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Budapest, August 13, 2014

★★ The comings and goings of the sun among the clouds made the difference between oppressive and pleasant humidity. A thrumming pump truck cleared out a portable toilet on a narrow lane, and the smell traveled down the lane in advance of it, on otherwise undetectable air currents. The blue in the sky made the turquoise sky of a mural look garish and implausible against it. Out on the broader street, a full white haze filled the view ahead. Up a lane again, in the courtyard of a bistro, there was full shade. A young man, absorbed in his mobile phone over his beer, allowed his cigarette ash to grow unattended. No sooner had the smoke crept out to fill the space, though, than a breeze through the hallway dispersed it. By the end of a slow plate of duck and beans, the streets outside had cooled as well. The contrast between the shadowed roadway and the bright roadway of sky above was too much for the cameraphone to balance out. A coffee shop was about to close, but had iced coffee still. "Would you like that over ice cream?" Why not. The afternoon grayed over, but a flattering late light came back through. A gibbous moon, through a loose veil of clouds, looked down on the way to the gelato-and-liquor stand.

Budapest, August 12, 2014

★★★★★ Breeze lifted the stars of the EU and Lithuania's triple stripe on the face of some building, but failed to quite unfurl the folded and misaligned parts of the horse and knight of the Lithuanian presidential banner. A green apple lay on the sidewalk, fallen from an overladen tree. Water plashed quietly in a fountain set with an obelisk, beside the basilica. The office windows were tall and wide open, letting the fresh air blow through, past drooping tree branches. Bells tolled, wheels rattled on the paving stones. The ferris wheel out on the square by the hotel played an English language audio guid to the previous city in which it had been installed. The gondola cleared the rooftops–all the same low-medium height–and discovered the hills beyond. The Danube was green. By the third turn, the interior was getting stuffy. Back down in the park, a violinist played Beatles songs indifferently. The sun shone on the dark gray stone of a building and the blond stone of the same building, where half the facade had been scrubbed clean. Late in the day, an expanse of gray-and-white scales over blue moved slowly northeast along the sky. Behind it came different tones of gray, with occasional spots of bright gold flashing through. In the night, outside a ruin bar, a wide-chested bouncer ate an ice cream treat on a stick.

Budapest, August 11, 2014

★★ The morning was bright on unfamiliarly lemon-yellow taxis and lime-green sharing bikes. A few clouds were now tempering the glare, making it eye-watering. Long bright green shoots curved up out of the darker topiary cylinders of the treetops running down the median. Indoors, in the music center, bodies overwhelmed the judicious European air conditioning. A low-grade sticky sweat, part humidity and part circadian confusion, rose and lingered. At break time, the light had grown clearer, the zenith open blue. Viewed from the roof deck, upthrust skinny poplar tops waved back and forth beside brown brick chimneys, against a stretch of blue and white. The next quarter, what must have been the west, was gray, with a dull metallic-looking sun lowering behind the clouds. Then the clouds alchemized to gold. The air was drier; a breeze pushed through the picturesque curves of the evening streets. At the open-air restaurant tables on the square outside the basilica, folded blankets sat unused on the chair backs, and the heater cords dangled unplugged. By the time the check came, though, there was almost a chill in the night.

To Budapest via Frankfurt, August 10, 2014

★★★ The moon gleamed on the wing and made the ocean pale. The disc itself was just out of view; craning the neck would produce a tiny ghost moon, floating refracted in the edge of the window through the edge of the glasses. The German cabin attendants politely declared it time that the shades go down, against the coming of the sun, even though the dinner service was still underway. Sometime later, a glow seeped into the cabin, rosier than the mood lighting. The descent into Frankfurt was between clusters of white puffs below and sheets of gray above. The airport was humid, the thermostat tuned higher than the United States standard. Out on the tarmac, on the way to the next plane, the temperature was the same. The cloud cover seemed to be enough to compensate for the sunscreen lost to hot facecloths. The Budapest plane touched down to a view of red-tinged clouds and mirror-wet runways. A pink-liveried jet stood over its pink reflection. By the time the taxis pulled away, the sun was out, the sky split between white clouds and gray ones. It was too hot for the airplane clothes. Leaves flashed silvery undersides by the roadway. Ahead in the distance was high land, a shade of blue that implied it would be green up close. A puli galloped by, a shapeless coffee-colored mass. In a bar off a narrow lane, a misting fan swept back and forth, till the sun had passed over the land and the mist grew chilly. Out in the open, the sunlight fell sideways in the faces of the soccer fans who had been waiting all day outside the hotel. The sun sank out of view and they kept waiting, hour on hour, till at last their heroes filed out of the lobby, into clamor and frenzy. Twilight came on and the entrance was still and calm.

New York City, August 7, 2014

★★★★★ The air was not so much blowing as loose all around. The river was deep blue under a clear sky, the sun sharp and bright. Misplaced priorities and tactical errors kept the afternoon's beauty as a thing half-noticed out the windows, till the commuting hour arrived, the perfection of it sharpening the regrets and then immediately putting them away in the drawer. A man stripped off his shirt and changed into a t-shirt as he walked down Lafayette, barely breaking stride. The countdown clock for the uptown 1 was making false claims, and when the train pulled in it was a lobster tank of compacted frustration and resentment. Impossible and not worth it. Time to write off the platform wait as another sunk cost and get up onto Broadway, in the light and air again. A boy played the open-air video game on the wall of the Museum of Biblical Art. People were on benches and outdoor tables and the reflection-bathed plaza of Lincoln Center, making as much of the moment as they could.

