Sunday, August 28, 2011

hurricane irene: sunday afternoon.

Woke up to sirens and howling winds at five am. We never lost power, but everyone else did, and it sounded like the end of days. No tornadoes, no witches, no flying trees.

By noon, we've seen the worst of it. The city reels and recovers. New Yorkers, we are tough as nails.

We celebrate with cinnamon rolls.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

hurricane irene: saturday evening

Four girls, two tiny dogs, tuna melts, TBS, and two bottles of Malbec.

It has started to wind and started to rain.

Friday, August 26, 2011

hurricane irene: friday night.

Jesus is coming.

This is the refrain as I walk up Broadway, towing a rolly-suitcase which I cannot lift up or down the subway stairs, on my way to Washington Heights to weather the weather. The storm won't come for hours yet, days even, and yet the natives rip the batteries right off the rack, and buy the groceries out of bottled water and loaves of bread.

The atmosphere is manic, the sky an eerie, cloudless blue. The food lines are halfway to the meat counters.

Three girls and I stock up on peanut butter and Oreos. We buy two gallons of water and six bottles of wine. We order enough sushi to satisfy a football team. And here we sit, in the apex of our youth, at our devices, soaking up the screen time before the power and the wireless quit.

This is the moment, between Categories, between evacuation zones, where we miss our boyfriends and are not yet afraid.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

dive naked, hitchhike home

I would forfeit any single smell in NYC for one whiff of peat fire on a misty afternoon. I miss there and him so much my limbs are aching for them both, though that could be from jet lag and the flight. Hard to believe I started this day sixteen hours ago in Dublin, and yesterday morning I spent underneath a pale blue quilt, eating soda bread.

I don't do well with change. I fall in love too readily, too fast. I've wanted to stay in every place I've ever traveled to (and some I've never seen), but the fact that Donegal and Jack exist is near enough to break my heart.

To walk across the stone-walled realm of Inishowen is to step into a dream, a place I never dared to hope to find. The ground is hopelessly green, each field lusher than the last, and spotted here and there with cows and sheep. The sea is grey and blue and huge, the horizon far, the clouds low slung. The hills loom straight into the water and the sky. They are mossy, lichened, laid with rocks and scree. When the sun shines, it makes the country glow. It cascades from cloudbursts like a miracle.

I took his hand and trudged with him along the path, then off and over a barbed wire fence and into pastures. We tromped, avoiding bulls and rams, until we scaled the heather patches to the top, and looked down at the sun-scaled sea beneath us, acres down. There was not a soul for miles to see us there.

He picked me a bouquet of hardy blooms, and tied it up with braided grass. "Bushcraft," he explained, all rugged grin, adding in a thistle sprig he'd hacked free from its cluster with a sneakered kick. He found me a mushroom, a shell. A thousand treasures that I cannot name.

We made our way through grasses to the sea. Another barbed wire fence. We walked home against the sunset, sucking peat smoke through our grateful pores. We drank unhurried tea with bread and jam. He built a fire. We sat there in our woolen jumpers with our single malt, nothing but the sound of crackling flames.

After dinner, we read the paper by the fire. He folded his in half, took off his glasses, and lay along beside me—his head on my chest, his arms curled in my hair. We slept like that until the fire died.

For three straight mornings, he made breakfast in bed: a tray laden with soda bread and Irish butter, rhubarb jam and whole cream yogurt, tea, fruit, and a flower in a vase. We read, refilled our tea, not getting out of bed for anything except another endless roam.

It took us the better part of forty five minutes to reach the nearest store on foot, a tiny rural post that sold stamps and not much else. Convenience wares, prepackaged loaves of bread. An ice cream freezer half-stocked with frozen fish. We cut down to the water, through a pasture strewn with dung. It was raining as it had for hours—all morning and all afternoon, the wind whistling across the fields. We didn't mind. We were already soaked. We stripped to nothing on our isolated beach, wading in together, hand in hand, negotiating pebbles underfoot as the rain tapped muted nothings on the surface of the sea.

We high-fived and tried to dry each other off, pulling on our soggy layers. Then back up over fence and pasture to the road. A lonely man in an ancient car gave us a lift. "There're no Ghaeltachts left here. Those people all have died." His mother, too, had died just months ago. He told us we could visit him whenever we liked; he lived just past the pier.

We ate fried cod and vegetables, then I made pie. He helped me cut the fat into the flour with a plastic potato masher. Hours later, the discs of rhubarb given way to stewy tartness, we ate hot slices drenched in cream. And watched another film by firelight.

