Wednesday, October 31, 2012


I walked out this evening to shop. We didn't really need food, though we were running low on milk. There was already a pot simmering on the stove, beginning to turn the evening apartment fragrant with the scent of ancho and cinnamon, orange and onion and garlic - a sauce for our supper tacos.

On the street I passed a small matador and a musketeer, the former announcing, Ole! on every set of stairs it could find to ascend, complete with excellent accent and sense of occasion. The matador had long legs in tights and wore tap shoes. She carried a small purse and flourished her cape formally at invisible adversaries.

We are on a lucky, dry hill.

At Mr Kim's, which we used to call Mr Lee's, the Mexican workers were piling into a minivan, their usual subway ride out of commission. Inside, in the leafy aisles, The Scream paraded, and was rewarded with candy from behind the till. The shop was well-stocked but there was not single, large carrot to be had. Interesting.

Key Food had no milk at all, neither organic nor hormoned, and practically no bread. I bought beer and flour for baking, some long life Parmalat (memories of camping) and perhaps some beer. When I got home I discovered some tiny chocolate bars that had been slipped into my shopping bags by my cashier.

At Heights Chateau I picked up some South African red wine made by Americans (...), and one of the staff members told me of his friend's waterside restaurant, wiped out on the island in a community where boats and yachts now reside in living rooms. They have lost everything, he said.

Vince was at home when I returned, back from his regular run through Lower Manhattan, which he describes as "complete chaos."

The whole of Lower Manhattan is pumping water out of deep subterranean structures. The Battery Underpass is flooded to the roof. People are working so hard, without sleep, to clean up, from professional crews and disaster management personnel, to city employees,  to individuals who've lost a sofa, a box of books, a mattress, a home.

From across the vast region I hear from blog readers, friends - without electricity, feeling cold, worried about opening the fridge, unable to be where they need to be; a Facebook friend who is an engineer, who went to bed at last after working for 60 hours straight in the subway system. Strength and love to you all.

What are we doing? Sitting high and dry, drinking our drinks, about to have supper.

We feel very sad, and genuinely, unsentimentally, grateful.

Red Hook, a day later

It was a sad walk. We took it yesterday afternoon, after 4pm. Just after low tide.

There were other hurricane tourists, too, cycling through the weird blue light of early evening.

I did not take the pictures I wanted to. I could not point my camera at people carrying their water-destroyed possessions out of their ground floor homes and basements, and adding to the pile on the sidewalks. I could not even take pictures of the countless generators pumping water from every second building. I felt like a vulture. If I carried a press badge, maybe. But I don't.

The water taxi parking lot was a disaster.

Poor little Mike Davis.

 The water had raised the long wooden dock right above its mooring poles, which it had slipped, before tilting akilter.

 Some studio and warehouse occupants had sealed well. Most had not.

Some golden rod survived the flood.

Fairway was shut tight and jettisoning dozens of shopping carts of food. Cereals, fresh meat, you name it. 

They are right on the water.

The president's escort flew by.

And as we walked home the soggy task of cleaning up continued. I could not imagine the devastation at Breezy Point, out past Fort Tilden - where so many homes burned on the sand bar. Vince has visited - or tried to - it was literally fenced in, right down  to the beach, and riddled with security gates: it is an anomalous series of communities in New York City, 99 percent white. Some of it is now quite black. I don't mean that glibly, either. It just is. [*Correction:  it was Sea Gate, another gated community opposite Breezy Point, on Coney Island; see Frank's comment.]

Fire trucks and ambulances blocked Van Brunt Street, where we had walked just an hour before, past men pumping water from a basement.

Everywhere there was the smell of leaking heating oil, of generator exhaust,  the coughing of the little engines, the gushing of water from thin pipes, the slopping sound of wet belongings slapping onto the pavement.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

After Sandy

Not a pretty sight

Last year's little earthquake left me shaking, literally. When the building ceased to creak and expand - I felt like a small animal trapped in a great, breathing ribcage - and the pieces of plaster had stopped flaking from walls and faint motes of dust hung in the air, I found that I was trembling.