New York City, August 6, 2014

★★★★ After a foreboding moment, blue showed through the gray. It was surprisingly cool early; thin sheets of cloud took the edge off the sun, and little breezes were moving. The sidewalks were well smeared with dog shit, the rain long overdue to make up for accumulated inconsideration. Potted boxwoods awaited planting at the feet of the street trees on Broadway. Down at the river at midday, the coolness persisted. A flight of Canada geese flapped upriver, lower than the elevated roadway, seemingly intent on some distant destination. Then they came back the other way, and back again, less purposeful at every pass. At last they pulled themselves once more into a tidy V, passing so low over the pier that the hiss of air over their feathers was audible. Late in the day, the schoolyard was shaded, despite light flaring off the tops of the buildings. The two-year-old on his scooter nearly mowed down a pair of older children, and was alarmed only by the sight of their alarm. As he lobbied to stay longer, dark clouds came up abruptly, and a sharp wind sent dry leaves scraping eastward over the concrete. A few blowing raindrops helped chase the expedition home for dinner, and then the disturbance was over entirely. 

New York City, August 5, 2014

★★ Another unvaried installment of high-but-not-too-high summer. The sky was a reasonably deep blue. If the morning was short of being hot, the child riding up on the shoulders made up the difference. The river's surface lay in glossy patches, and no relief was stirring from that direction. The Times Square subway platform raised a full sweat to the surface. Downtown, the tilt of the grid made itself apparent, as sun baked the downtown side of the crosstown streets. Again the cumulus clouds migrated into the midday sky. A big one overlaid the sun, and for a while it was not hot. When the sun did return, though, it was piercing. Breezes, not exactly cool, moved now and then. A film crew maintained the street as its studio with impunity. Thunderstorms, any sort of changes, were not going to be more than a rumor in the newspaper.

New York City, August 4, 2014

★★★ Already, as the clock rounded nine, it was fiercely bright and humid. In the shade, the people waiting in their cars for the street sweeper still favored opening the windows over running the air conditioning, by a noticeable margin. The heat stayed; cumulus clouds appeared here and there. Tennis-ball-colored items coincided, glaring in the light, on the corner outside the Apple Store: a lace top, the trim on a motorcycle, striping on a pair of baggy athletic shorts. The mirrored face of the apartment tower captured a startling pileup of clouds off in the east. There would be no violent release of heat, though, no turn in the plot—just the sun descending through majestic masses of purple, the higher sky striped pink and blue. 

Aberdeen, Maryland, to New York City, August 3, 2014

★★★ The cloud light through the trees was deep green, for sleeping in and for sleeping in. A tiger swallowtail flapped and glided back and forth outside the second-floor windows. The goldfinches were the same strong yellow the early fireflies had been the evening before. A female hummingbird sipped at a plastic flower on the feeder, while the male perched on one bare curving stalk amid the swelling wave of trumpet vine. Now and again he flashed the red of his throat. Outdoors was damp, the air full of peeping and piping and trilling. Spiderwebs hung in even the broad gaps between the trees, clinging to the face and neck. The grass had surrendered; the lawn was moss, violets, clovers, plantain. Mock strawberry, mushrooms the color of varnished wood. The low growth trembled with the passing of daddy longlegs. In midafternoon, the sun came out, over the back roads leading around the first of the traffic jams on the interstate. Up out of Maryland the sky was crowded with cumulus, but with gaps of blue finding the car along the way. In Delaware, the heavens and the road were choked off together, dark gray above and hopeless dark red on the traffic-flow map. A sprinkle of rain fell on the unmoving cars. In the distance were torqued and rippling cloud shape. Squeezing finally out into New Jersey brought glimpses of blue again. The two-year-old exclaimed and pointed out the half-moon, high in the daytime. All up the Turnpike, at intervals, came flooding gorgeous light, clear on the trees and the blossoms and the parked waiting excavators. Newark Airport was submerged in an enchanted rosy glow, a fog made of light, the low-flying planes immense but phantasmal. A blue blur over Manhattan matched the pink mists to the west. Then the sun was down, the car on its way back to the parking lot, past cyclists and overspilling restaurant crowds in the lukewarm darkness. Even Times Square, the colored signs of 44th Street scattering on the humid air, looked like a pleasant place to be. The half-moon remained, sharp and white. 

New York City, July 31, 2014

★★★★ Destabilized, opening the gates for the fall from paradise. Dark gray filled the sky to the west, while the sun fought through clouds in the east. Humidity was up; the air conditioning on again. People were engrossed in their devices. A few raindrops fell along the way to the office. Then the sun rallied: light traced the old painted scrollwork on the fire escapes and the new shiny ridges on the air-conditioner cages. It shone through the primaries of a pigeon banking over Grand Street. A damp wind rippled the stained rainbow umbrellas of the fruit vendors. The afternoon air had a thick and stuffy note, compared to the distilled perfection that had come before. Heavy yellow-gray clouds moved along the zenith, with deep blue in the gaps between them. They threatened to mean something but didn't, or at least they meant nothing so simple and intelligible as a punctuating rain.