Sunday, August 28, 2011

We Weathered the Storm

So as you've probably heard by now, Irene was not the mega disaster city officials feared it would be. Though millions did lose power, trees fell, streets and towns flooded, and a few deaths were caused (I believe the unofficial count now is 16, but I'm not sure on that), it really could have been much, much worse.

NYC officials defended the decision to shut down subways and buses, as some of the train yards in low-lying areas did get flooded, and had the trains been there, it would have been a real mess.

I spent the night in with Kyle, eating pretzels and Cadbury chocolate, baking muffins with flax seeds and sunflower seeds because I forgot to buy bread, and watching a Parks and Recreation marathon. I wonder how Leslie Knope would handle a hurricane. Probably she'd try to save the penguins from the zoo, first.

Leslie saves the penguins from the Pawnee Zoo

Damage in my neighborhood was really minimal:

Columbia University Campus - not too bad

Riverside Park - a little swampy

A few trees down
All in all, New York City fared pretty well. There are even a bunch of places open for brunch today. You know us New Yorkers. We can't live without our bagel and shmear.

No ferries from Aran needed for me this time around. Thanks anyway, Mr. O'Brien. I'll let you know next time I need a ride.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Big Wind is on her Way!

Taking a break from my blog hiatus to update on Hurricane Irene.

The NY Times is answering questions about how to prepare for the hurricane, HERE

Friday in New York we enjoyed a sunny day of calm before the storm - Hurricane Irene is on her way to possibly pummel New York and the east coast of the U.S. We don't know much right now about the storm's expected trajectory or what category hurricane it will be by the time it gets to us, but NYC Governor Cuomo has ordered evacuations of low-lands and shoreline residences in the Rockaways, Battery Park, and Coney Island, as well as other parts of lower Manhattan.

A calm East River, looking across at Manhattan from Astoria Park

The entire subway and bus system is also going to begin shutting down Saturday at noon in preparation for the storm, along with the LIRR and NJ Transit.

New York isn't used to all this talk of hurricanes, and all the last-minute panic got me thinking about how so many places in the world, including the Aran Islands, are used to wet and wild weather on a more routine basis. The islands themselves have survived countless storms. The Night of the Big Wind in 1839 brought incredibly destructive hurricane force winds and rain to the islands. An ice age melt left these stones deposited all over the islands:

Ice Age deposits. "Tourists"

Other places in the world are more prepared, both logistically and mentally, to deal with this kind of a weather event. I have a feeling that most New Yorkers are not sure if we've adequately prepared ourselves.

Maybe if I had a curragh I'd feel better.

Curraghs at the old pier on Inishmaan

Every few years a hurricane grazes us here in NYC, but usually does not cause this level of alarm. This is the first time we've had evacuations, and the first time the MTA has issued a total shutdown. In my last blog post I wrote about how a somewhat heavy rainstorm got the subway stuck underground for an hour. No wonder the MTA has cancelled service.

Grocery stores this afternoon were swarmed with confused shoppers buying up the city's supply of canned beans and peanut butter, bottled water and batteries.

No more bread at the Gristedes at 103rd and Broadway!
As long as my power doesn't go out, I'll update again soon.

If you don't hear from me by Monday, send over one of the Doolin Ferries to come get me!
The Happy Hooker - how much does a one way ticket from Manhattan to Inishmore cost?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Be back soon!

Letters to Aran will be on hiatus until Labor Day weekend as I write, plan work, research, and gear up for the fall, and then I will return with more posts about Synge, Aran, theatre, and NYC!

Summer Sunset, Killeany Harbor, Inishmore

Thursday, August 11, 2011

How Rain Conquered the MTA

Life on the Aran Islands, historically and even now to a degree, has been dictated by the weather. Stormy seas, wind, and rain, could seriously impact the lives of the islanders. Over time the islanders had to adapt to their living conditions, and the local mythology (and even ancient Celtic spirituality) expressed the power of the elements.

Rain-streaked window, Inishmaan

View from my room - sliver of sky
It's funny - so much of the time, in this city of New York, on this island of Manhattan, we fool ourselves into thinking that we're more powerful than the elements. When it rains we can take shelter in apartments, coffee shops, restaurants. We can have groceries, take-out, clothing, pretty much anything delivered to our door. I can't tell you how many times I've stepped outside to see glistening pavement, having been completely unaware that it had rained. My window looks out across at a brick wall, and I only see a sliver of sky, so most of the time I don't know it's raining unless I hear the pitter patter of raindrops hitting my air conditioner. In this modern age in this modern city, it is possible to be completely oblivious to the weather.

This past Tuesday proved that New York City hasn't got the weather beat.

