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Posts Tagged ‘weather’

The Zebra

April 16, 2014 | by

sc-folding-umbrella

Nathan Pyle has recently written an illustrated handbook for living in—or, perhaps even more crucially, visiting—New York. NYC (Basic Tips and Etiquette) contains such valuable tips as

  • Beware of the empty train car, it’s empty for a reason.
  • Bring cash to group dining events.
  • 12% chance you have spotted a celebrity. 88% chance you have spotted someone who vaguely resembles a celebrity. 100% chance you are awkwardly staring at someone while you argue about it.

These will, I think we agree, apply to any good-sized city.

Yesterday, two of Pyle’s tips were very much on my mind. The weather had, abruptly, turned brutal: cold, with high winds and lashing rain. This weather! This weather! This weather! everyone chanted. Pyle is absolutely right in his assertion that “one $20 umbrella will outlast four $5 umbrellas.” I went for my hardiest number, which is, incidentally, patterned with cheerful zebras on a red ground. Read More »

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March Madness

March 4, 2013 | by

Screen shot 2013-03-04 at 12.13.40 PM

“It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.” —Charles Dickens

 

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Essex Girl

February 21, 2013 | by

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We traveled from East London in a Zipcar, beating the traffic bound for Lakeside, the out-of-town shopping center. The pier car park was sparsely filled with cars. Abandoned in a corner was a statue of the Virgin Mary the size of an umbrella stand. Out of season, the Essex archipelago lures only the most hardened. By October, the weather is spitting and icy, and its landscape is too bleak and monotonous to qualify as ruggedly beautiful. A Wikipedia entry had told us there are nineteen islands off the coast of Essex, most of them owned by the British Ministry of Defence and contracted to private companies testing ammunitions. The individual entries were nearly all stubs, waiting to be filled in. An archipelago struck a curious exotic note in a place associated mostly with commuting, military test sites, and, most recently, “constructed reality” television.

American import Jersey Shore inspired The Only Way is Essex, a show similarly centered on the intricate love lives of pneumatic people living in an area derided for being culturally bankrupt, despite its proximity to one of the most exciting cities in the world. Jersey’s Essex County was even named after the UK’s own historical Essex, in 1683. Maybe there’s no need to make analogies between the UK’s Essex and anywhere else because its reputation is internationally bad, and we don’t defend it. The county town Chelmsford, where I was born, was voted eighth best place to live in the UK on the prerecession property-porn show Location Location Location. Residents promptly rang in to call it soulless; flashy on one hand and tedious on the other, like a nouveau riche neighbor with dull preoccupations. Read More »

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February in Chicago

February 11, 2013 | by

chicago-winterJust a few years ago, I had no idea what cold felt like, and no way to know how to prepare for it. I didn't know my limit.

Zero degrees. No degrees. None of them. Personally, that’s when I start to lose it. In this range, anyone’s capacity to describe what they are feeling—already a pretty fraught prospect—collapses into mutterings about “hanging in there.”

And then the wind comes off the lake.

February in Chicago: four weeks when it’s acceptable to shower in a hoodie and sleep in a balaclava, wool turtleneck sweater, and thermal socks. Anyone who says they’re not wearing long underwear is either lying or an idiot. I’m wearing one of my three pairs right now, and I’m sitting in my apartment. If I lean forward over the keyboard, I can feel the sun through my bay window on my face.

It’s colder elsewhere, sure. Mostly in the settings of nineteenth-century Russian novels. And as we get toward March, I keep the weather for Duluth in my iPhone rotation, just to stay humble.

But—as anyone around here will remind you over a Schlitz, or eight—Chicago is the largest American city that deals with negative-twenty-degree wind chills on a regular basis.

The wind chill last week got down to negative twenty. In this range, we all become characters in a Jack London story, fighting to keep the blood in extremities we didn’t know we had. And I start to wonder: If I needed to build a fire and all I had was an iPhone, how long would it take for me to freeze to death? Read More »

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Yellow Sky

January 17, 2013 | by

Black Crow Road

A week before the tornado outbreak in May of 1999, I attended my first Native American sweat with my friend A. J., a security guard and blackjack dealer at a Cheyenne-Arapaho casino located in the town of Concho. I’d known A. J. since eighth grade, when we used to smoke cigarettes and catch crawdads in the creek behind his grandfather’s house. His grandfather sat in a recliner and smoked a pipe and spent whole afternoons staring out the window. He talked to us about luck. Good luck, bad luck. He once told us to pay attention to wind and smoke. If wind drifted the smoke east, that meant good luck. But only east. Crows are good luck, he told us, because they fly high and carry prayers to the spirits, whereas owls are considered bad luck. Rain is good luck, but only when the sun is shining. Strong winds are good luck because they are personified as divine spiritual messengers. Even ridiculously high winds that bring down power lines and trees are still considered good luck, regardless of their destruction: the overall speed of wind is unimportant because many tribes look at the path of winds as the soul of a spirit sweeping across the land. I’ve never been much into superstitions, but listening to A. J.’s grandfather talk about all this when I was a kid made me realize this was some serious shit.

Read More »

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Walker Percy’s Hurricane

November 6, 2012 | by

As Sandy lashed my bay windows last week, I, like much of the northeast, spent my days mostly staring outside. Trees nodded and bowed in their ancient submission. Debris sped past. On the radio, the mayor said to stay inside. The outdoors became outer space. My world shrunk to the boxy confines of my living room.

Across my region, houses washed into the ocean, a subway system filled with water. Lives and livelihoods shattered. The hope of coastal urbanization flickered. Thousands of people were thrust into hardships heartbreaking and humbling.

It is with some shame and reluctance, then, that I admit to the ease of my own experience. I read by candlelight. Keeping me company during those days was Walker Percy. I had picked his second book—The Last Gentleman—off my shelf after I recalled its strange depiction of hurricanes as philosophically rich events that visit mass existential relief upon entire populations crushed under modern malaise. For Percy, the transformative power of a hurricane lies not just in the immediate excitement, the break in routine it brings, but more so in a storm’s capacity to limit the range of human choice, its ability to deliver a whole city from the chaotic realm of the Possible back the unquestioning mode of the Necessary.

Perhaps I was feeling some of this myself. For the first time in years, I could remain utterly idle in good faith. No pangs of guilt for my laziness, no urgencies of becoming—nothing. It seemed that gusty Sandy had summoned some powerful force from my early youth, a lightheartedness that sent me into a blissful stupor that lasted through the storm.

Which is not to say that everyone in Sandy was lucky enough to be forced into reflection. Many were forced from their homes. There was nothing theoretical about Sandy's destruction. And Percy was, essentially, a philosopher. Read More »

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