Global chilling

Cold play: Children get ready to slide on mounds of snow after the storm in Buffalo. Photo: Reuters   -  REUTERS

Blindsided by a blizzard in Buffalo, neighbouring New York City finds out what winter does to the Christmas trees and strangers on the subway

Two months ago, just a few days after I had first arrived in New York City and was yet to find my bearings, an American friend prophetically announced in the elevator, “winter is coming”. I shuddered at the prospect of the bone-chilling cold, the sunless sky and the exhaustion that wearing five layers of clothing can cause. The friend, of course, was reminiscing about The Game of Thrones. It is very difficult to keep up with pop culture these days; more so, when you have to split wasting your time between Yo Yo Honey Singh and Taylor Swift. And this is just to keep up with the things you don’t like for the sake of not being lost during a conversation — a completely irrational anxiety because in New York City your only friends are generally the characters of the sitcom Friends.

Winter, however, came too soon. That’s what she said! Yes, I’m spending my short days and long nights watching The Office: lonely, cold and suited up.

Having grown up in Mumbai, where the days are divided into rainy and humid, it was in Delhi that I realised that non-coastal Indians take the weather seriously. The average Mumbaikar is only concerned with the question: is the rain heavy enough to make the trains go slow? Not halt, just delay, mind you. Delhiites, on the other hand, witness a range of phenomena: fog, drizzle, rain (which is mostly still drizzle), dust storm and cold. Everyone in Delhi spends the six torturous months of summer in anticipation of winter, and some of us spend the three months of winter dreaming of warmth. And like everyone around the world who experiences more than just the protracted range of raining and not-yet-raining, Delhiites are surprised that winter makes them hungry and shocked that summer can get that hot. Every year.

Winter in New York City, however, did come too soon. One evening, I was strolling down the streets in an unbuttoned trench coat, my hair limp and unruffled, and the next evening, the temperature plummeted from 10°C to -3°C faster than I could update my Facebook status on witnessing sub-zero temperatures for the first time ever. Buffalo, which is about 600km northwest of New York City, was suddenly buried under six feet of snow, and within five days, 13 people were reported dead. The blizzard was apparently being caused by Buffalo’s proximity to the Lake Erie and hence called a lake-effect blizzard. Petrified, I asked my roommate if this will be another Sandy and if we have enough food stocked up. She gave me a long stare and said, “Sandy was a hurricane.” Right. Hurricanes are not tornadoes, which are not cold waves and polar vortexes. It’s about time someone clarified that global warming could also be really chilling.

I haven’t read much poetry by Pablo Neruda, but this line ‘I want to do with you what spring does with cherry trees’ from Every Day You Play… is always on my mind. What does winter do? In New York City, it makes drinking four glasses of red wine at 3pm on a weekday and snuggling close to strangers on the subway perfectly acceptable. It’s the art-viewing season because museums have the best heating in the city. Currently on view across the city are Henri Matisse (MoMA), Cubists (MET), Nam June Paik (Asia Society) and Zero (Guggenheim). It’s the profound poetry you feel during the first 30 seconds of the first snowfall and the equally sweeping glum you feel for the rest of the winter. It’s about looking forward to the lit Christmas tree and ice skating at Rockefeller Centre. But mostly it’s about mulled wine.

( Blessy Augustine is an art critic based in New York)

Published on November 28, 2014
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