A friend told me that when he found out his girlfriend was in the hospital, he jumped into a state of panic and would do anything to help, to ease her suffering. But he was far away at the time, and explained it was one of the most awful and terrifying feelings. He said, “You never went through that, so you don’t know how it was.” Well, I do now. The love of my life is the NYC metro area. But here in Genoa, there’s nothing I can really do but read and show my support.
It was a difficult decision to leave all my friends and family, and one of the greatest cities in the world with one of the nicest stretch of sandy beaches — the CT sound, Long Island, Queens, and my beloved Jersey shore. In the months leading up to my departure, I embarked on a “Grand Farewell Tour,” where I road-tripped to favorite spots — hiking in the mountains, visiting friends, and heading downtown to enjoy all the beautiful and wonderful things in my city. And my favorite part of the Grand Farewell Tour were all my weekend visits to beaches with one of my best friends. We went everywhere.
When we were at Point Pleasant, we gorged on greasy shore food from fried oysters to jalepeno poppers, washed it down with a cherry ice water, followed it up with an ice cream, then worked it all off in the waves for hours, bodysurfing and boogie boarding and feeling childlike bliss. Lying in the sand at the end of the day, salty and sun-kissed, we knew we had to hit the road for the traffic back home — otherwise, we would have stayed until the sun sank into the horizon and the stars appeared.
The day after my birthday in August, we went to Belmar, with a smaller more residential boardwalk and a more intimate beach setting. The waves were rough, tumbling us around like clothes in a washing machine, tossing me into the sandshell-strewn beach several times: the power of the ocean, of nature. It was another one of the best days of summer, followed by ice cream at what was probably the best place in Jersey. Chocolate peanut butter in a sugar cone. We were surrounded by kids and families and friends and everyone with that Jersey Shore smile. A day of beauty, of simple pleasures– holding on to the summer that was slipping away.
That was my last beach day this year. The next time I hit the salt water, it was on a pebbly “beach” here in Genoa, with calm blue waters, surrounded by dramatic cliffs and Italian bars. Different. I am so happy to live by the sea now; it’s always been a dream. Yet I miss the sandy beaches and quaint seaside neighborhoods of the Jersey Shore. I was looking forward to another beachy summer next year, visiting my favorite places and exploring new ones. Braving hours of traffic along with other beach-goers and only half minding because it’s so special and everyone’s so happy. It is the playground for the NY / NJ metro area.
Well, here are scenes from the Jersey Shore after Hurricane Sandy hit. 25 heartbreaking pictures. The shore was pummeled, with images that reminded me of Hurricane Katrina. I was so moved and horrified by the scenes of Katrina that I signed up for a Global Outreach alumni volunteer trip with Fordham University. I wrote the following article about my experience — even 6 months later, it was so devastated and heartbreaking. I open, saying: “I was expecting tears. Instead, I was numb.” That’s how I feel right now — always on the verge of tears, but just in shock. Bearing Witness in New Orleans The tears will surface soon, I’m sure . . . once I can fully absorb and comprehend what has happened.
So much of NYC area was damaged as well. My brother has a music studio in Jersey City that was flooded with a few feet of water mixed with sewage and diesel. It took years to build everything and now they must rebuild. But they are ok. Those same guys also are part owners of a Brooklyn Liquor Company (Jack from Brooklyn) located in Red Hook. They produce Sorel, an awesome liqueur infused with hibiscus, Brazilian clove, Nigerian ginger among other special flavors. I crave it here in Genoa and can’t wait for a sip when I return at Christmas. Red Hook was severely flooded, and I don’t know how bad the headquarters was hit, but the guys tried to prep it as much as possible. 2012 was the Summer of Sorel, as this small company released their delicious hand-crafted product. I went to so many Sorel events, and spent so many lazy backyard days, sipping Sorel on ice and enjoying the Good Life. Savor every moment because things can change in a flash.
Without a TV in Genoa or access to the news reports, I get so much of my news from facebook statuses and links. Each revelation turns my stomach: Breezy Point, Queens – flooded then burned to the ground. Body count rising everywhere. People all over killed in their sleep by fallen trees. People dying from carbon monoxide poisoning due to their generators. Survivors who have lost their homes, their cars, their communities. Families cold and in the dark without power. My parents in the leafy suburbs might not get power back for 10 more days or so. Dad has to keep going to work in Secaucus, with a view of the broken crane in midtown. Mom tries to stay warm. Everyone must wait in line for hours to get gas — pumps at most stations not working due to electricity. It sounds like it’s from some kind of disaster or horror movie. But it’s real. “You don’t want to be here,” said Dad. “Be glad you are in Europe now. It’s terrible here.” He’s at work, panicked with stress — distanced. “Enjoy Belgium.”
I am. There is a magic, peaceful beauty here — a timeless fairytale break from reality. Bruges has a special power to soothe. It’s raining today — and I really need a break. As it’s my 9th visit to this gorgeous city, I’ve seen much of it. I’m here to enjoy and rest. Food, relaxation, contemplation. Perhaps some Flemish art.
Tonight, I stay in Ghent with a great friend I met here in Bruges over 11 years ago. Tomorrow we will meet up with the other friend before heading back to Bruges. Two guys I ran into all those years ago who have become lifelong friends and confidantes. The wonder of travel and the wonder of modern communication, first via email, scrawled on a bar coaster. And now facebook. The world is small. And I am looking forward to good conversations, laughter, and connection. Just as E.M. Forester says in Howard’s End “Only Connect.” And while I enjoy traveling on my own quite frequently, I just want to reach out and connect. We get through tragedies through the triumph of the human spirit. My dear New York area, I can’t be with you physically but I am there in spirit, loving you and thinking about you and wishing you well.