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Pandora’s box. Imagine a giant hand flipping the city upside down and shaking hard. These are the strange images that might fall off at random.

In the Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, a Limited Pixel Essay

Marie and I took a walk along the Red Hook waterfront in Brooklyn on the day after impact. Then last night, 48 hours after hurricane force winds and record-high storm surge combined to extreme tides flooded many areas of the New York City boroughs, I went for a late afternoon run across the Brooklyn Bridge and into Manhattan’s Financial District, point-and-shoot camera in hand.

Broad and Beaver Streets, Financial District, Manhattan

It was a sobering outing. The entire area, from well above the Brooklyn Bridge down to Battery Park, was as some point flooded almost entirely and remains in the dark. Hundreds of utility vehicles are on location, assessing, repairing, patching, emptying. Thousands of generators are running non-stop, providing limited lighting and powering the myriad of water pumps that are slowly emptying basements and probably subway stations too.

Battery Park Underpass tunnel entrance towards the FDR Highway

The Battery Park Underpass tunnel which connects the Hudson’s West Side Highway to the East River’s FDR under Battery Park itself, is completely flooded. I cannot even imagine the scope of the task city engineers are facing to empty a four lane wide tunnel almost a kilometer long.

Abandoned FDNY Firehouse Engine 4 & Ladder 15

The USPS remains shut down for all of New York until further notice [update: as of Nov. 2, parcels are being delivered]. MTA is coming back to life with a giant hole in the network around the bottom of Manhattan. Little steps. Painful little steps.

Posted in: Hurricane Sandy & New York & Photoblogs on November 2, 2012 | Show Comments(4)

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Sandy Be Gone

Twenty-four hours after the strongest winds were felt, New York City is in recovery mode, idle, disoriented, licking her wounds. It could have been worse, yet it could have been so much better. Wide-spread power outages and flooding, downed trees, drifting cars, sinking tunnels, skinned buildings, collapsing cranes, casualties, the Media has shown it all, there is nothing I can add.

All transit is still shut down. Lower Manhattan – aka the Financial District - remains  dark, countless people are left assessing irreparable damage, generators and water pumps are roaring, emergency services are probably maxed-out, and our two presidential puppets, of all people, are gambling on the right tone of voice and the proper commiserative gesture. Still, there can only be one – and he has to be Obama. Better gambler, I hope, and cleaner guts.

Twenty four hours after hurricane Sandy’s passage, Brooklyn still bears scars

Marie and I were out for an assessment stroll this evening, through Red Hook, major flood victim in Brooklyn, soberingly taking note of our own personal luck. We live a good 35 feet plus 3 stories above sea level, we had prepared, we were lucky. Only a gutter went airborne. And this was only a weak cat. 1.

This is all too close to home, bad memories awaken. There was a time when worse damage was a yearly fine, an unavoidable curse, yet so easily bounced away by the mighty hand of Murphy’s Law and meteorology’s unaccountable variables. One never knows. I laughed out loud when I read a newspaper headline saying that hurricane veterans had felt that one coming.

I’ll post a few pictures, local and rather limited in scope, when I get around to developing them. For now, telecommuting and gratefulness.

Posted in: Hurricane Sandy & New York & Photoblogs on October 30, 2012 | Show Comments(2)

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A Very Cool Wind Picture

As recently downgraded hurricane Sandy, now a tropical storm, still unleashes the strongest gusts so far on our little terrace – the northeast quadrant always being bad news – do yourself a favor and have a look at this very, very cool artsy representation of US wind speeds, live.

Warning, it loads slowly.

Posted in: Hurricane Sandy & New York & Science & Web winks on October 29, 2012 | Show Comments(2)

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Sandy: C’mon Honey, it’s not Like it’s Armageddon!

As New York City, along with two or three entire states, prepares feverishly for the frontal assault of category 1 hurricane Sandy, I am left with a feeling of déjà vu, of sadness and resignation.

Having spent 15 years in the Caribbean and another year in the south Pacific and Southeast Asia, I saw a fifth season added to my calendar. Sure there were spring, summer, fall and winter, but there was also hurricane season. The storms were called typhoons in the south Pacific, cyclones in some places and hurricanes in most others. They were all the same, though: cyclonic (or counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere) rotation of a strong depression. Born never too far from the equator, a troubled youth, violence and crime paying off, a rise to power and strength, brief glory while destruction prevails and a rapid fall into oblivion.