Last night, in the worst of it, I got very quiet. Minutes after the radio announced that Sandy had been downgraded from a hurricane the wind turned into a new animal. It did not shriek, but became impersonally mechanical, just like the freight train everyone talks about in tornadoes. I had not understood the description till then.  Our wonderful, double paned glass sliding door, essentially our eastern wall and source of clear daylight in this tiny apartment, became a menace, shuddering and bulging improbably as each new gust tore out of the east and hit it straight on. The sound was a low, rhythmically shuddering roar. It is the rhythm that is the train, backed by a sense of unstoppable force.

In the lulls I'd occasionally open the door a crack to see if it would ease the pressure and the air would rip in, and with it the smell of electrical burning last experienced in lower Manhattan in the deserted weeks in the aftermath of 9/11. A bad smell.

In the bedroom, things were better. It has only a tiny, high window (illegal if you are a stickler for building code - I believe it is considered inhumane) like a porthole, double-paned too, and when that is shut one feels safe. We contemplated having supper on the bedroom floor. But supper was too good to eat there, and so we ate our pork loin wrapped and roasted in bacon with sage leaves (recipe in link) at this table where I type, while I drank more red wine than I usually would and we began to wax lyrical about other storms and other times, as the wine took hold and its warm bravado seeped into my untested hurricane veins.

We are fine. Our old building is well supported within a row of other old buildings, and our patched roof apparently strong enough to withstand blasts that were reportedly recorded at 100 miles per hour.  Even the satellite dishes are still in place. The three oaks across the road are still standing. We live in Cobble Hill, hence we are dry, high above the harbor. There was not much rain.

As to damage - a long aluminum gutter that carries water from the roof above us to the lower, wide gutter that fronts the terrace came loose and its eight feet yawed wildly, held by one rusty screw. Vince had already lassoed it with rope and we hoped it would hold it if it snapped free altogether, a serious flying hazard. In the wee hours a lull allowed me to wrangle it onto the terrace where it could not fly away to impale anyone. This was our only damage.

Hurricane Squirrelly

The roof farm is intact. Not a single pot budged; the taping-together worked. The salad leaves are shredded, of course, but the worst destruction, it is no exaggeration to say, came from the blasted squirrel, who has been frantically burying every fallen acorn since daylight. He has dug up every pot. And he uses the nice, long gutter as a handy slide to access the pots on the terrace.

We were very fortunate. Many others were not. A huge thank you to all first responders who were out in the worst of it. The only sound to relieve the wind was the wail of sirens, without cease.

We'll go out soon, and walk around and look at the world. It is raining steadily, now.

Alive and kicking, post Sandy

We are fine - just mopping up. The only damage a torn-off gutter. Updates and pictures later. We were Internet-less for a while, but have power.

Thank you for everyone's concern and good wishes!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Storm of leaves

Pier 6, Brooklyn Bridge Park

I felt  a bit guilty about not posting disaster pictures, so I went for a two mile-ish walk to see what I could see. First, I swaddled myself in rainboots, a storm jacket of the Frenchman's, and his favourite baseball cap, with the hood of the jacket pulled over that, a big-lensed camera round my neck and under the jacket. So I looked pregnant. 

And then I waddled out into the teeth of it.

Financial District across New York Harbor and East River 

Down at Pier 6 the wind was whipping and I discovered that rain can sting. The cap blew right off my head, here, and landed in a prickly thicket of Rosa rugosa, and I went crawling after it. Couldn't go home without it.

Apart from my dry feet, my lower half was soaked by this time, but upper half toasty and dry; face wet, hair in dripping strings like a rat's, but comfortable enough to press on and ascend to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade.

Hicks Street

Lots of leaves and few cars  in the quiet streets. Not a typical Monday scene. 

Vince - stuck at home working remotely - had warned me to keep looking up, saying I would not notice flying objects in my baseball cap and hood. So I kept looking up. I wasn't very happy about walking under the trees and actually crossed the road to avoid callery pears, but I did enjoy jumping in some leafy puddles.

The Promenade was deserted apart from a dozen or so adventure-seekers, locals and tourists alike.

Brookly Heights Promenade

Not a soul on the viewing benches, but pools of locust leaves.

The Statue of Liberty appeared and vanished again as squall after squall swept across the harbor.

