Monday, August 29, 2011

Nina's Hurricane Irene

Southampton Beach at 5pm on Thursday.
by Nina Griscom

Thursday/Friday. I am of the mind to minimize the implications of oncoming natural disasters. From my past experience, the majority have not resulted in full frontal projections ... so to speak.

However, my daughter Lily is a Disaster Queen, and as such, her antennae were fully extended at the first mention of Irene.

We were in Southampton where we had been spending the month when the news first came. Leo and I had a small dinner at home in Southampton, Thursday evening with friends. Most people were inclined to hunker down and remain. Our friends who have a huge property in Watermill, felt that they would be safe. A good friend of ours was even coming to them with her daughter and dog and help, to wait out the storm.

Leo and Violet (3 months old) on SH beach, Thursday afternoon.
When Leo and I awoke Friday morning and listened to the news -- Mayor Bloomberg was issuing hourly proclamations about securing the city, declaring evacuation mandates, and announcing discontinuation of most transit services on Saturday morning -- we decided to head back to the city. More a strike against heavy traffic than any abiding fear of the storm. Who knew when the bridges and tunnels would be shut down. It seemed wise to get back to the city early.

My stepfather, Felix Rohatyn called around 10 to see what our plans were. He was calm, and resolved that nature would take its course, and that safety was foremost. He and my mother agreed to leave Southampton that afternoon. Check! No need to worry about my parents.

Lily went into town with my cash card (insanity brought on by state of emergency!) to get $$$ and fill up the gas tank. She found huge lines at the bank ATM, and smartly went elsewhere to get cash. Same at the gas station. She saw houses along the way boarded up, and all manner of evacuation going forth.

Led by Lily’s notion of the worst case scenario, we -- along with our wonderful housekeeper Vanessa, and two dogs, left Southampton at 1:30 in the afternoon -- early exit to say the least, given that the day was sunny and warm; the ultimate calm before the storm.

We caravanned to the city; Lily driving the jeep with Vanessa, and our dogs, and Leo and I leading in another car. The LIE was still calm and free of the exodus traffic that we had anticipated.

We arrived home resembling a float at the Puerto Rican Day parade: a car full of Lily’s stuff for Trinity College where she is starting this Thursday, groceries, and bottled water, Leo’s and my bags, a puppy training cage. Meanwhile the puppy threw up in her cage on the way home. What disaster would be complete without a barfing dog?
Lily with Liz and Felix Rohatyn and Leo at Amaranth.
Lily’s birthday is (was) tomorrow, Saturday, August 27th. Her beau, Dylan McDermott, had kindly made plans to fly in from California and we were all very concerned whether his flight would be permitted to land. Luckily he made it, and joined us for dinner at Amaranth, where we dined with my parents.

Yaz and Valentin Hernandez and their handsome son, Valentin were also dining there, and we joined forces for coffee. Not yet a siege mentality in NYC.

Saturday. I well remember New York during the Black Out of 1976. I was dining downtown at Raoul’s with a now ex-something or other when all of a sudden, the city went dark and shut down. All I could think of was my then single mother, residing in the East 60s off Fifth Avenue. I felt a desperate urge to see that she was OK. So the gentleman in question and I walked the considerable distance (about three miles) uptown to verify that she was safe and well.

Mother’s apartment was ablaze with candles, and she seemed to be enjoying the crisis! She was thrilled to see me, but in no way endangered. All this crisis business reminds of the history which characterizes New Yorkers’ responses to hardship: We pull together, demonstrate chivalry, decency, and camaraderie which is sorely lacking in “normal” times.
Nary a retail store was open on Madison Avenue on Saturday morning.
There is a certain momentum in a crisis which can be counted upon to garner goodwill among most of us. It is the aftermath which brings out the vermin, looking to capitalize on a perceived weakness in the system. Looting, robberies, and all kinds of sad acts usually follow the good nature of the immediate peril.

Saturday morning, the Upper East side showed all the hallmarks of shutting down for the storm to come. Nary a retail store was open on Madison Avenue. The only retail therapy to be had was on line!

It was incredibly muggy. You could almost inhale a vague whiff of the tropics. Swore I smelled Jasmine. I walked up Madison where cops were taping off George Jensen. Not sure if there had been a robbery attempt or merely a matter of shattered glass.
Outside Georg Jensen.
The only people on the avenue were tourists (lots of different foreign languages) who seemed to view this all as high entertainment, and a few joggers, not to be deterred from their “my body is my temple” routines.