I was on my way downtown to see Jerusalem, a play with many Celtic influences (more on that later). I left my apartment with plenty of time to make it to meet my mom, sister, and boyfriend for dinner before the show. In fact, I left enough time so that I'd be ten minutes early (call me obsessive, but I like being early for things). I knew it was raining outside (I'd checked the forecast online, and also I heard the rain on my A/C), so I brought my rain jacket, umbrella, and wore shoes that handle water well.

I scowled at a woman who was walking in front of me and twirling her umbrella, sending water droplets flying into my face. What a jerk, I thought.

I made it to the subway, relatively dry, only having had to walk one block to get to the station. All was going according to plan.

But you know what they say. We plan, and God laughs.

Oh 1 train - why do you hate me?

In between the 103rd st and 96th st stations, the 1 train stopped. This happens from time to time when there's train traffic. Usually nothing to be concerned about. But two minutes turned into five, five into ten, ten into twenty, twenty into forty. Forty minutes stuck underground, in a tight, enclosed space crowded with fifty other people, feels much longer. Not to mention the anxiety of New Yorkers in general. We're all on tight schedules. Forty minutes seriously derails our plans (pun intended). People were beginning to get angry. Kids were whining, babies crying. We weren't being told much by the announcer, just that there was a "signal problem" at the station and they were "working on it" and "we should hopefully be moving soon." All those uncertain terms and the announcer's increasingly unsure tone didn't reassure me. After a few more minutes the announcer squawked - we were all to walk to the rear car of the train - then walk through the tracks to get back to 103rd st. The train was being taken out of service.

Due to water damage - from the rain.

I had to pick my jaw up off the floor.

As we all began to shuffle through a space that looks like this:

but feels like this:

...people were getting angrier and angrier at the situation, rolling their eyes at people walking slowly through the cars, cursing the MTA for their ineptitude. People began taking photos and video on their phones in disbelief. An irate man and an MTA worker got into an argument, and the MTA worker left the car in a huff, muttering some choice words under his breath.

The general feeling on the subway: Zillions of tax dollars to maintain the subway system, enduring fare hikes amidst service cutbacks, and it had been undone by some rain? It was even raining that hard!

Thankfully we didn't have to walk through the tracks. The damage was repaired and the train lurched forward, and everything was okay. Fifty-five minutes later.

The shock and disbelief finally turned into humor. A feeling of camaraderie erupted on the train. People began joking about the situation, how ridiculous the whole thing was. People I'd usually never talk to on the subway became instant friends. We'd all been through this surreal experience together, and now life would continue.

For me it was a reminder that I don't live in New York City - I live on the planet Earth. And weather exists, and weather affects me, and sometimes things break down. We may have lots of services, choices, and conveniences, but we can't make the rain go away.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

From the Garden to the Gaeltacht - Synge and Wicklow

During my trip this past summer, I traveled from Aran to the Wicklow countryside, in the east of Ireland. I wanted to see what was "home" to Synge - what he had grown  up around, what made the Aran Islands seem so wild and exotic to him. I wondered, as I took the ferry to Rossaveal, the shuttle bus to Galway, the GoBus to Dublin, the train to Rathdrum, and a cab to Avondale, how Synge made this journey a hundred years ago. For me it took from 8am to 6pm (with wait times in between connections). I imagine it took him much longer to make his way back east.
The rainbow that wished me farewell on the ferry from Aran

Synge used to walk and cycle around Wicklow. Synge's walks in these areas, and the people he encountered, inspired the plots and characters of many of his plays (in addition to his time spent on Aran). In his Wicklow writings he mentions places such as Glenmalure, Sally Gap, and Rathdrum. I wasn't able to make it to all the places he talks about, but I did see enough of the area to get a good feel for it.

The Wicklow landscape is so different from Aran. Aran is bare, exposed, gray-brown-green, angry waves, and raw slabs of stone.

Inishmaan, Aran Islands

Wicklow is called "The Garden of Ireland," for good reason. Trees and bushes and ivy and grass and flowers abound.

Golden field near Avondale, Rathdrum, County Wicklow

The Wicklow mountain peaks scrape the clouds. The gaps between the mountains form secluded glens.

Upper Lake in Wicklow National Park

Wicklow is wooded, with green trees, carpets of grass and moss, and bubbling streams, and rolling fields.

Trees, grass, moss galore! Wicklow, Ireland.

The Avonbeg River, flowing through Glenmalure, Wicklow, Ireland
It's no wonder to me now, after having seen the place Synge came from, why Aran was so strange to him. If Wicklow were a chalkboard, Aran is what it looks like after the eraser dust settles.

Considering where I was coming from, it was a real change for me, too.


Next time: more on Synge's plays that were inspired by Wicklow...