Home is where one starts from.
– T.S. Eliot – Four Quartets

My parents sold their house a few weeks ago. So at the end of June, I flew to Los Angeles to complete that weird milestone of Going Home For The Last Time. It sounds so grim when written out, but I’m talking about that thing where people go through their parents’ cupboards and rummage through their childhood home, and ask and are asked: Do you still want this? Can I have this? Can I throw that away? Should we ship this to you?

It’s just what you do when people move house or die: You put a price on your nostalgia and see if it’s worth the cost of checking an extra bag full of teddy bears and high school trophies, or shipping yourself a box of letters from your high school friends.

So I flew to Los Angeles, which I always think of as being familiar because I am technically “from” there, and then was completely startled when I arrived and it was like a different planet. Half of the radio stations were in Spanish. The men in white dress shirts and skinny black ties were not doormen – they were Mormons. Los Angeles is the kind of vortex where young women look old from the sun, and the old women look young from the surgery.

It’s a really weird place.

My parents live in a suburban Los Angeles town that is 35 miles from Downtown, and 70 miles from Santa Barbara. On a bad traffic day in LA and a good traffic day on the coast, they are essentially equidistant from either place, since everyone knows that distance in Los Angeles is measured in travel time, not in miles.  Their town used to be nothing but onion fields and spinach farms, and now, it consists of cul-de-sacs and identical, high-end strip malls as far as the eye can see.

And the evolution of the town makes sense, really. The place was founded as a junction point for California’s railroads, and the development of real estate in the area has been the primary industry of the valley since the 1870s. That it would grow from onion fields to strip malls was practically written into the town charter.

Until a few weeks ago, my parents were among the dwindling minority of their friends who still owned or lived in the same house where their kids grew up. They lived in a canyon that went up in flames every summer with the forest fires, and the hills slid with every major rainstorm. Because they were in a canyon, the coyotes and owls would come down from the hills and steal household pets. That there were earthquakes went without saying.

Essentially, they lived in Australia. If it wasn’t the land trying to take them out on the regular, the encroaching wildlife was unrelenting.

My friends remember my parents’ house as a safe haven of pool parties, and co-ed sleepovers, and a garage refrigerator full of sodas and later, beer, that the middle school boys would sneak through our doggie door to steal while we were away. Our house was a fun place to be.

But I am not sure I will miss it.

I am not sure I will miss the place where I used to have to lock up my credit cards when I came to visit from school, because my brother was using, and he’d steal them. I am not sure I want to ever go back and sit under the skylight in my parents’ massive master suite where I got ready for my first wedding. I won’t miss slinking back to that house in defeat, when it was clear my marriage was ending. I won’t miss the room I painstakingly painted to my liking when I was a tween, only to have my mother whitewash it the minute I left for school.

I will miss the memories of pool parties, and being kissed under the maple tree in the front yard, and disarming the house alarm so I could sneak out in the wee hours to go running at dawn and be back before anyone accused me of sneaking out at all.

I am not sure I will miss that house.  Because we all deserve more than just our memories. Where we began is simply where we start from. It is not where we are doomed to stay.

This is the 19th in a series of posts about New York.

There are very few things I know for certain.

I came to New York because it Seemed Like a Good Idea At The Time; because This Was Where We Found Jobs; because because because. It never occurred to me not to want to be in New York.

I stayed, sometimes, because this was where I was qualified to practice law and the thought of taking another exam or facing the prospect of not being able to fully call myself a lawyer felt too daunting. Other times, I stayed because I no longer knew my way around the places I had been before. Los Angeles had grown too rapidly and I couldn’t find my way around any more; Washington felt so comfortable but quickly became claustrophobic.

I stayed, too, because I love it here, and I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.

I’ve done all those crazy New York things you’re supposed to do – and more. I’ve lived alone and with others. I’ve kissed the wrong men in all the right places; I’ve had the best meals money can buy; I’ve danced in the clubs that no one ever gets into in a city where smoking was banned in the mid-2000s but if you have enough money for bottle service, the waiter will light your cigarette for you; I’ve been serious and silly and funny and strange. I’ve run the marathon multiple times; I’ve raced in all five boros. I’ve witnessed births and deaths and everything in between.

At the end of June, I flew back to Los Angeles and got lost leaving LAX. It was a drive I have done hundreds of times, in every possible way, on every exit, and every surface street. But somehow, I couldn’t find my way from La Cienega. And there I was, driving around Crenshaw at 11pm, frantically googlemapping myself out of deserted streets and cursing my inability to find my way on to the 405 – which was directly next to me.