From cool, spectacular tantrums of Mother Nature, they soon became for me the dreaded random plague that turns living in affected regions into a calculated gamble. A gamble for everything one owns, life included. Too many times I witnessed the devastation, even though I can say to be honest I never feared for my life. But I saw destruction so complete it appeared biblical.

So when a storm as seemingly benign as Sandy bears down on NYC, I can’t really feel anything else than dread, resignation and patience lost. The news and media go crazy, Sandy being worth her size in gold. People’s behavior scatters on a wide scale ranging from absolute ignorance to casual sympathy, to serious preparedness, to over-the-top sensationalism and down to panic.

Today I spent hours in stores, lining up to buy essential (and already dwindling) supplies. The queue at Keyfood went around the entire store. So did the one at Trader Joe’s. Pacific Gourmet was queuing people outside for fruit and vegetable purchase, cash only and no store admittance. Shoppers were in line to get into the rather small Damascus Bakery. Mr. Kim-Lee’s grocery store was filled to capacity. Sahadi’s, as on all Sundays, was blissfully closed.

C’mon honey, it’s not like it’s Armageddon!A man at the Rite Aid pharmacy, he is the only one with manners at that store and must be a manager, offered me matches, just in case. On the street, Marie later heard an old man asking around: “Does anybody know when it’s going to start raining?” But the winner was the well-dressed guy talking on his mobile phone: “C’mon honey, it’s not like it’s Armageddon!”

So we shopped and we secured and we stored. We stocked and piled up. We listened and watched and now are standing by. The radio and TV are alight like volcanoes but we don’t really have either. Our terrace pots that could possibly become airborne were taken down. The roof farm has been secured as much as possible. The MTA is shutting down all subway transit at 7 PM and buses at 9 PM. After that, people will have to drive or stay home.

Zone A evacuation has been made mandatory. If you are among the 375,000 people living on low-lying waterfront areas of the Five Boroughs, you have no choice but to leave. To go where? That has not been clearly defined. There are over 70 shelters in the Greater New York, providing food, a place to sleep and accepting pets, but I doubt they can host  one third of a million people. Hotels will make a killing tonight. If you are hosting friends and family over for a few days, kudos to you.

The Queen Mary 2, in town, was supposed to sail. I assume she would head northeast into the Atlantic, away from the storm. Sandy is now expected to make landfall somewhere south of the city as a category 1 hurricane in about 36 hours. I’m sure the forecast will change. I wish it was over already. If anybody is interested, here is a good way to track the storm. NOAA always has beautiful satellite imagery. See you all on the other side. Be safe.


Sandy is making landfall soon in the Delaware Bay, some 200 km south of NYC, and will slice her way right between Philadelphia and Baltimore. She is still a category 1 but should lose her power as she travels overland and be downgraded to a post-tropical (sic) storm within 12 hours.

However at that point, she will still have tremendous amounts of rain – and later snow – to release. She is expected to turn sharply north and head towards the St Lawrence river as a large depression.

Posted in: Hurricane Sandy & New York & Science on October 28, 2012 | Show Comments(4)

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The Great Hudson Escape – Part II, Fall

[This is part 2 of a story which started rising]

Old mountain-climbing habits prevent me from lingering too long at the summit, so despite the modesty of Bull Hill, I started down shortly after reaching the top. My knees never like the descent. I miss the days when I could hop from rock to rock like a mountain goat. I have become a mountain turtle. Slowly but surely.


I stopped for a moment to take pictures of an insect which had been on the same rock all afternoon. The little guy was obviously not going anywhere today. My cat calls these green cicadas and thinks they are delicious.

Finding a small pond, I patiently scouted for salamanders, but as a pure-white uniform wearing police officer had carefully written down in his report after I explained my unsuccessful search for a guest’s passport lost at the small Caribbean airport of Hewanorra in Saint Lucia years ago, it was futile. I swear he had stuck his tongue out as he rounded the dot on the i. But I digress.

It’s a vulture’s world

About two thirds of the way down, I happened to glance at my watch and realized the next train – they run every hour – was twenty minutes away. I had a long haul to go but did not feel like waiting an extra hour so I accelerated as much as joint safety would allow. The trail was whisked through, the town ricocheted on and I was standing on the station platform a good two minutes before the train pulled in.

