Wednesday, March 25, 2009

New York: It is a Village.

I didn't spend any time in New York from 1982 to 2005. Then Lee and I came for a few days, popped into the Chanel exhibit at the Museum and went home after our share of good food and a bad fight between us that I will never forget. I think I threw a jar of skin cream. (Fortunately, we were outgrowing fighting at that point.) If you had told me I'd be living here only three years later, I would have thought you were wacky. I never, ever thought about living in New York. I thought about Charleston, SC, Florence, Italy, Santa Barbara, Boston - that's about it for my "where I might want to live" list.

Never New York. Too big, too bustling, too much of a steel and concrete colored swirling whirlpool of activity, most of which I couldn't navigate even if I had a GPS implanted in my brain. Everyone who lived in New York could surely out-compete me on any and every front, including fashion, business, wealth, connections, talent, looks and shoes. Especially shoes. I still wear Dansko clogs. They would also have that unique cheeky chutzpah that New Yorkers are known for and which I would have to work a lifetime to develop. I still want people to like me. New York could not be for me.

Well, destiny had its own plans for us and, now that I am here, I feel differently. We live in a village. We live in one square mile. Or at least Lee does. I am more of a rambler. I leave the neighborhood for pleasure and adventure, but Lee honestly has not left the neighborhood (which I define as one square mile) more than 4 times since last fall - usually at my urging.

Here are the facts: Work - 3 blocks. Endocrinologist - 4 blocks. Internist - 4 flights down (yes, really the same building that we live in.) Lenox Hill Hospital where he spent 3 days with pneumonia in January - 4.5 blocks. Walgreens - 6 blocks. Liquor store - 2 blocks. UPS - 2 blocks. Metropolitan Museum of Art - 1.5 blocks. New York Society Library - 2 blocks. Groceries - as far as the phone - Delivery with Fresh Direct. If, of course, he wants to pick something up, all over. My favorite for meat and seafood, Citerella, is 8 blocks. My yoga - 8 blocks. Oren's Daily Roast - 3 blocks. Laundry - 4 doors down. Framer - 1/2 block. Movie theatres - 8 blocks. Restaurants - everywhere you want one. Central Park - 2 blocks. Florist - all over. Okay, my church is at 51st and Park. I get on a train for 3 stops and walk one block. But Lee doesn't go so this still means he's staying in this one square mile!

What's the point? I think for me the point is how much you can learn from a place when you give it a chance, how set we are in our ideas of a place, of a culture, how negative we can be before we really try something. Lee said to me last week, "You know, I'm so surprised how much I love it here. It is such a rich city."

Of course, I'm thrilled because I happen to be having the same experience and my 23-year old son moved here last summer, too, and LA was my other choice, which, even after giving it a three year chance, I couldn't bear it. LA is no village. It is a nightmare. (This only proves that giving something a chance does not guarantee it will work, but you will surely learn something about a place and yourself.)

New York is a series of villages and people who live in the villages, whom you come to recognize, to smile at, people who take pride in their associations, in their neighborhoods and show some modicum of interest in you even if you aren't from here. It is a city of people who love to be out and about. They both care about how they look and they don't. Walking, walking, walking. All year round. They are very proud of being a New Yorker and they love to tell you what they know about the city. They tend to keep their word and mean what they say. Our neighbor, Janet, who has lived in our building for 40 years, asked, "Do you know about the 79th Street Library? I must take you for a tour." She wasn't kidding. She called yesterday and took us today and it is wonderful and we will become members and use it happily, a new link in our life as New Yorkers.

It is a city where you kind of need to join things - a church, a synagogue, a library, a cause, a club, a museum. They are identities and social networks in a city where your identity will be squashed like a Minnesota mosquito buzzing around your head on a hot summer night if you don't recreate it regularly. So we do. We try new things, go to new places, meet new people, (and happily hang out with some new Minneapolis friends,) soak up the people and ideas that have more to teach us than we have to teach them. Don't get me wrong; I am grateful to have Lee to share this with. I wouldn't want to do it alone at my age. But, together, we are sponges. Sponges living in a tiny village called New York.

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