I did not intend for this, you know.

It is one thing to come to New York with the intention of becoming a New Yorker, like an earnest girl fresh out of school who read Slouching Towards Bethlehem too many times. It becomes an entirely different ballgame the day you wake up and find you have actually become one.

 

They say if you live in New York for 10 years, you can officially call yourself a New Yorker. But the trained eye can always spot the ones who were born here.
– Sex and the City

This is the 18th in a series of posts about New York; a guest post by my fellow Refine Method-addict and marathoner, EMG.

It was a Tuesday morning: my first full week, third day at a brand new school. At 9:48am, the headmistress called me out of the library where I was studying for an upcoming test, almost an hour after the first plane hit the World Trade Center. Seventeen minutes later, the building where my mother worked on the 92nd floor collapsed.

My life would never be the same; New York would never be the same.

Nearly 14 years later, the city, for the most part, has recovered. I am not sure that you can say the same for me. The City has held some of my best and worst life moments. Every time I walk down the streets and visit the places that I grew up in I am reminded of the wonderful 14 years I had with my mother.

These daily reminders proved to be too much for my father who left New York four years ago. For me however, they are fresh air. They allow me to remember the good times and not to focus on what everyone tries so hard to not forget — the worst day of my life. I remember the bagels that were eaten on a Saturday morning at our local bagel shop; my mom dropping me off at school and family dinners out every Saturday.

The City is an integral part of who I am. My life would be so remarkably different if not for New York City and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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About the author
E was born and raised in Manhattan where she currently resides with her Shitzu Mr. Flip half a block from her childhood apartment. E works for the City of New York. She is a fiercely loyal friend, a creature of habit, a boutique fitness fanatic, and an avid marathoner.

This is the 17th in a series of posts about New York

Maybe you’re wondering whatever happened to Frederic – the man who was once such a major part of my New York Story.

I regret to inform you that the answer is possibly the most boring answer known to man: We became friends. Not the well-intentioned ex-lover kind, but the real kind.

Just writing that sentence makes me cringe, because the future I had in mind if the darlings ever DID make it to Mantua was either so glamourous or so horrific – nothing in between.

To recap, or for the uninitiated: Freddy and I had met at work nearly a decade ago. We had been friends, then had a fabulous, troubled, star-crossed romance at the end of our first marriages; he broke my heart when he surprised me with marrying someone who wasn’t me. The same weekend he told me he was marrying a former colleague of ours, I was hit by a car when I was out running. While in hospital, I couldn’t locate the fellow I was then-dating, which is how I found out he was cheating on me with a mutual friend’s sister (the friend had set them up).

Being a resilient woman, I made my displeasure with Everything That Happened That Weekend known by hunting silver foxes through the British Isles and (former) colonies for the ensuing few years.

Eventually, Frederic and I met for lunch at the Pool Room, where everyone who’s anyone in New York gets business done, and I Got Over It. (NB: If you ever want to convince me to do anything important, I would strongly recommend talking me through your proposal over gazpacho or crab cakes at the Four Seasons, with a side of cotton candy.)

That was it, really.

(Well, not really. Throughout the last few years, we had had a lot of open conversation about feelings, and recovery, and grown-up things – messy, yucky, ugly things. Those kinds of conversations are good for friendships but they make for terrible blog posts. Repairing trust doesn’t happen in fewer than 800 words.)

After that, we worked on a handful of professional projects together; I hired his firm to do some work for mine. We see each other frequently enough; Paul and I sent his family a Christmas card this year.

Everything is so middle-aged and normal that I keep waiting for a gotcha. We used to torture each other at every turn -trying to outsmart and outwit each other – and at our last meal together, we had a 20 minute conversation about why luxury cars weren’t what they were cracked up to be and why I was glad, retrospectively, that I no longer had my fancy English car. (Now I drive a Volkswagen.) At which point, he chimed in that he was thinking of trading in his SUV for a tricked out Ford Focus.

Apparently, the far side of the road travelled by star-crossed former lovers is done in sensible sedans?

I don’t know that this is a Happy Ending, per se, or even a typical one. I don’t think you go from standing barefoot in the ladies’ lounge at the W in Union Square telling someone to go fuck himself; to having his tongue down your throat in the elevator lobby at Bloomingdale’s; to pulling up your Jag at The Retreat at Westchester to pick him up to start his new life; to finalising mutual divorces; to watching him marry someone who isn’t you; to receiving the birth announcements for each of his beautiful children and being genuinely excited for him and his wife; to sending his family Christmas cards signed by you and your fiancé.

