The perfect storm?

NOTE: don’t judge me on my formatting. WordPress needs to get its act together. Paragraphs yet another aspect of life presently out of my control.

As strong winds and rain pummel the windows and television reports do their best to incite panic, I’m feeling thankful to have booked accommodation where I did. Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where I will be headed in mid-November, is in a flood zone presently being evacuated. Further north in midtown, on the corner of 57th and 7th, a crane on a high rise construction site is threatening to collapse under winds predicted to reach 90mph at that elevation. The news is getting some good mileage out of Frankenstorm, but as a visitor unfamiliar with the environment in this part of the world, it’s difficult to grasp just how serious the situation is.

    The storm is set to intensify through the night, with the worst predicted for midnight to the early morning hours followed by a high tide that is likely to flood low lying areas of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Road and bridge closures are being enforced, while residents are preparing for power outages as result of downed power lines and trees.
    I’m trying to look on the bright side. Having packed my belongings and cleaned the apartment as part of a futile attempt to get to London last night, all that remained was finding a store still open for business so I could gather supplies and bunker down for the next day or two.
    With the closure of Wholefoods sending my nutritious intentions into a spin, I stumbled upon a grocer in the Bowery that was unsurprisingly out of fruit and veg, but had the basics to get a starving Australian through a natural disaster: a few stale bagels, eggs, smoked salmon, milk, pasta, muesli, dried apricots and ice-cream. Oddly – or was it fate? – a cute boutique Italian wine shop along my path home was still open. After the day I’d had running about like a headless chook, I was practically gagging for a glass of “dry, harmonic, full-bodied with an almond finish”.
    Bottle of red in hand as I walked the last few blocks home, submitting to my powerlessness over the impending doom took on an exciting new turn. I had a basic pantry with which to conjure some creatively tasty dishes, a bottle of good wine to either accompany or drown them, depending on level of success, books, magazines, HBO on demand. Hell, I could even relax in a bath if I wanted, without feeling like I’m wasting time. It was all starting to become rather bliss.
    There can be an undeniable beauty to making the most of a bad situation. Something normally shamefully indulgent like polishing off a pint of Ben&Jerry’s New York super fudge chunk ice-cream (THE most decadent concentration of sugar high inducing badness you can think of) instantly becomes a no-brainer. What else is there to do when you’re stuck in bed catching up on films and 30 Rock episodes?
    The eerie calm that has enveloped the streets afforded me my first night’s peaceful sleep since arriving in the East Village, without being woken by traffic noise or revellers in the early morning hours.
    Perhaps above all, relinquishing control in a situation like this brings the gift of perspective that should be applied to other aspects of life, well after the storm has passed.
    Sandy, I owe you an apology. While I pray that people in your path stay safe and the impacts of your wrath are kept to a minimum, I just want to say thanks for the ‘me’ time. Oh, and if you could blow over by Tuesday, that would be swell. I do have to be in London by Sunday.
Making the most of a bad situation

Sandy: Sod off!

It’s bad enough that Sandy is moody, tempestuous and full of wind. She’s also trying to ruin my holiday.

I’m scheduled to depart for London in less than two days, just as the hurricane brewing off the east coast threatens to strike New York. Her path isn’t clear as yet, but her size is encouraging residents to prepare for the worst. I need to get the hell out of here and am trying desperately to bring my flight from JFK forward to avoid being trapped indefinitely and missing the London footy match altogether. If anyone has mates in the UK with goal umpiring experience or aspirations, tell them to stop sinking pints and warm those index fingers up … they may be needed!
In brighter news, I successfully navigated several arms of the New York subway system today. As someone who is notorious for losing their sense of direction – even back home where I’ve lived for five years – this was a huge accomplishment. After waking up close to midday – again, not uncommon – I was determined to make something of the remainder of the day and so, fuelled by a scrumptious late brunch at the top-notch cafe downstairs (more about that later), I ran the subway through its paces. First stop: uptown to 57th and Lexington to collect an exquisite pair of pony hair pumps from my persuasively charming friend-slash Achilles’ heel, Kenneth Cole. We reacquainted last night on 5th Avenue after what started as a veiled attempt at ‘just browsing’. The moment the leather handbag in the display window penetrated my nostrils, I was riding high. I’m not even into handbags or shoes, and I don’t really even like shopping. But let’s just say Kenneth has one hell of a rack.
Pumps happily in my possession, I crossed town for my first visit to the High Line, a beautiful public park built on an historic freight railway that runs above the Meatpacking district on Manhattan’s west side. The elevated tracks offer stunning vistas of the city, accompanied by landscaped gardens and public art. If you’re lucky (or unlucky), you may even be treated to a spontaneous show from the Standard Hotel, whose floor to ceiling glass facade is famous for making unwitting performers of naked guests who have forgotten to draw the curtains.
No such frisky finale for me this eve. Instead, a walk through the open, cobbled streets of the Meatpacking district, buzzing with nightlife and windows illuminating designer fashion … a perfect end before returning home to tune into the Fox weather forecast and start praying.

And so it begins …

I’m perched beside an open window of a fourth-floor walk-up apartment in New York City’s East Village, trying not to feel like Carrie Bradshaw.

But it doesn’t take long to realise the similarities end at the laptop and fire escape partially obscuring my red brick view of the buildings opposite. There are more sirens and angry cab horns in the distant streets below where I am. (In fact, at this very moment, wailing fire engines are causing me to revisit an unsettling experience on my last US trip where an adjoining apartment block was gutted by a blaze in the early morning hours.) Yep, I’m surrounded by proof that my version of the city is definitely harder and grittier than Ms Bradshaw’s … from the thin film of dust coating the floor and furniture of my rental, to the suitcase spilling over with three months’ worth of clothes and street shoes where a stunningly fitted-out wardrobe and collection of Manolo Blahniks should be.

Manhattan will serve as my home for the next week or so. In the longer-term, I’ll be based in the hip Brooklyn neighbourhood of Williamsburg, but not before a quick detour to London, where I’ll umpire in the AFL exhibition match between the Western Bulldogs and Port Adelaide in early November.

Why am I here? Ironically, I’ve come to one of the world’s most thriving metropolises to wind down. And to recharge. The energy of this city is intoxicating, and ever since my first visit a few years ago, I’ve yearned to return for a more local experience (though I could have done without being woken up last night by a heated argument in the street during which a gun was shot. Gah!)

Why now? Over the past eight years, between full-time work and football, there hasn’t been time for much else. I’ve had an ever-growing sense that life was passing me by. And so, I’ve taken three months off from my full-time editing job (thanks, bosses!), to soak up one of the most exciting places on the planet.

I will discover things to write about along the way – far beyond the simple pleasures of wholegrain Kashi nuggets and HBO on demand. But for now, the challenge is stopping. And letting it all wash over me.

Let’s start with a spicy local ale and a run over the Williamsburg bridge … not in immediate succession.

To come: wrap-up of the road to NYC. Highlights include Indian spa healers in Santa Barbara, weird and wacky in Hollywood, and celebrity sightings…