New York Harbor and Governor's Island

A coast guard boast strained up the East River against the outgoing tide. 

Work is under way on the construction and planting of the connecting parts of the Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Pier 1 was the first new part to open, below, and Pier 6 the second, way on the left (out of frame). Though low tide, the water was near its high water mark.

Pier 1, Brooklyn Bridge Park

Fallen locust branches lay splintered, up at street level.

Columbia Heights 

Standing in the middle of Henry Street and pointing back towards home, I contemplated another 40 minutes of walking to view the Gowanus Canal. The wind gusts were picking up and my small camera, in a pocket, was wet.

 Henry Street

I headed home to dry off. Delis and food stores look closed but Heights Chateau, stuffed to the gills with alcohol, was open was open. 

Japanese restaurant down the road, shuttered.

Some intrepid friends out for a stormy stroll.

The zelkovas are beginning to reach their colour-peak.

And in the playground the Brooklyn pigeons asked, What storm? 

Wind gusts are picking up, with whistling and howling thrown in for good measure.

The Frenchman has cabin fever and just gone on his own brief walkabout to the water, before the wind gets too bad. My pants are still drying. He'll get wet, but it's nothing a martini can't fix.

Tonight? We will really be an island, as the governor has ordered all bridges closed. Tunnels are already out of commission.  I am grateful for our modest hill, our ample supplies, and our small, dry apartment.

Storm on the terrace you see.

The calm...

This was early Sunday evening in the hood. The food lines in stores had returned to normal again, and we prowled to a nearby hardware store for duck tape. I wanted to corral some of the smaller roof pots together to make a nice, heavy, unblowable nest.

Supper was pizza, with terrace sage. I had to hunt the pot down, and found it at last under a chair. In the gutter of Raccoon House, next door, the affable owner did some last minute water proofing, about 30 years too late. He tinkered on into the dark, I kneaded dough.

Sunday night.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Preparing for Sandy

So, here we are again. Storm prep.

The subways will shut at 7pm tonight - this has already been announced -  it takes many hours to close the enormous system.We won't be going anywhere for a couple of days, unless on foot and in rainboots. Vince will be working at home.

The moving of pots began in the night, with wind gusts buffeting the terrace edges and the climbing roses squealing horribly against the aluminum gutter. Vince went out and brought down the fig. The fig is always the first. It has the greatest sailing capacity due to its long arms. Most of the other pots are now also on the terrace floor, under chairs, on and under table. The roof farm has been battened down, the beaded African guard sheep brought to the landing, along with deck chairs and tomato tee pees.

The cat is fascinated. The big pots on the terrace edge are waiting for the heavy lifting muscles of the Frenchman who is, as we speak, on his second shopping trip, the first keeping him in a line that wrapped around the girth of Key Food...

We have everything we need for a melting pot of meals: pad thai, ancho-spiced tacos, pizza, chicken cordon bleu (eaten first if the electricity goes), a multitude of egg dishes, salade Lyonnaise (since Vince bore home what I'm sure he thought was arugula but which turns out to be giant dandelion leaves), rice this way and that, and beans, beans, good for your heart.

We'll need beer - for us and for the slugs that I know will invade the new grazing grounds that we have helpfully brought down to the gravel. Wine. Maybe gin for a Baybreaker: A predicted 11 foot storm surge will surely cover that sand bar that is the Rockaways at Fort Tilden (Frank's Beach Farm). Jamaica Bay, its wildlife refuge, the strange beach-like community at Broad Channel, some houses on stilts in the water - they are in for a rough time, but are perhaps leaving already, as they lie in evacuation zone A (all dark orange on the linked map). Live storm prep updates are available at the New York Times' City Room.

This mandatory evacuation zone includes our local stomping grounds of Red Hook, and Dumbo; as well as Coney Island, the waterfront edges of Sunset Park, Williamsburg and Greenpoint in Brooklyn, parts of Manhattan along both the Hudson and East Rivers south of Midtown, most of coastal Staten Island, the already-mentioned Rockaways and parts of Long Island City in Queens and poor little City Island in the Bronx, near Pelham Bay.

