Turning day into night

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Magical sunset over the Hudson River. 8:40 PM. Photo: JH.

Thursday, September 10, 2020. Mild, often sunny day yesterday in New York. Temps in the low 80s and clouds moving in in the after looking like rain off and on for the rest of the day and lower temps.

Wednesday in New York is usually the busiest day of the week traffic-wise. Ordinarily (I’m talking six months ago). Yesterday, the second day after Labor Day, was exceptionally busy. People are back, and the avenues and the streets were jammed with traffic, commercial and private; double parkers (with the parking spots all full up). 

What with all the talk (here and elsewhere) about New Yorkers “leaving” the city and staying out “in the country,” New York, yesterday, looked like business as usual. It wasn’t of course, but what it was, was typical New York, non-pandemic. People out and working. The supermarkets were busy, the sidewalks (on the Upper East Side) were busy. You had the sense of being back in that New York where something is going on everywhere all the time. It’s that energy that makes it the mecca for creativity and ambition that it has been for the past century.

Labor Day, Park Avenue. Today,  the avenues are jammed.

I’m being optimistic. It’s the end of the day, close to the midnight hour. I had dinner at Sette Mezzo as a guest of Shirley Rosenthal and Peter Heywood and their good friend Ene Riisna. Conversation with these three is always easy and rich in interest, often historical. Peter is an Englishman who was a teacher (of high school level students in the UK). He now keeps an olive farm in Sicily; and is a painter. We are participating in an exhibition of some his latest works on next week’s Diary. 

But the conversation toward the end of the dinner was about the now, and manners, and the Ten Commandments, and William Shakespeare. Peter, being the learned Englishman, drew from his childhood memories of Shakespeare passages, and added to the subject.  It’s quite a thrill for an American boy, not nearly as learned in the classics and Mr. Shakespeare, to hear his lines quoted at the dinner table, enhancing not only the dinner but also the listener. 

The entire block was busy, tables filled. It was a Wednesday night, no longer the Summer Holiday time. It was also announced yesterday that the restaurants will be allowed to open inside by the end of the month with certain restrictions in terms of numbers of tables. Right now that’s better than nothing and good news not only for the restaurateurs and their millions of customers, but good for the City and the life here. This pandemic has demonstrated very clearly to one and all how important we are to each other in terms of our own self-image and peace of mind.

The weather last night (with rain forecast but didn’t arrive) was perfect late summer in the low 70s. Comfortable.  The pandemic hit it very hard. As it has elsewhere. And its effects remain intense for many of us – in a list of areas from mental health to fear of falling (death), to a kind of loneliness many have never experienced before. Not to mention the enormous financial burden that has struck millions of lives. So all of yesterday in New York was a gift for the city and ultimately for all of us.

Elsewhere, as you surely know, it is reeling. Paige Peterson, who’s been contributing  to the NYSD from her mother’s house in Belvedere, the island off San Francisco where for the past month the entire part of the state of California has been besieged by massive fires burning millions of acres as well as home and killing thousands, maybe millions of wildlife. 

We’ve run some of Paige’s photos on previous Diaries, but yesterday morning she sent us this series from the moment she was taking them: Eerie, at 8:30 in the morning it looked like the world was on fire. When I first looked at one I could only imagine that the area was burning up.  For the next few hours Paige sent us more photos of the ongoing natural catastrophe. For those who live there, it is unimaginable. They have never  seen this sort of thing before where in the early morning the air is covered with the evidence of the fire, burning out the light.

Early morning fog enveloping the bay.

Paige’s photos and description cover it thoroughly:

The birds are confused. The bluejays and crows are squawking. This smoke is from the Mendocino and North-Bay fires. There are several more fires burning throughout California and now a huge fire in Oregon. Its is getting colder and colder as it is impossible for the sun to get through the smoke and fog. The smoke and ash is trapped above the fog. When the fog lifts it will be raining ash. The news anchors are saying it is like Armageddon. UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain said on Twitter: “Extremely dense & tall smoke plumes from numerous large wildfires, some of which have been generating nocturnal pyrocumulunimbus clouds (fire thunderstorms) are almost completely blocking out the sun across some portions of Northern California this morning.” Meteorologist Jan Null wrote “The smoke is not able to mix down through the inversion.”  So strange to see the orange smoke lying on top of the dense fog that hangs low on the hills.

Corinthian Island in Belvedere with San Francisco in the distance, 8:22 AM.
Dr. Jay and Sharon Levy on the way to UCSF Hospital in San Francisco, 8:45 AM.
Getting darker on the San Francisco bay at 9:41 AM.
View of Corinthian Island, 10:30 AM.
The view from Belvedere Island, 10:45 AM.
A lone palm tree at The San Francisco Yacht Club.

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