Digested week: falling ice, and other perils of New York's high life | Emma Brockes

This week, while most New Yorkers feared death by icefall, others had more rarefied concerns


In his novel Upstate, the critic and novelist James Wood characterises the experience of walking through New York City as a feeling, mild but insistent, “that something is going to fall on my head”. In the summer, traditionally, the threat is from air conditioning units. (The Village Voice, Gawker, and the New York Times have all looked into this urban legend over the years, without coming up with much data – anecdotally, plunging air conditioners seem to account for about four deaths every 10 years.) In the winter, particularly in a week of heavy snowfall like this one, the danger is falling ice.

If you’re lucky, a street will be blocked off by the fire department prior to a sheet of ice shuddering from an apartment roof and falling 30 storeys down, to eliminate whatever is on the sidewalk below it. If you’re unlucky, a small hazard sign will go up advising you to “watch out for falling ice” – precisely how is never specified; perhaps by walking with your neck craned upwards, braced to duck – leaving you to scurry as quickly as you can to the end of the block.

The storm this week was one of New York’s biggest, depositing 43cm (17in) of snow. On Monday, everything shut and out we bundled, dragging our sleds two streets from our apartment to the most southerly edge of what is known, after snowfall, as suicide hill. Over and over my children launched themselves down what looked like a 90-degree slope, miraculously avoiding the passage of snowploughs at the bottom, teenagers hurtling down alongside them, and the occasional massive, falling dad.

The sun came out today. It was one of those piercingly blue winter days in New York, joyous on the one hand, and on the other, the kind of weather that, as all New Yorkers know, starts to melt and loosen the ice 800 feet up. Time to look lively and get ready to run.


An instructor at the fitness group SoulCycle, who describes herself as an “educator”, managed to get an appointment to have the first shot of the Moderna vaccine, a fact that came to light when the super-fit 52-year-old posted a photo of herself receiving it on Instagram, along with the caption: “Now I can teach @soulcycle with a little more faith that we’re all gonna be okay.”

Teachers in New York are indeed receiving the vaccine right now, but that job description doesn’t extend to a woman on a stationary bike shouting into a head mic at the few junior investment bankers who haven’t abandoned SoulCycle for – quite incredibly – the even more obnoxious spin franchise Peloton.

Anyway, contrary to her caption, things very much weren’t OK for Stacey Griffith, who in spite of slamming up the hill and giving it all she had, after posting about the vaccine was promptly buried under a landslide of hatred, culminating in a drive-by shaming from Bill de Blasio, New York’s mayor. (“It doesn’t sound like someone who should have gotten vaccinated to me.”)

In the last 10 days, Griffith’s position has, in the language of her trade, evolved into a soul journey that is next-level inspiring, with the slow dawning of just how much trouble she’s in. “In my profession of health and wellness as a teacher,” Griffith told the Daily Beast defiantly last week, “it’s my priority daily to keep my community and their respiratory systems operating at full capacity so they can beat this virus if they are infected by it. I can only teach to them if I am healthy myself.”

By the beginning of this week, however, after a Damascene moment she can surely build out from to inspire generations of finance people on bikes, she wrote on Insta: “I want to apologize from the bottom of my heart for my recent action in receiving the vaccine. I made a terrible error in judgment and for that I am truly sorry.”


The Golden Globes announced their nominations today and the big story was the total shut out from all categories of one of the best shows of the year, Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You. More amazing, perhaps, is that anyone pays any attention to the Globes in the first place, given the people who vote for them. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) is a group of entertainment journalists who flatter themselves they are friends with their subjects and that standing in the press pen constitutes “attending the Oscars”.

Why the HFPA overlooked the creator and predominantly black cast of I May Destroy You is unclear, although if Coel failed to mount an aggressive charm offensive, that will have damaged her chances. (The association also failed to acknowledge Bridgerton, a really bad show, but that didn’t stop Emily in Paris from prospering, and it makes one wonder if Bridgerton’s executive producer Shonda Rhimes was as reluctant as Coel to appease these terrible people.)

A small insight into the town council drama of the HFPA: last year a lawsuit was brought by a Norwegian journalist, who sued the association for refusing her membership, saying she was blocked by other Norwegian and Danish members who wanted to keep celebrity coverage for their markets in Norway and Denmark entirely to themselves. Throw in a couple of murders, a brooding Scandi detective and lots of snowy locations and assuredly that’s a show I would watch.


To Angelina Jolie in British Vogue, an interview of such startling sycophancy it would make the HFPA blush. The piece bears the byline of Vogue’s editor, Edward Enninful, who informs us, breathlessly, that over the course of a “remarkable day … and night … and day”, Jolie agreed “to let us into her world”. It is a world of style, beauty, lots of children, and the blandness of a family of dolls. How, wonders Enninful, has her tireless work for humanitarian causes changed her? (“I’m still just as angry about injustice, but whereas my younger self wanted to tear down the system, I’ve learnt I have to fight to try to change it from within.”)

Asked to describe a typical day for her family, Jolie says: “I feel like I’m lacking in all the skills to be a traditional stay-at-home mom.” And yet, she says, “it may sound cliched, but you love and you try, and even if you burn the eggs, that doesn’t matter in the end.”

I don’t blame Jolie for any of this – she replies in the register of the questions she’s asked – although on the matter of eggs, one assumes they are 100% handled by the housekeeper.


If you have $18m (£13m) to spare, you can move into a high floor at 432 Park Avenue, a 430-metre residential tower and one of the tallest apartment blocks in New York. The development always makes me feel sick – the idea of living that high in the sky – and according to the New York Times, some of the residents are starting to feel the same way.

During high winds, apartments on the upper floors, all the way up to a 96th floor penthouse, “creak like the galley of a ship”. Wind sway can cause the elevator cables to “slap around”, and force shutdowns on blowy days. And it’s not just the acoustics. The private restaurant, which when the building opened in 2015 required each resident to spend $1,200 a year on service, has raised that figure to an annual $15,000.

How lucky we are not to have these kinds of problems. Meanwhile, I can see the block from my window and make a mental note as I type: not to walk by it until the ice has melted and we are firmly in spring.

Matt Hancock
‘Wow, doesn’t even need a slice of lemon!’ Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA
Boris Johnson and Muslim woman
‘Big fan of your ... love the whole – I mean the funny thing is you ladies have always worn masks!’ Photograph: Jon Super/PA
Kate on laptop
‘I couldn’t help but wonder: had I married a prince only to discover I was waiting to rescue myself?’ Photograph: Kensington Palace/PA


Emma Brockes

The GuardianTramp

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