Banks closed at 11am, post office closed at 10 am. It was my daughter’s birthday, and amazingly Sette Mezzo, a favorite canteen for locals on Lexington and 70th street was open for business.

Leo, Lily and Dylan, and I arrived for lunch a few minutes before one, and found the place open but empty. Within 15 minutes the restaurant was teeming with every boldfaced name in the neighborhood!

In marched Joel Klein and his wife, Marty and Susan Lipton, Leon and Debbie Black with kids, Henry and Marie-Josee Kravis, Pete Peterson with his daughter Holly, Catie and Donald Marron, George Stephanopulos and his kids, Steve and Christine Schwarzman, and Harry and Gigi Benson, and assorted others who I know do not like to see their names in ink. If a bomb had gone off half the US economy would have been wiped out based on who was in that room.

Lily blowing out her candles for her 19th IRENE bday at Sette Mezzo.
It looked like a crisis room, with all the eminences visiting around tables and trading updates on their evacuations from Southampton or other nearby country homes. Definitely not a panic environment. Everyone seemed perfectly sanguine and prepared for the onslaught. These boys have seen plenty of crises, and this one was certainly not the worst.

Comfort food was the order of the day, and we dove into plates of Ravioli with Bolognese sauce and a birthday cake. I had thought that a hurricane might give certain license to “festivity,” but Pelligrino was the drink of choice at most tables.

After lunch, I walked around the neighborhood a bit more to determine the nature of establishments who elected to stay open for business. Food was king! Grace’s Market was in full swing. All the cheese had been bought up, ditto the bread. Fruit was flying, and the line at the prepared food counter was out of control! The last ticket number for the line was up to #80 last time I checked, with many more customers waiting to be served. Carbs were the order of the day.

Restaurants were open at lunchtime, but planning to close in the late afternoon to allow employees to get home in time. But the rest of the UES was shut down. Taxis had already begun charging 10 bucks per head within given “zones.” Really annoying!! And most surprising (well maybe not), Tiffany Nails on 70th and 3rd was doing a brisk business. When I looked down at my chipping pedicure, I was tempted to go in.

Leo and I walked over to the Clearview Cineplex on 62nd and 1st Avenue, hoping to see “The Help,” only to find it shut. The 15-minute walk resulted in my jeans being glued to very unflattering places on my carb loaded body, due to the intense humidity. Walked home.

Late afternoon: strong rains, some wind, and nothing to do but worry and wait. We were stocked up with food (mostly carbs of course -- who eats salad during a crisis?). Luckily we did not lose power, though I had brought out every candlestick I own, just in case.

The barfing puppy’s training routine continued, meaning regular three hour tours of our terrace. Thank God Scottish Terriers are impervious to weather conditions ...

Lily, Dylan, Leo and I watched TV and grazed our way through the refrigerator. Hate to think of the gym time I’ll have to put in to off load all these Irene lbs.

Tried to stay up as late as possible to see the incoming storm, but fell asleep around 12:30, before the main thrust, so to speak ...
The early Sunday morning view from the apartment.
Sunday. Lily woke up at 4am and reported that the sky was an eerie pinkish hue. Leo and I slept until 8 and looked out at the terrace off our bedroom for signs of disaster. None in sight.

Around 10 am I walked down the street to visit my parents. A few people were out walking dogs in Central Park and jogging. Not much action. No rain, but still huge humidity.

Our thoughts and concerns now turned towards the other local areas which have been harder hit with power outages, damage to property, and families being forced to sleep in shelters. Not a pretty picture, and certainly not a clear one yet.

It is yet to be seen what the total picture will be, but it seems that in the UES of Manhattan, God had us by the hand, considering what could have been a “worst case scenario” ...

Mayor Bloomberg did a great job of handling this situation, and it was clear that every possible preparation had been made. Clearly, we have learned many lessons in the past ten years about emergency management.

On a personal level, our family is worried about our homes left behind and what we shall see when we return.

Leo and I have recently done so much work on our Millbrook garden. It is heartbreaking to see trees down, or several years of plantings swept away in a single night. But at the end of the day, as long as our family and friends and those in our life are safe, the rest can eventually be restored.
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