May 17, 2016
A Farewell to Our House.
(Beautiful photos of the house by Stephen Johnson)
The story of our house in Harlem is a story of pure grit. Xavier is made of it. When we moved back to New York from Paris in 2010 he was convinced we needed to buy a house in Harlem. I was not. I was adamant about being free, unattached. Spending my money on travel and experience, not on something literally immobile. I was convinced my priorities were right and his were both old-fashioned and extreme.
Our house has turned out to be the best investment we may ever make in our lives. Six years ago, before Colette and Romy came along, I had no idea what the house would come to mean to us.
In the early days, I felt swallowed up by the space. Whole sections of the house were almost cordoned off – just ask my brother Marc, who occupied the third floor. We never went up there. The first winter, the house felt cold and drafty and Harlem was a world I didn't want to come to know yet.
Xavier persistently examined each corner of the house, deciding how to proceed. He vanquished all of it, tackling every surface in the house – drenched with sweat and grime, carrying on long after I dropped off to bed at night. The remarkable part is what he was doing was pure restoration – not renovation or gutting or replacement.
This house welcomed our babies’ tiny souls and has contained moment after moment of their and our unfolding: chalkboard drawings of family portraits and chateaux; piles of stuffed animal kingdoms; doudous hidden away inside secret cabinets; dreams of snow and sledding; the ghost of Mr. Hamilton looming across the street; tulips, peonies and cherry blossoms; Marguerite’s “Boite aux Lettres” (mailbox) – outside her bedroom door (into which I would drop goodies late after work); the arrival of new sisters; bubbles in the backyard; Colette's tantrums and wit in almost every zone; Romy’s giggles; leaps and pounding and sister shrieking; bath water bursting beyond the tub; rolls of 1920 player piano jangles setting little bodies to motion; backyard bulbs; shadow puppets; soft tales of Maisy Mouse and Mike Mulligan and the Little Red Light House; January galettes des rois parties; Thanksgiving celebrations; birthday balloons; bathroom tiles; oversize Christmas trees; Totoro; séances under the gas chandelier; our Star Wars Halloween; dressup; couch bouncing; sits on the front stoop; sun baths on the roof; shoe shining with Papa; secrets in the window seat; backyard payphone calls; thunder storms booming; Colette's 'hello to the sky' tribute to the universe; our Harlem community garden across the street; hide and seek – little bodies under furniture, beds, in closets, cupboards.
These are the moments that made our house great – that transformed the space and made it a character in our lives and not just an immobile investment. I’m converted to Xavier’s outlook. Our solace is knowing we are going to do the same thing in another place, with another house. Knowing that Romy, Colette and Marguerite’s spirits will leaven the house and make it animate is enough inspiration to jump off this cliff.
As a goodbye, we are having all the neighborhood kids come for a final game of hide and seek. Colette’s idea.