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Use 'Catcher in the Rye' as your guidebook for N.Y. at Christmas

NEW YORK - Where do the ducks go in the winter?

It's a question Holden Caulfield, the moody teenage narrator of the classic novel 'The Catcher in the Rye,' asks about the ducks in the Central Park pond.

And it's a question that Sara Cedar Miller, the Central Park Conservancy historian, hears often.

'People are always calling and asking, 'Where do the ducks go?' said Miller. 'I say, 'Did you just finish reading 'Catcher in the Rye?' The answer is always yes.'

'The Catcher in the Rye,' by J.D. Salinger, was published in 1951. But nearly all the landmarks Holden mentions as he wanders around Manhattan at Christmastime - the Rockefeller Center skating rink, Radio City and the Rockettes, the zoo and carousel in Central Park, Grand Central, the American Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art - are still drawing holiday visitors more than a half-century later.

'The things that he chose tend be crowd-pleasers,' said Matthew Postal, a researcher with the Landmarks Preservation Commission. 'In a city where so much changes, there is a tendency, especially with institutions, to protect the crowd-pleasers.'

Ruth Freer, an English teacher at Highland Park High School, about 30 miles from Chicago, teaches 'The Catcher in the Rye,' and she created a 'Holden tour' for herself on a visit to Manhattan not long ago. She took pictures of all the places mentioned in the book to share with her students.

'I think the novel encourages readers to visit New York, and when they do, they can't help seeing some of what Holden sees,' Freer said. 'I know my students often bring me pictures of themselves posed strategically in places mentioned in the book. They love it, and so do I. ... While New York is a quintessential part of 'Catcher in the Rye,' teens everywhere respond to Holden's journey.'

You too can create a 'Holden tour' of New York at Christmastime. Here are some of the places mentioned in the novel, with nearby attractions and what, if anything, is new.

Rockefeller Center: Holden Caulfield took a date skating at the ice rink here, and he also caught a show at Radio City. In those days, the famous Rockettes performed in between movies, but today, the dancers' trademark kickline is the main attraction at the annual 'Radio City Christmas Spectacular,' which celebrates its 75th year this season. Take Radio City's 'Stage Door Tour' and meet one of the Rockettes, or take the elevator up at 30 Rockefeller Plaza for a bird's eye view of the city from Top of the Rock, the observatory on the 67th, 69th and 70th floors. (It's the building where the TV show '30 Rock' is set.)

For details, visit www.topoftherocknyc.com/specialoffers.

Central Park: As you walk up Fifth Avenue to Central Park, enjoy the holiday windows at Cartier, Bergdorf Goodman, Tiffany and Co., Henri Bendel and FAO Schwarz. The pond Holden visited is northwest of the park entrance at 59th Street and Fifth Avenue. Chances are you'll see the ducks. 'Some migrate but mostly they're around,' said Miller, the park historian.

The zoo entrance is near 64th Street and Fifth Avenue. Although the zoo was temporarily closed in the 1980s to replace old-fashioned cages with more space for fewer animals, you can still see sea lions and polar bears, just like Holden did.

He also took his little sister to the carousel, west of the zoo in the middle of the park. The carousel there today replaced one that burned down in 1950, but it is considered 'a masterpiece of American folk art,' Miller said.

The zoo is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the winter, and the cost is $8 for adults and $3 for children 3-12. The carousel is open daily, weather permitting; rides cost $1.50. For more information, visit www.centralparknyc.org.

Grand Central: Holden checks his bag at Grand Central and chats with some nuns over breakfast there, but you'll want to check out the architecture, shopping and the Grand Central Kaleidoscope, a holiday light show that premiered last year. The free seven-minute show runs from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on the hour and half-hour Dec. 1 through Jan. 1.

To help you appreciate Grand Central's Beaux Arts design, cathedral windows and vaulted ceiling decorated with a starry sky of twinkling lights, a Municipal Arts Society tour leaves at 12:30 p.m. Wednesdays from the information booth on the main concourse (suggested donation $10, 212-935-3960). Grand Central Partnership tours of the station and neighborhood start 12:30 p.m. Fridays in the Sculpture Court of the Whitney Museum at Altria, 42nd Street across from Grand Central. For more information, visit www.grandcentralpartnership.org or call 212-883-2420.