What this all tells me is that I don’t know much, really.

But what I do know is that this sort of thing only happens in New York.

This is the 16th in a series of posts about New York – it is adapted from an earlier post from about four years ago. The main reason it borrows content is because much of it is still true!

Whether you live in New York, or you visit New York, you will find that New Yorkers are an opinionated lot.  New Yorkers will say this not that; that not thisYankees not Mets!  Uptown not downtown!  People will tell you where to go; what to do.  But when you are a New Yorker, you find that there are certain things that you acquire, that you need, that define your experience, be they persons, places, things.

This, friends, is brief overview of the contours of the this not that of one New York experience; these are the things one woman thinks a person needs, as distilled into a list of 25 persons, places, things:

1) A brunch place where they serve good bloody marys and mimosas (I used to think “bottomless” was the right modifier here, but there was a brief period where that was potentially illegal, and then, also, I got old, and “bottomless” was no longer how I cared for my drinks); where there is outdoor seating in summer (you will pick a new place when you move house, and when you come back to your old block, you will lament how the bloody marys aren’t as strong and the eggs benedict now sucks.  But it’s you, not the place, that has changed);

2) A block on which you won’t walk because the memories are still too unpleasant;

3 ) A favourite square (my preference is always Union Square — the Greenmarket; the protests; the old and new colliding);

4) That restaurant you go to when you’re all alone;

5) That restaurant you take people to when they come to town;

6) A place to park that doesn’t cost roughly what you paid in college tuition;

7) The streetcorner on which someone kissed you until you forgot to be afraid;

8 ) A best-friend-in-the-city (this, too, may change over time…);

9) The place you were when you realized that you liked asparagus/could drink tequila/knew that she was the one/realized you wanted to leave/had some small but life-changing moment that has now become linked to your New York experience;

10) A go-to dive bar (regrettably, this may also be your brunch place);

11) A good nail salon; a hairdresser you’d recommend who doesn’t charge you a fortune; someone you trust for a wax; the place you go for a blow-out; the little secrets of your beauty routine that you give away only when asked by someone you really like;

12) A pair of flats that fits in a purse/a pair of comfortable shoes that look good with jeans – New York is a walking city;

13) A preference between the Yankees and Mets; the Giants and Jets, even if you’re lying;

14) A basic understanding of deli terminology and the ability to eat a bagel, unscooped.  Please take your scooped bagels back to Foggy Bottom or Jersey City or Santa Monica;

15) The song that reminds you of the first week you were here, and you sat in your apartment or wandered the streets wondering which way was uptown, which way was downtown; when you didn’t know how to buy food in a bodega or why the bananas at Food Emporium were…dusty; the song that brings you to your knees on lonely nights even now when you feel like your heart might burst with joy or the world might end and you remember how far you’ve come;

16) That bridge that you’ve crossed (for me, feelin’ groovy, it’s always, always the Queensborough…);

17) The New Yorker who broke your heart;

18) Your friend, the Native, who says things in the New York twang that you love because you’ve heard it in movies, but hope that you never develop no matter how long you live here;

19) The place where you go to get green juice (people are very passionate about the national vs. local varieties of green juice available here…)

20) Slipping into a dark, cool church — any church; regardless of your faith — to pray or to meditate;

21) Attending a parade in the crowd.  Pick a parade; any parade – we do parades BIG in New York City;

22) The gym or fitness studio where the instructors all know you by name – and where you have actually fought people over a mat or bike or spot at the equipment (I understand that this is not a Thing that is exclusive to New York, but the stuff we have here and the fitness culture is pretty unique);

23) The place you were the first time you danced until the New York sunrise; the place you did it again (and the judgment in your doorman’s eyes when he was the one on shift both times);

24) A friend with a dog/a friend with a car/a friend with a house outside of the city — someone with the trappings of things that are related to the life you had before you became a New Yorker: these are the ways you retain some tenuous hold on the person you were before you were this;

25) Your fire-box…the tangible New York things with which you will escape if ever you are to leave.

This is the 15th in a series of posts about New York – a re-post of an essay I wrote about four years ago. The original post is reprinted here with no editing.

When I used to live in Tribeca, non-New Yorkers would ask me “Oh, you run?  I bet you love running in Central Park!”  Back then it would irk me, even though their geographic ignorance was not their fault.

