When the familiar becomes foreign

As the East Coast hunkers down and prepares to weather out Hurricane Sandy, I can’t help but remember what it was like to be in Manhattan leading up to Hurricane Irene last year. The metropolis that is usually brashly self-assured started to come apart at the seams. Flashlights, candles, radios and batteries sold out in a matter of hours and supermarkets couldn’t restock the shelves soon enough for the shoppers lined up around the block. Two besuited business women almost came to blows over a loaf of bread at my local Trader Joe’s. I slipped by them and took the crackers instead.

Then everyone disappeared indoors, filled their bathtubs with water and waited; armed with travel scrabble and playing cards; flashlights at the ready. When the all-clear was given, I remember rushing to the window of my top floor apartment and leaning out to see New York like I’d never seen it before. There wasn’t a single car on the road, not one yellow cab, not even a suggestion of the garbage that usually lines the sidewalks in black plastic sacks. The silent streets stared back at me; the streets I had walked along daily for several years; suddenly unfamiliar and strange and very, very foreign.

new york manhattan hurricane irene

I watched as a man walked by with two dogs on a completely empty sidewalk, and wondered if the dogs had ever had the sidewalk to themselves before.

new york manhattan hurricane irene

Just after I snapped this photo a flurry of yellow cabs screeched around a corner and I realised that New York was not going to waste any time getting back to business. If I wanted to experience this strange fleeting silent city I had better do it quickly, because the familiar old Gotham was beginning to stir.

new york manhattan hurricane irene

I threw on a coat and scampered downstairs, out onto the sidewalk. On the other side of the street a pile of discarded boxes had magically appeared. Trash was already returning to the streets, and the all-clear had only been given perhaps 5 minutes ago.

new york manhattan hurricane irene

There was an air of celebration; you could feel the city breathing a sigh of relief as New Yorkers took to the streets in droves, walking their dogs, dancing on the sidewalks, airing out their mini macaws. I’m not kidding about that last one.

new york manhattan hurricane irene

new york manhattan hurricane irene

Twenty blocks later, this strange silent city had vanished without a trace. Traffic was thick; the honking of yellow cabs threatened to rupture my eardrums and as I rounded a corner I was brought to a complete standstill by a towering mound of black garbage bags. New York was back with a vengeance.

new york manhattan hurricane irene

Seriously – are there garbage elves? How did they get there so quickly?

Stay safe over there on the East Coast. xxx Ailsa

About ailsapm

Hi there! I’m Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney. I’ve lived in many places, and travelled to many more. I had a lot of fun getting there and being there, wherever there happened to be at the time. I climbed a castle wall in Czesky Krumlov, abseiled down cliffs to go caving in the west of Ireland, slept on the beach in Paros, got chased by a swarm of bees in Vourvourou (ok that wasn’t fun, but it was exciting), learned flower arranging in Tokyo, found myself in the middle of a riot in Seoul, learned to snowboard in Salzburg, got lost in a labyrinth in Budapest and had my ice cream stolen by a gull in Cornwall. And I’m just getting started. If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read so far, I’d love you to follow my travelogue - wheresmybackpack.com - and remember, anyone who tries to tell you it’s a small world hasn’t tried to see it all.
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95 Responses to When the familiar becomes foreign

  1. seventhvoice says:

    Fantastic blog post. Being safe and sound in Australia, and having to usually rely only on mainstream media representations of the cyclone, it’s so wonderful to be able to see real photos with real commentary. You give an amazingly clear depiction of what it was like to be in a city briefly silenced and then coming back to life.

  2. I applaud your efforts in trying to capture a quieter side of NYC—very difficult but an enjoyable post with cool photos to show the journey.

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