I will always remember the first snowfall of winter, that sudden peace all around, snowflakes creating a barrier against the usual city sounds. I would watch and wait, hoping that it would settle fast, so that I could make the first footsteps in the snow, a satisfying crunch in those soft layers of snow. There is something very special about that first snowfall, magical nearly, everything is slower and less sudden, and a soft glow emanates around the city, silence. By the time February arrives the snow has become an inconvenience, piles of blackened ice-snow packed up against sidewalks and eyes searching for the first signs of Spring, but back in December the snow is just magic. Have you ever been snowed into your apartment building? I have, quite literally, and had to wait for friendly outsiders to dig us out. New York City may be a huge city but it is on the cusp of so many elements, and sometimes lets Mother Nature unleash herself all over the population.
That includes hurricanes. We were warned but never really believed the hurricane would hit us straight on like a ton of bricks. Hurricane parties, all snuggled up in our homes or local bars and then BAM, the power disappeared, only to return over a week later. Tunnels and streets flooded with salt water, houses destroyed by wind and rain and waves and fire. Utter destruction. There was a huge shortage of gasoline, cars would line up for blocks and blocks near a gas station, drivers sleeping in their cars, waiting for a tanker to hopefully arrive. We walked a lot, thinking about friends and family and strangers who were a lot worse off than we were, hoping that we would be able to go back to work sooner rather than later, collecting food and clothes for people who had become homeless overnight, losing everything in the process. A hurricane is no laughing matter, no matter the category, and can cause massive damage in the space of minutes. I will never, ever underestimate the power of Nature again.
I sometimes did very stupid things. I went up to the roof of our building when the storm was hitting the hardest and stood there screaming in the wind. There were piles of loose wood on the roof and I could only stand up by holding on the railing with both hands. Exhilarating but so, so stupid.
My feet still walk through the streets, blindly following the routes that I would take day in, day out. Up the steps from the J train stop on the corner of Essex and Delancey, along Delancey, turning north on Orchard. Popping into Le French Diner (the original one) for a coffee or lunch before heading into 200 or Taqueria for work. Walking around the neighbourhood in Flushing, listening for the sounds of the ice cream truck and wondering when we could move back to Brooklyn again. I can close my eyes and look up, up, up to Empire State Building, see the reflection of the sun in the Chrysler and then stomp down, down, downtown towards my Ludlow and Orchard again, ready for anything that the day or night would throw at me. I can still smell all the city smells so vividly, the trash, the Laundromats, the fresh food frying from carts on the street. The subway smell, one that you never forget, and definitely not after 11 years of taking it up and down, east to west, west to east, north to south and all the way back round again.
Spring always arrived as a surprise, but a well-awaited and old-friend surprise. One day you would be complaining about the bitter wind in March and the next windows would be opened and the fresh, sweet air would bear tidings of sun and longer days and blossoming magnolia trees. Winter coats and scarves and hats took the backseat of the closet again, replaced by dresses and cardigans and my everlasting Fryes, stomping through the city streets season after season, bar after bar. Spring always brought hope and happiness, bright lights and better times, beaches and lazy days exploring new places in the city, photographing walls and people and buildings. I always moved house in the spring, from the Lower East Side to Spanish Harlem to the West Village to Brooklyn. Only my last move happened in the winter, between two snowstorms at 34 weeks pregnant. There was more of a rush with that one, the rush to create a new family home in the city we all loved so much.
Good news and bad news, life and death, friendships born and friendships disappearing, all moving parts in the whirlpool that is life in New York City. For such a little island that is Manhattan, there is a lifetime of discoveries and happiness, sadness and changes to come across, a death on Broadway leading to a marriage on 116th and a birth on Avenue A. Scars created by heartbreak and sadness, healed by ointments created from love and joy, an army of people always by your side wherever your feet took you to. I have never felt as at home as I felt in New York, from the moment I saw the skyline in my cab ride from JFK, and the moment I said goodbye to the skyline 11 years later. Not a day goes by when I don’t think of the city, of the streets, of the smells, of the memories, of the friends. I think of the many mistakes, and of all the better things that I did. The stories are coming along, I sometimes worry I will forget them and then I remember that I can’t forget nearly a third of my life just like that. So while I shed a tear writing this, I also feel so inspired and renewed and know that once a home is found, it always remains home, no matter how far away your feet are, pieces of your heart and soul remain, even if all of the buildings have disappeared…
Rockaway Beach in the summer, hungover or sober, year after year. Those waves, that sand, the Sand Bar. That humid air, unrelenting, but never bad enough to actually wish for winter. Enough to wish for sunset when the breeze would brush the hairs on your arms ever so slightly, live music sounds coming from bars and clubs and open windows, strolling down the busy streets, smoking cigarettes and chatting about love and life and dreams. Midnight would turn into 5am and sometimes artificial joy would turn to black, but other times 5am meant pulling the gate on the bar and grabbing a sandwich and tea at Sugar on the corner. Going to bed when the sun was rising, or already risen, was a normal activity, waking in the early afternoon, ready for the next adventure. Walking across the Williamsburg Bridge was always a highlight, touching the skyline with the tips of my fingers and reading the words etched into the ground and the walls along the way.
And summer always turns into autumn, September bright and beautiful, perfect beach weather because everyone has gone home, and those of us who don’t work normal hours or normal days can enjoy the peace under the sun. The sunset seen from the roof, skies of fiery red and pink and purple and yellow, casting a glow over the city, one last gasp of natural light before the city lights illuminate the sky again. Camera in hand I would walk and walk, capturing everything I could see, year in year out, through-out the seasons, memories in my head, on my screen and hanging from my walls. Beautiful city you will always be mine.