It’s kind of weird, walking around the city tonight. After three summer months of aggressive heat and humidity, the air is dry and cool and there is a tangible sense of relief on the streets downtown. The East Village, and everything I love about it, is still here; all of the little street and garden level bars and shops, salons, restaurants and bodegas that were not washed away by the hurricane that had been sold by the media as an apocalyptic 100 year storm. Relief abounds amidst the awkward reminders of the acute anxiety and anticipation from the past 3 days, there are sandbags still laid out on top of tarps on top of sidewalk cellar doors, and cleverly penned pitches scribbled in chalk on clapboards hawking post-Irene happy hour drink specials.
Admittedly, last Saturday I had truly imagined myself with five feet of water welling-up in my low-level apartment, destroying my rugs and shoes and dissolving my collection of specialty finishing salts. In my nightmare, I would run up 8 flights of stairs to my roof, where I would eventually be lifted, by helicopter, to safety while millions watched from the comfort of their midwestern living room couches.
I was surprised by the degree of fear invoked in me by this storm, because I had lived through Hurricane Andrew, a Category 5 storm, as a little kid. My father’s parents lived in Southern Florida, and Aventura in North Miami was the glimmering tropical paradise of my childhood. Several times a year, I would de-board a plane into 85 degrees, driving with my family past rows and rows pink and green houses and palm trees to a land where I could eat anything and as much as I wanted, where there would be presents and a swimming pool waiting for me upon my arrival. One day, we had to drive farther north to seek shelter from a terrible storm that was blowing our way. We stayed with my mother’s parents, and things were tense. My grandmother loved us dearly, but it must have been difficult for her to see how anxious we all were about the impending storm, with nothing she could do to amend or control the situation as we sat watching the news, waiting for Hurricane Andrew to pummel the place we had left less than 24 hours ago.
A few days later, when we drove back south to Aventura, I saw roofs ripped off of the pink and green houses, and nearly every single palm tree uprooted and felled. We were told to boil all water before drinking it (bottled water wasn’t such a ubiquitous thing yet- remember there as a time when people who drank it were considered pretentious?), and it was nearly a week before we could board a plane back up to New York, where there had been no hurricane, where natural disasters like this just didn’t happen.
I split the city as Irene approached, staying with my boyfriend and his family in the suburbs of New Jersey. Although I ended up being no further from the storm’s reach there, I thought it best to head for higher ground on the mainland. As I watched media reports, worrying about my apartment back in the East Village and my beloved kitchen there, I stayed busy by helping with the cooking of meals. Improvising recipes from my boyfriend’s mother’s pantry, I chopped vegetables for salads, and toasted a defrosted french baguette with an obscene amount of garlic, butter, and dried herbs until it became a golden beacon of comfort and hope. The next night, I minced another entire head of garlic and pulled-off a lovely shrimp and angel hair pasta dish in a white wine sauce. I wish my grandmother had taken more of an interest in cooking during Hurricane Andrew; the best place to ride out a storm, it turns out, is in a kitchen.
On Sunday afternoon, I texted my building’s super back in the East Village and confirmed that, like most of the rest of the city, my apartment had been spared from flooding. And then came Monday, and the days thereafter, dry and sunny and perfect. And I don’t think I’m the only one to notice how unusually easy it feels to live and work in the city for the time being; for all of the neurotics, grime, $4 cups of coffee and weirdos, I think that New Yorkers are ultimately glad to go about business as usual.
And for the record, no one complained of too much garlic in either dish. Because when you really let it sweat and simmer, and it’s soft and sweet, there is truly never such a thing as too much garlic.