Unfortunately, I was not alone. The platform was literally packed, taken over by hikers going home, dressed up couples fancying a night in town, and everything in between. The forward cars were full but I had been lucky enough to gamble on the tail and managed to find a seat. It was a pleasant ride along the Hudson, the sun setting slowly over the river in a golden spill.

When we got off the train in the bowels of Grand Central, I was amazed to see the number of people filling the platform. I was part of an exodus into the city, or would that be an inxodus? Having climbed up into the beautiful main hall and back down to the ugly subway, I waited for ten or fifteen minutes for the 4 train, the 5 having – yet again – been taken out of service for weekend construction.

The Metro North train passenger load empties into Grand Central – Not my best shot ever, phone held at arm’s length while walking fast

It arrived completely full. I forced my way into the car along with a few others but at the next station, 23rd Street, I was expelled by the flow of people exiting and never managed to work my way back aboard. The doors closed and the subway left without me as I swore softly. Rather than waiting another quarter of an hour for a new struggle, I decided to climb up one level and walk over to the R train, which arrived within ten minutes. It was almost empty. I sat down with delight.

But a nasal voice soon came on the loudspeaker to advise us that due to construction, this train was skipping the usual route, going over the Manhattan Bridge and landing in Brooklyn one station past mine. I would have to backtrack. I think I swore a little louder. I got off at Hoyt-Schermerhorn (bless you!) and crossed to the opposite track to go home but the train was just leaving. I’d have to wait some more. Afraid that Marie would worry, I climbed up into the station until I had a signal to give her a quick call.

When I came back down, another train was leaving, without me again. I briefly wondered if I should have caught a cab, the ultimate sacrilege, but waited. All and all, it took me one hour and a half to cover what I had done in thirty minutes in the morning. New York was not letting me forget reality. The escape had been brief. I was back in the city.

“You can stand all night
At a red light anywhere in town,
Hailing maries left and right
But none of them slow down.”

Something Fast – The Sisters of Mercy

Posted in: New York & On the road & Photoblogs on October 26, 2012 | Show Comments(3)

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The Great Hudson Escape – Part I, Rise

In a daring attempt to tear New England and the Canadian Atlantic Provinces off from the bulk of our North American continent, the Hudson River is born in the New York Harbor at the bottom of Long Island and immediately leaves New Jersey behind, slicing her way due north through a self-named valley and into the Adirondack mountains, in a mad dash towards the Champlain Lake and Saint Lawrence River.

It will not succeed any time soon. Our continent spent millions of years face-lifting itself and is not yet willing to let go of its beautiful Eastern Seaboard.

For those of you thinking I’ve got it all wrong – it’s the other way around, the river is born far to the north and descends into NYC - you’re right. And yet it is almost impossible to think of a river such as the Hudson not originating in New York City, center of the universe and source of All Things Great, as everyone knows it here. It’s as though the river flowed upwards in search of her own roots, and this actually isn’t so far-fetched because she remains tidal far inland, seemingly indecisive and flowing back and forth in a nautical yo-yo.

The Hudson River in Cold Spring, NY

There is an English train that runs between,
Grand Central here and Poughkeepsie-ville,
And at the dead of night the whistle blows,
And people hear she’s running still.

That train isn’t filled with Chris de Burgh’s souls of the dead but with the very much alive commuters who live along the eastern bank of the Hudson Valley. Them, and hikers. Because you see, a mere hour away from the bustling Big Apple lie beautiful trails that crisscross their way up small mountains in a park called Hudson Highlands.

And while Amtrak’s train to Montreal cruises right along on the way to Canada, the park had until now managed to stay under my radar. So last week, following a lead from our good friends Deb and Jim, I rode the subway to Grand Central, barely caught my Metro North train as the doors were closing – I had lingered a few minutes too long in the station buying flan pâtissier and a coffee – and headed off the Manhattan island along with a mixed crowd.

For a backpack, I had my photo bag and all lenses. For trail food, two slices of flan. A bottle of water. My phone with a topo map. A flash light – one never knows. Sharp blades. The Asus tablet for turning the train into an office. Curiosity cranked to the max.

