[016] Snapping Janus

In November 2012, The Weather Channel (note: not the National Weather Service; but that’s another post) decided to begin naming winter storms, after the convention for hurricanes. I suspect this had something to do with the arrival of “Super Storm Sandy” in New York a few weeks earlier. Sandy brought catastrophic damage over a wide area. It was a named storm because it was a tropical system occurring before the official end of “hurricane season” on November 30th. But what about non-tropical storms… that slam into us in January? 

go away ireneI can understand why TWC wants to talk about storms by name. These massive meteorological monsters threaten us; we perceive them as living, breathing entities. They are unpredictable, fascinating, awesome, frightening… real. Naming a storm puts a label on our mental file-folders where all of our individual and shared experiences can be stored. A hurricane or blizzard is not a person, but these storms do get personal – whether they are delaying your flight halfway across the country, or submerging your neighborhood in seawater, or temporarily transforming your familiar gritty cityscape into a white, fluffy meadow. When a potentially deadly storm is bearing down on you, it helps (somehow) to be able to tell it how you really feel (on the plywood you just tacked up over your windows).

And so, New York is now buried in the remnants of Winter Storm Janus. A combination of powdery snow and frigid temps (Polar 20140120_TWC_JANUSVortex 2.0) has transformed Gotham into a thousand small towns. Having lived in NYC at several junctures along my own timeline, I know that you live in your neighborhood, for the most part. You might live uptown and work downtown, but your staples are within a few blocks of your nest. The dry cleaner, Korean market, gym, Chinese take-out and the bagel place on the corner. When Mother Nature slows things down, your neighborhood becomes your whole world, for a little while. And no matter how much kvetching goes on about the tragic inconvenience of it all, the truth is: most New Yorkers secretly (or openly) love the change of pace. If The City That Never Sleeps is forced to take a nap, well, who are we to argue? Janus did it.

That’s also the difference between a hurricane and a snowstorm. Heat is energy, and that is what makes a hurricane such an energetic, dangerous event. Not that a blizzard is without danger.

Photo by Vivienne Gucwa

Photo by Vivienne Gucwa

But our language betrays how we relate to the snow. It blankets us. It brings a hush. It creates a winter wonderland. (Unless you’re homeless or without heat; but that’s another post.)

New York in the snow is a phenomenon most easily appreciated by a New Yorker. Snow slows you down the way nothing else can, and that’s when you see a million details that you miss at the normal speed of life. Horizontal lines emerge in the vertical cityscape: tree branches, power lines, fencing, awnings, rooflines. Everyday objects become cloaked with visibility. You never notice the fire hydrant on your corner, but you know that’s what’s under that 3-foot lump of snow. The sapping of energy from this most energetic of cities is most noticeable at night. Snowfall in the woods seems natural. Hearing your boots crunch in the snow (and no other sound) as you walk down the middle of Lexington Ave… that would be unnerving if you weren’t so full of the wonder of it.

The NYC photos posted here were taken last night by Vivienne Gucwa. Google+ thought I’d be interested in her work, and put it in front of me this morning. So I am enormously grateful to that algorithm – and to Ms Gucwa. Here’s a link to her blog post on Janus, where you can find her galleries on Flickr. I’m somehow resisting the urge to start clicking because I know I’ll never stop, and I have a little work to get done now. I hope you’ll enjoy her work, whether you are a New Yorker, an ex-pat or anyone who appreciates the frozen romance of the American Metropolis.

New York City in the snow – and Vivienne Gucwa’s artistry with a camera – make me happy.
Day 016 #100happydays

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