Day three was much the same. We heard the donkeys bray from bed. Only we slept too late to spend all morning with our novels. We tromped up the Mamore Gap to where the rocks get lost in mist. We met more people by the Blessed Virgin shrine. Mary Queen of Heaven, attended as she was by broken candles, soggy jars, a pile of rubbish and a mass of rosaries. Padre Pio guards the well, on St. Egney's site. I dunked my fingers in to bless myself. After all, the lady said, it couldn't hurt.

We went up a little path that turned into a stream, awash with mud, my Ked soles slipping on the stones. We took our shoes off when the path ran out, went squelching up the hill with pants rolled up, the heather nearly three feet deep. He hauled me on a rock to sit and watch the sea across the bogs. Our breath was steaming while we didn't speak.

I couldn't feel my feet the whole way down. He lent his trainers, walked down barefoot while I bounced along beside him. At the bottom of the gap, we traded shoes, then pressed on to the beach while peeling oranges and smiling at the cows.

The beach was a miracle of cliff and sand, the bay vast and peopled just by fishing boats. We sat in total quiet, listening to the waves, smiling that half-swept wistful smile of those whose hearts are breaking out of beauty by itself. A few families arrived for their pre-supper swims. He ran along the beach and then into the water in his underwear—and that was how I wrecked my Irish lingerie: I ran full force into the ice cold sea. Brand new minty silk and peachy lace be damned. I ruined the reveal. Or—rather—not, he said. He'd never seen me look more joyous than I did when I was standing soaking wet in those exquisite panties, holding up my goosefleshed arms into the sky and smiling like the world might end. I fell in love with him again right then and there.

And then once more, some hours later, as the leeks were frying in a buttered pan. The dog who stole the ham right off his plate day one returned to make his final rounds. He'd learned to love us by the trail of lamb bones left for him in hedges, the scent of breakfast sausages. Cheeky, we named him.

Our last dinner. Steak and roast potatoes, last night's pie. We carried the leftover slices to the neighbors and walked right into history. We sat in high backed wooden chairs, painted schoolyard red, and listened to the songs and stories of men in scallycaps and sweater vests.

And then it disappeared into the rear view mirror of the hired cab, the bus from Buncrana, and then to Dublin via Derry. Then airports, flights, landing somewhere else across the world. I cried the whole way home (by way of Newark), and still I hurt for it. I look at the pitiful array of pictures taken and I want to hoarde them for myself. As if it were a secret, kept by him and me. Ireland, I say. As if it hadn't happened. As if it weren't real.

It was never going to be easy coming back alone.

Friday, August 5, 2011

I am a jelly doughnut

Live however you like; Berlin just doesn't care. I've seen rain fall from a clear blue sky. Real rain, too, long teapot pours of it, like streamers, or very narrow waterfalls.

I don't dry my hair here, or care what clothes I'm wearing. I spend most of the morning writing, the afternoons drifting through museums. I eat four meals a day and one of them is cake.

One rides the U-bahn with an open beer. It is legal to relieve oneself in public, and to be accompanied by as big a dog as one can find. Bull mastiffs wait on leashes by their owners for the nightbus to arrive. This is a city with an infrastructure to put New York to shame. Empty bottles are left beside recycling bins for those who need the extra funds to take away. Unemployment is so high that, on a Tuesday afternoon, the parks are packed with people soaking up the unexpected sun. No one has any money, which makes it all the more civilized to sit on the sidewalk around six pm and have a pilsner. One could live on full-fat yogurt and 3e falafel here for weeks.

The city itself has character. Zones bleed into other zones by tree-lined streets or neon stretches of commercial thoroughfares. We live in ragtag Neukolln, but we danced beside a bridge, next to the Bode Museum, under colored lights on strings with birds alighting overhead. We danced in a restaurant, all wooden tables, wooden walls and floors, while patrons ate their sausages and struedel. And when we grilled in Görlitzer Park, the bleed from all the urban lights was not enough to hide the stars.

No one really rushes for the train.

We snuck into an abandoned East German amusement park, took pictures of the Ferris wheel all but overgrown with weeds, and threatening to sink into a swamp. We barbecued by the terminal at Tempelhof, having filled our backpacks up with beer. We ate at a charming little restaurant by the kirche at Bernauerstrasse, run by an eighty-four year old man who poured our wine with palsied hands, but served a tapas platter seamlessly. I had quarkspeise at the Turkish market and bought bronze earrings in the shape of forks. It's no wonder that I do not want to leave.

I feel grounded here in a way I haven't felt for months.

And Jack, oh Jack. Who still has yet to say he loves me. But who tells me I am glamourous, despite all contrary evidence. Like a Frenchwoman, he says. "You know, she rolls out of bed into a t-shirt and a pair of jeans and ties her hair back with a pencil. That's the kind of glamour you possess."