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The Gowanus Canal

pronunciation key: “go WAN us”. Think of Mrs Doyle offering Father Ted another sandwich. That’s the emphasis you’re after.

small hurricane mapLast night’s date began with a swift glass of sherry at Palo Cortado. (The sherry part is necessarily swift because the wine list is so extensive that it takes ages to make up one’s mind). A glass and some devilled eggs later, we made our way to the Brooklyn Brainery for a lecture on the history of the Gowanus Canal. Jealous much?

Joseph Alexiou, wearing a fetching pair of blue framed glasses, was incredibly passionate about his topic. What follows is what I can remember and in no way does justice to all the fascinating things he had to say.

The canal is, apparently 1.8 miles long (i.e. essentially pointless) and runs part way into Brooklyn. We live at the red dot, so it’s pretty close. The canal’s reputation is unsavory and it’s reek is the stuff of legend. (Head here and scroll down a little to read what Thomas Wolfe called “the huge symphonic stink” of the place).

gowanus-canal-featGowanus was (and to some extent, still is) a heavily industrial area and the canal was used to transport raw materials and goods. The canal also happens to be connected up to the sewage overflow system. As a result, every time it rains, a phenomenal amount of human excrement gets pumped into the canal and gets to mix with all the toxic sludge already in there from years of industry. Then, of course, with Hurricane Sandy, the storm surge desposited all manner of gifts to nearby residents. Yuk.

The canal is now a ‘superfund’ site. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been carrying out tests on the canal and their preliminary report, for people who like that kind of stuff, is here. The clever thing about a superfund is that the EPA can take the companies responsible to court to raise the money for clean up of toxic sites like this one.



Hurricane Sandy Timeline

(inspired by the BBC News live feed)

Friday Oct 26

1557 – Rachel from White Rabbit Tattoo Studio calls to say she might have to cancel session on Tuesday morning but to keep my phone on. Dismissed as ridiculous.

Saturday Oct 27

1500 – Head out to get DSpin his Halloween costume. Find incredible hipster jacket that fits me.

1525 – Buy jacket. Woops.

1830 – On the R train to Ms Chen’s and the Canal Room’s 80s Halloween Party.

Sunday Oct 28

0230 – Get in. Go to bed.

1100 – Wake up, switch on TV. Bloomberg announces mandatory evacuation of Zone A. Confusion ensues: what zone is our flat in? website has gone into meltdown so can’t tell.

1245 – Zone B.

1247 – Or maybe Zone C?

1249 – This map zooms in. Pretty sure it’s Zone C.

1515 – DSpin heads out to Earth’s Basket to pick up supplies. He points out that, if we happen to die, we’re definitely going to heaven because we bought organic.

1542 – Landlady texts. “I’ve got candles and emergency lights for you guys.” Call her back, she promptly arrives at the door with two sandbags and a bag of goodies. Candles are ‘Vanilla Cookie’ and ‘Winter Wonderland’ scents. Front and back doors sandbagged.

2300 – Head to bed, pretty sure we’re going to get a big storm. Quite excited.

Monday Oct 29

0900 – Some wind. No rain. Sense of disappointment. Begin compulsive viewing of live NYTimes and BBC News feeds. Develop addiction to’s  Hurricane Tracker.

0930 – 1400  – Switch between trying to read, peering out the window, making more tea, religiously checking live feeds, watching Mayor Bloomberg’s press conferences, worrying about when the power will go and charging all electrical items so at least I can play Scrabble against the iPad.

1500 – Winds picking up. Still hardly any rain. Getting bored now. Wish I had gone for a walk in the morning. Realise that I haven’t made it out of the house since 2.30am on Sunday. Comfort self with half a tin of soup and some cookies.

1700 – Pretty much dark outside. Realise that if the storm really does kick off, we won’t be able to see anything much from our basement flat.

1830 – Tune in to Comedy Central. Enjoy re-run of The Colbert Report and try to spot Colbert corpsing. Wind quite loud now. Lights start flickering. Sense of unease. Screen doors banging around the back.

2100 – Turn off lights, start watching All the President’s Men. Engrossed.

2315 – Check BBC live feed one last time. Power out all over the place, tunnels flooded. DSpin shows me a photo taken in Lower Manhattan. Looks grainy and a bit rainy. Don’t really get it.

2330 – Bedtime. Bring emergency light in. Tell DSpin that I didn’t see the point of that photo. He facepalms and explains that the whole of the foreground was dark – no power. Get it now. Fall asleep.

Tuesday Oct 30

0935 – Wake to message from Rachel at White Rabbit Tattoo. She can come in this afternoon. I can’t. Reschedule.

1000 – Reassure friends and family that I am fine.


Hurricane Sandy Experience – rated ‘U’. Contains mild peril.

Also spotted this on the BBFC website: ‘U’ films should be set within a positive moral framework and should offer reassuring counterbalances to any violence, threat or horror.