Merry Christmas From Staten Island
The news from Staten Island, it’s not all bad.
For the most part, everything seems – SEEMS – like it’s back to normal after Sandy, the worst storm in Staten Island’s 300-year history.
The stores are hopping with Christmas shoppers.
The streets are typically jammed with traffic.
The noisy holiday revelry in local restaurants with present opening, reindeer antler wearing patrons lay on an extra surreal layer to this island that everything is okay.
Last night, my husband and I ate at Euro-trendy Alor Cafe. As we dined on crepes and roasted Barramundi and sipped our Riesling and Merlot, we listened to a trio of flamenco guitarists:
All this normalcy takes place above “the Boulevard.”
Drive below the Boulevard, in the neighborhood where I grew up and my parents still live, things get strange.
Everywhere, there are subtle and not so subtle reminders of how Sandy reaffirmed for many Staten Islanders why the Island’s South Shore has the dubious distinction for being named “Zone A.”
First, you notice the inspection postings that dot a front window on nearly every residence:
Then, there are the police cars that are out on nearly every corner. All day and all night:
And on the other side of the field, some more harsh evidence of Sandy:
On the other side of my childhood neighborhood are the eclectic bungalow-lined streets of Cedar Grove. Though I didn’t know anyone who lived here, I am thankful for the peacefulness these streets offered me in my teen years. These are the streets where I felt safe riding my bicycle. Many of these streets now have RED inspection stickers which mean that most of these houses are no longer safe to inhabit.
Even the neighborhoods makeshift 9/11 memorial had been destroyed by the storm surge:
As I walked these streets in the low December sun, I thought to myself: Am I a disaster tourist? Am I just a gawker?
No. No I’m not.
I couldn’t bring myself to take photos of the most badly damaged homes. The ones reduced to rubble. I felt by taking photos of these homes, I would be just be further violating the homeowner’s dignity. FOX news and CNN took photos of the worst, only to chase the next big news story and forget about this place just weeks later.
In this tucked-away corner of Staten Island, I’m not a tourist, though I no longer live here. I want to show the world these secret streets, to show them in their continued state of misery. Even though the media has moved on.
Don’t forget this strong and dignified neighborhood, however modest their homes.
Still there are signs of hope. This beautiful Spanish-mission styled church still stands:
Outside of a makeshift relief center where residents can get food, drinks and even Christmas gifts, there is this tree, with a sign of hope and resilience: