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Bethany Beach, Delaware, August 19, 2014

★★★★ The morning was gray and dripping, even as the information online declared that there was a zero percent chance of rain. Gradually things brightened; the deck dried out. Still there was little beach-bound foot traffic. The seven-year-old went out to blow bubbles in what was now sunshine, exhorting them to fly over the roof of the building closer to the ocean. The sea at high tide was the color of wine bottles and the color of cobalt, deep beautiful tones, and deliciously warm, and much too rough to try swimming in. Letting the breaking sandy foam rush past, waist high and above, was the least alarming way of savoring it. There was no chilly shock—it felt as if it were warmer than the air, though it couldn't have been. The children dug in the sand and refused to go near the water. Bright white little shells emerged, their edges eroded away. At sundown the sky was crocheted with silver and purple, with the sun a big smear of wet gold paint in the west. Kites hung above the dunes, fluttering and seemingly secure there, till one plunged nose-first out of view. The breeze smelled salty. Glasses of white wine sweated on the edge of a balcony overlooking the boardwalk. The west went through various more or less lurid colors, arriving at last at scarlet.

Bethany Beach, Delaware, August 18, 2014

★★★★ Sun found the splinter or stray cactus spine in a finger, a tiny golden spark for the tweezers (turning to avoid the tweezer-shadows) to surround and snuff. Pine cones lay everywhere; the two-year-old had to be dissuaded from expanding his collection of them to three and beyond. The ocean was rougher than before, with chunks of seaweed in it and a bobbing lump of foam garbage, but out beyond the churn it was still soothing to float in. At the trolley stop in the afternoon, the sun experimented with severity, but was mollified by a cloud. A rabbit sprinted alongside the trolley for a few strides, then veered off. The trolley rolled past trim, modest houses, then past an unfinished ostentatious house. A cool breeze blew through the wooden interior.  A hawk flapped by with one wing notched by a missing primary. Out on the boardwalk, the air moved in warm and cold layers, like the water. The two-year-old went on a stomping run, xylophonic footsteps advancing down the boards. Across from the concrete pillars of the seaside hotel construction site, two goldfinches, plumage unreal in its schematic boldness, perched on bobbing grass stems at the crest of the dunes.

Bethany Beach, Delaware, August 17, 2014

★★★★ Blue gaps opened in the cloud cover. The little glimpse of ocean off through the pines was gray. The sun burned through on the way to the farmer's market, making the walk back bright and hot enough for the children to complain about. Out on the beach, the waves spread cool air as they broke. Now the water was the green of good olives, and where it broke it was the green that appears now in late-rmodel cars. The swells were gentle, though people still swarmed the water with their artificial floating planks, sub-surfboards, as if some excitement might happen. A wind roared over wet ears on the way back up onto the shore, and a gust uprooted the beach umbrella and flung it five or ten yards, where it hit a stranger from behind. Inland, crape myrtles were in bloom on the supermarket lot. Even on the barren asphalt, the heat was less than painful. A gray cloud moving through the blue released a drop or three of rain as the grill smoked and fought to get going. The wind kept the smoke moving to every quarter. The clouds drifted briskly. A pile of them out to sea began to turn purple and gold.

Budapest, August 14, 2014

★★★ Dark, rippling clouds overspread the city. The trees tossed. Then rain streaked the balcony doors and the sun came out. People walked under umbrellas in the sunshine, casting umbrella-shadows on the wet pavement by the square. Then the sun and rain were gone again and it was chilly, surprisingly so. A sport jacket, pulled on at the last minute for appearance and in case of air conditioning, was an unseasonable necessity. In the middle of a panel discussion, inside a covered-over courtyard, rain lashed the roof so violently that faces peered upward at the sound. The noise moderated a bit and then surged back, again and again, like the first blast of a storm repeating. Water clattered down the galvanized drainpipes, now indoors and flanking the stage. It was a long time before it subsided. The chill was deeper than any European climate control; a couple of people wrapped their bodies in the blankets that had been left folded on the backs of the chairs. Outside, the rain was dripping. Walking in it was possible, looking warily at the sky, letting a scowl be one's umbrella, affirming one's basic consent to be rained on—this much, and no more, as if an admonitory look would warn off any escalation. Nevertheless it did escalate, gently, until the balconies stacked overhead began to provide noticeable islands of shelter. Finally it stopped again, and light from the west lavished attention on all the details that the builders had lavished their attention on. Bright things gleamed on the dark dome of the basilica. The illuminated city posed dramatically under the heavy gray sky, and then the darkness gave up and fell apart into silvery shreds on blue. 

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.