For apartment life - we still have a case of water from Never-Happened-Irene, last August. We have flashlights, we have a nice handcranked/solar-powered radio (a gift from a WNYC pledge drive), we have portable entertainment (le chat noir) and he has plenty of food. We have freshly-charged camera batteries. Piles of them. We have an oil lamp and candles. We do not have cards. Maybe this is the time to learn to play poker? Can the cat hold a hand?

We are on the top floor and, though close to the water of New York Harbor, on a hill (by New York standards, at any rate) so we won't go floating anywhere.

We may leak, though.

Happy storm, New York. Hold on tight. Don't linger beneath callery pear trees.

3.30pm Super-local panic shopping update from the Frenchman:

Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable - double line backed up to the beer fridges in the rear
Trader Joe's - doors closed and only opened to let one shopper in when another exits
Pacific Gourmet - lines on the sidewalk, taking cash only to pay on the sidewalk

Saturday, October 27, 2012

What the cat thinks

The cat genuinely likes parties.

Especially when feesh is served. 

In this case smoked black cod.

He is far less thrilled by long silver gifts.

...and by wrapping paper that can be played.

One could say that he is unamewsed.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Making noise to drown the roar

It's my birthday weekend and instead of ignoring it I am filling it in order to muffle the roar of the existential crisis, which, while ongoing, is amplified on occasions like this...

So this evening's drink is the cocktail du jour - cider-based and delicious (recipe will be in the book). Estorbo has deigned to keep me company while Vince has social-bonding drinks with his colleagues.

Planning Supper is an age old trick to thwart universal angst.

Tomorrow the day will start with Champagne. For breakfast. A flute of Billecart Salmon. And perhaps a sliver or two of smoked fish. Crises don't like Champagne - in the face of its tingling and authentic mousse they run whimpering, before gathering strength again. Which is why we'll have a flute every day. Crisis-juju.

Tomorrow night we'll have supper at EN . We last ate there in the spring, when my mom was in town. I dithered around with three simultaneous reservations (yes, I did call to cancel) before settling on Japanese comfort food served in impeccable style, on Hudson Street in the West Village. There will be sparkling sake. I just found it on their menu.

My mouth is watering as I type. Dessert will be the creamiest custard ever to pass my lips, with a barely mobile dark black caramel coating shimmering on the smooth surface. Also good for scaring away The Big Why.

Others dishes that call my name:

Freshly-made scooped tofu ("made hourly"). It is divine. I loathed tofu until I tasted this.
Fresh sea urchin custard
Blue crab miso soup
Thin buckweat noodles in warm broth with duck breast
Crispy fried chicken (!?) with grey salt

Here's the dinner menu. What would you order?

Sunday, if it is not raining, we will catch the subway to Inwood and wander the forest and its turning leaves with a picnic. I need spice bush (Lindera benzoin) berries for the cookies that I will feed my foraging class at the BBG. There are plenty, up there. If it is raining it'll have to wait.

Ahead of the predicted storm, which is going to coincide with a full moon and its extreme tides on Monday and Tuesday, we'll take a break to batten down the roof hatches, move some roof farm pots, and deliver the terrace pots from the edges to the stone table and floor. And secure the climbing roses.

And perhaps we'll slurp an oyster on Sunday night at Fort Defiance.

Yeah. Birthdays. We've come a long way from wobbly jellies and cake with candles. What would we say then, to what we know, now?

Swiss chard leaf miners

Trouble in chard town...

Leaf miners.

I mean, Why? I've never had chard before. So where have the miners been lurking till now? Did they just stumble upon this roof? Did someone start a miner Meet Up group? 

I noticed about a week ago that the chard was beginning to look peaky. Eh, too much water, I thought. But it has become worse, and today closer inspection showed leaf miner action quite clearly - that early tell-tale, transparent squiggle, leading to loss of colour and structure and this awful, flaccid paleness. Off-with-their-heads: I saved all the good leaves (and we ate them for dinner in minestrone) and pulled up the rest. Otherwise I'll have leaf miners next year, pupating in the soil. I may have them, already. I bastardi.

In a word, Ugh.

The good new is that I now have three free pots! An excuse for late-season seed experimentation.

It ain't over till it's over.