I hopped off the train in Cold Spring, some 80 kilometers from home as the crow flies. Many hikers were also getting off there, most glancing around them with hesitant looks. It would seem the area had been off their radar too. Bear Mountain rose to the west, very close across the narrowed down Hudson.

To the northeast, just above town, was a bulky forested shape, its left flank showing the scar of an old quarry, not unlike the gaping wound left into the flank of a fish by a shark bite. The summit is called Bull Mountain and tops the surrounding ridges at 1400 feet above sea level. That’s where I was headed.

Cold Spring Welcoming Party

I walked off the open-air station into the small town, found a tiny tourist office and inquired about a trail map. A pleasant older lady gave me directions through a few blocks of city streets, down a quarter of a mile of road 9D and into a small parking lot where I was told I would find a wooden box containing maps.

As I approached the box, a healthy looking Asian lady in serious hiking apparel (including two telescopic poles) waved at me and said with a strong accent: “You’ hiker?” Unsure of the importance of my reply, I opted for a neutral answer: “Not yet here.” She seemed to read between the lines and signaled me to come closer. “You know the trails?” she asked again. “No,” I said, “I was going to grab a map.”

“Take this,” she ordered handing me a ziplock bag with a few maps, “I just found here behind this rock.” “But the box,” I hesitated.

I opened said box expecting it to be empty, but it was filled with what appeared to be black and white copies of a very simple hand-drawn map folded in three. “No,” she replied categorically, “that’ shit.”

She bossily made me unfold the content of her ziplock. Inside was a very nice color topographic map set. I took out two maps, unfolded them. “Not this one,” she said twice as I was showing her the maps. There were three sections covering the entire park and as it turns out, the important one was missing. Whoever had lost these had kept the key document. “You no worry,” said the lady reassuringly.  “You stay on white trail, and look ahead far for markers so no lose path.” I thanked her and was on my way.

The quarry amphitheater

I had indeed planned on following the white trail to the summit, as per web reviews. Trails were well marked with the usual color plastic discs. White initially climbed in a “Z” fashion under a thick tree canopy which for some odd reason reminded me of the approach hike to the Lions in BC. Eventually I emerged into the quarry bowl and was met by an annoyed man who walked up to me and asked: “Do you know where the white is? I’ve been going in circles in here for a half-hour and can’t seem to find my way up.” I did not know and didn’t yet care as I was setting up for a few pictures of the sunny but contrast-y amphitheater, so he launched back into his quest and disappeared.

When the time came to follow him, I found a narrow path that climbed clockwise around the upper rim and steepened greatly. The white markers were still present so I pushed up. Silence and calm were nearly perfect, only broken by the long blow of train whistles far down below. The air was a bit chilly but not cold enough for me to keep a jacket on while climbing, and having made the mistake of wearing a cotton t-shirt I ended up with a soaked back that forced me to dress and undress repeatedly, as I chilled and warmed up. This would cost me a cold the following week.

It was early October and timid colors had not begun their Fall symphony. The woods were still rather green and lush, and mushrooms few and apart. My trail climbed steadily above the quarry and further followed the ridge upward, rarely venturing far into the forest. After maybe an hour and a half, having wasted much time in the wild looking for ‘shrooms, I discovered a nice rocky clearing with a view south and switched to a wide-angle lens for panoramic shots.

A turkey vulture challenges me

Soon thereafter, I arrived at what appeared to be a sub-summit outcropping. I walked out of the trees carelessly onto another patch of rocks, only to realize it was already occupied.

Freezing, I reached for the camera around my neck. A nice size turkey vulture was sitting there and did not seem keen on giving his spot away. The 22 mm focal length of my lens turned the poor bird into a mere crow on the LCD, so I very slowly dropped my backpack and switched lenses with the dampened moves of a chameleon, the bird of prey watching nervously from 20 or 30 feet away. The next shots were better. Finally, as I stepped a bit too close, he stretched, opened his wings once, took a long last look at me and called it a day. He had an impressive wing span and quickly drifted around the ridge.

I sat down and ate my flan, enjoying a late afternoon sun and windless quadrant, then walked up the rest of the way to the top of my immediate world…

[This is part 1 of a story which then falls

Posted in: New York & On the road & Photoblogs on October 23, 2012 | Show Comments(4)

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