places like Radio City Music Hall and Fifth Avenue — it’s like being in the nerve centre of a continent. Even for a veteran traveller, it’s a memorable moment.
Later this month they’ll light the famous Christmas tree beside the rink at Rockefeller Center, adding a little more magic to this special place. I wish I could be there.