“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had the familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”
-F. Scott Fitzgerald
June 19, 2012, Washington, DC: In June 2011, I embarked on a year-long project that would bring me back to each of my hometowns to learn more about the places I’d lived. There were many that had shaped me — from Montreal and Toronto to San Francisco and New York — and I wanted to get a good feel for their geography, their people, their neighborhoods and their pulses. I also wanted to examine, broadly speaking, why people live where they do and what makes a place feel like home. With ample vacation days, multiple frequent flyer tickets, many tanks of gas, several bicycles, and a few good pairs of walking shoes, I covered extensive ground in twelve months. The project, Neighborhood Nomad, is documented on this blog, derived from a love of travel and a longstanding obsession with the power of place.
The study came full circle this weekend, ending up where it started on a Virginia vineyard. And so with the advent of summer comes an opportunity to revisit the year I spent traveling back to my former neighborhoods. I’ve come miles from one year ago, and I’ve logged all of them in hopes of better understanding the places we called home.
Read on for a chronological overview of this year’s travels back home…
“Even when the east excited me most, even when I was keenly aware of its superiority to the broad, sprawling, swollen towns beyond the Ohio, with their interminable inquisitions which only spared children and the very old -even then it had always for me a quality of distortion. ”
-F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
May 21, 2012, Washington, DC: The traffic piles up on Friday afternoon at 2 p.m. approaching Bridgehampton. By dinnertime in Amagansett, the Meeting House on the square is full, families and old friends stuffed in tight beneath golden light, sharing beet salads and mussels and sipping good wine. They’ll work it off tomorrow at one of the many Pilates or yoga studios in East Hampton, maybe try on the stunning clothes hanging in the store windows along the way. They’ll wear them well, I assure you.
Late at night, music booms from the Stephen Talkhouse, where bouncers will charge a $10 cover on Friday and $20 on Saturday. The cab fare home and a morning omelette at Babette’s will be pricy, like you never left Manhattan.
Welcome to the Hamptons, where the crowds have arrived, the people are gorgeous and the costs are steep. It’s not even Memorial Day.
“If the future is going to be greener, then it must be more urban. Dense cities offer a means of living that involves less driving and smaller homes to heat and cool. Maybe someday we’ll be able to drive and cool our homes with almost no carbon emissions, but until then, there is nothing greener than blacktop.”
-Edward Glaser, Triumph of the City
March 31, 2012, New York: I recently read both Edward Glaser’s Triumph of the City and David Owen’s Green Metropolis. They both make the case that city living is a wise environmental choice — both argue that city dwellers tendencies to live small, walk more, and reuse spaces we already occupy rival choices to head for the hills in order to live an environmentally friendly lifestyle.
Still, city dwellers yearn for the green spaces and breaths of fresh air so readily available out there in our natural landscapes. Lucky for them, there are more and more efforts to bring the outdoors in to the urban equation.
I think about these initiatives this afternoon as we make our first visit to Manhattan’s massive recycling project known as the High Line.
February 5, 2012, Washington, DC: Allegiance. Rivalry. Loyalty. Pride. They are big, heavy, meaty words. They are words that will bring grown men to tears tonight while others strike a match, light a cigar, and exhale with a certainty that says they never had a shred of doubt in their hometown team. In this endless tale of two cities, several members of my family will feel the weight of defeat on tonight’s air in the town they call home. Several other members of my family with swell with pride in their winning city.
“An ardent supporter of the hometown team should go to a game prepared to take offense, no matter what happens.”
January 22, 2012, Washington, DC: You know the drill. The remote control is out of your hands. The television volume quickly rises through the roof. Bets are placed. Competition is underway. There’s yelling. If your family is anything like mine, this reminds you of home.
“I carry the place around the world in my heart but sometimes I try to shake it off in my dreams.”
-F. Scott Fitzgerald on New York
November 17, 2011, Washington, DC: Last weekend wore me out. For the past few nights, I’ve come home from work unable to write and unable to think. New York is tiring.
But it’s tiring for all the right reasons. In one weekend, we saw nearly twenty percent of our wedding guests, dined and celebrated with immediate and extended family, ran into an old friend at one in the morning, made treks up to Columbia and out to Brooklyn, and descended back into another hometown.
There are so many reasons to love New York City it’s downright exhausting.
If we lived here again, could we keep up? Would our pace slow to a semblance of sanity if we didn’t have to pack it all into a weekend? Or would the city still whisk us away?
“There is no question there is an unseen world; the question is, how far is it from midtown and how late is it open?”
November 13, 2011, New York: I went back to school this weekend. After ten years away from Morningside Heights, I returned to the New York neighborhood in which I lived as a college student. My husband came along for the trip down memory lane.