“No,” I’d say sweetly, “I prefer to run along the Hudson.”  Which was, and is still a fact, even now living only a few blocks off the Park and running it frequently; racing it most weekends.

New York, as you probably know or have surmised, is ferociously neighbourhoody, not merely in the borough-to-borough sense.  Each neighbourhood has a distinct personality, evolved and evolving over time.  Nothing is static: growth, rot, gentrification, construction — all constants.

One other thing that remains constant, and perhaps is a neighbourhood in and of itself is Central Park.

Central Park has not always existed.  It is, by historical standards, a relatively recent phenomenon.  New York traces its founding to 1624.  It wasn’t until 1844 that American poet William Cullen Bryant began to romanticise the need for a public park in New York City.  Perhaps Bryan’s words were not so much “publicity,” rather a reflection of public sentiment — by then New Yorkers had resorted to using cemeteries as public parks because there were so few green spaces left in the growing city.  In 1857, the City approved the development of a 700 acre public park, and in 1858, Frederic Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux were selected to design the space.

In 1873, Central Park (originally dubbed “the Greensward Project”) was completed.  For the first 60 years of the Park’s existence, largely due to the City’s demographics and politics, there was little interest in using the Park for its intended purpose.  But in 1934, newly-elected Republican Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia tasked Robert Moses with cleaning up the park — an effort that was, all things considered, a success.

Throughout the 20th century, the Park was not immune from the upheaval that City experienced.  The Park was opened to events in the 1960s — drawing crowds; protests; concerts — but the City lacked the expertise, budget, and general wearwithall to manage the impact.  Despite being named an historical landmark in 1963, the Park fell into serious disrepair once again, which continued throughout the late 1970s.

In 1980, the Park informally came into the managerial hands of the Central Park Conservancy — a public-private partnership that formalised their management agreement over the park in 1998 and manages the Park to this day.  (And does a fantastic job!).  The Central Park Conservancy began restoring the Park in the early 1980s, and today, the Park is the most visited urban park in the country.

Perhaps I am not alone in saying my feelings on the Park change with the seasons.

In the Winter, the Park is a tundra — the Reservoir frozen over; the surface crackled and full of mystery like an ancient skin.  The horse-drawn carriages ferry blanketed passengers like it’s something romantic, and I suppose it is in a way.  But the dirt and grime and smell of horse-shit and other people who have used those blankets make the idea very unromantic to me.

Spring has rolled directly into Summer in Manhattan the last few years but during the few Spring days, one can practically see the cartoon steam lines rising out of moist lawns.  The Spring growth brings itchy eyes and pollenshowers from every tree.  Then comes Summer with its lazy picnics and sunsoaked Saturdays with sangria secreted in under cover of Gatorade jugs.  We play games of catch until we’re too dizzy from the wine.  But beware the young couples necking; petting; going through the rituals of love behind boulders, trees.  Every Summer seems a Summer of Love — sweet, gentle love — but only until Dusk.  Because everyone knows that after dark, the Park is still the Park.

In the Fall, the Park is magical: the trees are a canopy of fire!  I used to — don’t laugh — have my hair done at the salon at Bergdorf’s and sometimes I felt like asking the stylist for silence so I could drink in the view.  (That salon was another life; is another post.)  Walking in the Park under the Autumn trees may be life’s greatest pleasure — the heady, sneezy smell of maples, elms; the peaty smell of dying grass.

November brings my favourite day of the year — Marathon Sunday.  There is no more welcome or glorious sight than Central Park on that day.  The air is crisp; the leaves are fireworks of celebration; my fellow New Yorkers are screaming my name and carrying me to the finish.  Even in the late afternoon shade, as the sun sinks into the Hudson on the other side of town, the Park glows golden that day.

Central Park, like all of New York, is glamourous, dangerous, ever changing.  It is a place where the robber barons and beggars mingle with ease.  It is perhaps not where all New Yorkers feel at home — even the most seasoned City-dwellers among us — but it is a place that is uniquely our own.

Sources: Central Park Conservancy; NYC.gov; Wikipedia: Central Park

This is the 14th in a series of posts about New York.

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Someone gave me these cards, as a gift, and I love them even though my dislike of Paris is so strong. I was in Paris in March, and it didn’t change my opinion of the place one iota.

People always want to compare places to New York. But there is no comparison, really. I travel the world every month, and I’m never tempted to stray from the city I love.