Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Maybe it’s boring to talk about the weather.

But I am Irish, after all, and so it’s my birthright. And living through a first season somewhere, weather is so much part of the fabric of your experience of a place. Weather’s ability to still deliver something new, when you feel you have already lived in all its many shades and colours, is really quite surprising. Of course, the temperate damp of Ireland’s Atlantic coast does not prepare one for real extremes: there have been days here where the forecast range seems to run in 24 hours the full breadth of an Irish year.

Yet never have I lived somewhere where the seasons have been so firmly delineated. It’s like a classroom illustration of a year: a different quarter of a circle showing a tree with leaves budding, blooming, falling, bare.  It was by all accounts a long, hard winter. And then overnight! The trees all erupted into blossom, and the narrow residential streets of West Village redbrick and brownstones became lacy and pink. When a breeze picked up closer to the river, confetti petals tossed and blew in a manner which it is simply impossible not to be fanciful about. The temperatures soared, and suddenly my snow boots and down coat seemed like relics of some ancient world.  As if this were not rude adjustment enough, in the space of a weekend the ubiquitous black tights of the New York business woman had been stripped away in favour of bare legs. I know I was not the only one recoiling in horror.

Memorial Day Weekend, and it is as if the weather received a memo to commence Summer immediately. While the previous couple of weeks had been warm and pleasant, now it is just plain hot. It is hot in a way that rarely ever happens in Ireland, the temperatures lasting into the evening and night even after the sun has dropped, and the air remaining balmy and still. Going out in the evening there is no need for a jacket or cardigan.

Last week everyone had told me that I would be amazed at how the city empties out for Memorial Weekend. Those who can jump ship to their Long Island pads typically mark the official arrival of summer by decamping en masse and swapping sweating concrete for coastal breezes. It  felt however as though every single other person left in the city without the luxury of a Hamptons bolt-hole had the same idea as I did in heading to the opening weekend of Governor’s Island. Serviced every 30minutes by a free ferry service, I have never seen such queues – interminable lines of daytrippers and picnicers and bicycles and strollers. It seemed as if getting everyone on, much less off, the island was simply not possible. But that is the saving grace of New York – they know how to deal with numbers. The ferry carries 1200 people. And boy was it was full – 12 times over.

Despite the lenghty wait, the island itself is only about a 5 minute trip from the tip of  Manhattan; an old army barracks which is now given over entirely as an outdoor amenity for the city, located alongside Liberty and Staten Islands.  It is a curious experience in a city of such ceaseless industry to be transported to somewhere that is solely dedicated to leisure. There is a beach, a bar, a castle to wander through, cycle lanes all around, aritst studios and installations, open greens to lounge on, trees to shade under, ice cream trucks, and the Hudson lapping gently at its edges. It is a brilliantly well conceived and maintained civic space. On this weekend, of course, there was also an awful, awful lot of people. But for better or worse, that’s what it means to live in this city.

The weekend ended in true Memorial Weekend style, with a rooftop barbecue. Burgers and hot dogs sizzled in the heat haze as my Scandinavian and Latino neighbours poured Manu Chao into the evening. The cityscape palette eased from blazing sunlight to dusky greys, and gradually the daylight faded and the electric and neon lights of skyscrapers formed a new picture entirely, traffic pulsing up 7th Avenue to an invisible horizon; the outline of the Empire State Building lit up in red, white and blue. 

1 comment:

  1. Did you read Brooklyn by Colm Toibin? Your adventures to Governors Island in the summer heat immediately reminded me of Eilis's story of being taken out to Coney Island....

    Nice to have you back posting again!