May 24, 2016
A recent moment of nostalgia before it was even over. Rowing on the pond in Central Park. Papa and his girls. Heave-ho (in French). Romy wouldn't let anyone else row.
There is no space to waste anywhere in this city, therefore so much of the space is perfected - exact. I am often stunned at the amount of style that can be packed into a small New York apartment (my brother Stephen’s 400 sq ft in the Village, for instance).
Central Park is the same story. In the greater scheme of open space, the park is just a postage stamp of green in urban New York. Yet, every turn in every trail, every vista, every line of trees, plants, flowerbed has been carefully considered, methodically sown and positioned for the years to come. Each seasonal reappearance. So packed in. Spring is staggering.
I will thoroughly miss the park – a sanctuary. My connection to natural things in metropolis – meditation while commuting.
May 17, 2016
(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.
May 10, 2016
We are moving to Aix-en-Provence, France this summer.
The pace of the project is swifter than we expected; we put our house on the market a couple of weeks ago and within about a week it was done. Made it hard to decelerate what we had set in motion.
On our recent trip to Aix, we found a house. The trip was really a house treasure hunt and we walked away feeling like we had won. It took just 3 visits and then we knew it when we caught sight of it. It is a big old bastide (~17th c.) charged with all the charm of Provence.
We are all walking away from a New York City life: stirring in all the best and worst ways – our city streets have a pulse, dynamism and force all their own. The girls don’t know suburbia and they certainly don’t know pastoral life. Their loping is limited to stretches of grass in Central Park, which, in all its splendor, still isn’t sweeping. We are all accustomed to screeching sirens and horns honking just outside our windows. We want to get closer to nature – to wild things and raw sun. I want them to know those things by heart - as a constant, not just in summer patches.
That said, we love New York City. Wet eyes when I think about really leaving. A tribute to come. It is where Xavier and I met 10 years ago, it was where all the girls were born, it is where two of my brothers and our dearest friends live, it is where we bought our amazing house – it has been our place.
When we told her,
Colette said: “We won’t live in New York City anymore?”
I replied: “No, but we love New York and may come back some day.”
Colette: “Will we look different then?... Will our friends be gone?”
I choked back lament.
They are antipodes: New York and Aix-en-Provence. A move this radical requires some serious commitment, strategy and planning. Good thing I look at Xavier and think to myself, there is not one person on earth with whom I would rather partner for a move across an ocean with small children. Xavier is completely undaunted by this sort of thing.
I have been daydreaming for a long time about this move; pining for certain things in Provence. My list is something like:
Green green grass
Sun (over 300 days a year)
My girls in the sun
Marguerite in regular doses
Bicycling on streets without taxis
A swimming pool (lifelong dream)
Our own olives for pressing
Learning to cook à la provençal (or, at all, really)
Time - stretched out with my girls and Xavier:
Time to compose photographs
Time to write
Time to play
Time to train a puppy
Time to drop Colette off at school every day
Time to get Colette and Romy started on the piano
Time to teach them to swim
Time to study their little faces long enough to watch them grow before my eyes
I am ready to give up a finance/business lexicon I was never comfortable speaking. (Although I will admit I have ambitions to one day write a play about my experiences). I have felt disconnected from myself – stretched in bad and good ways too – working in that industry. I’ve become more rigorous and less fun (I hope to coax that side of me back out) and I’ve worn a serious expression far too much of the time I spent there (6 years!). Those years helped build structure for things to come – including some components of this move, so I don’t regret them.
Maybe we are pushing our luck with this whole thing - but we are 100%. Provence, here we come.
May 2, 2016
Romy and Colette have finally been playing. Interacting without anyone necessarily getting hurt (Romy). Mostly it goes like this:
Colette: "Come here my little one. Sit down here. Take this. Be good my little one."
Romy: "OK mama"
Colette: "I'm not your mama. I am Lily (or Alexa or Samantha or babysitter)"
Romy: "Ok Lily"
Colette: "Don't cry my little one. Take this umbrella; it is going to rain today. Now you be good today while I am gone."
Romy: Making baby noises, "OK mama."
Colette: "I am not your mama!"
Romy is asserting herself a lot more. She screams back at Colette what Colette is screaming. It shocks Colette – she stares at Romy with disbelief: her expression reads, “Sheer audacity!” But Romy carries on being cheeky.
Romy is also living up to her age. Everything is about independence. “That is my decide,” she announces when she thinks it is her turn to choose. She has also taken a strange liking to chicken. We actually rarely eat it, but when asking her what she would like to eat, invariably she responds, “chicken” (sounding like her French papa with a ‘cheeken,’ a hard e sound where the i goes).
Romy continues to take hard falls – undaunted by fear. Xavier wonders why she doesn’t learn to be scared, but I think the thrill of ascending just dominates. Paired with her triumphant/showy little laugh when she gets to the top, it is a good show.
She has also gotten into the bad habit of going silent and getting into trouble (des bêtises - as branded by her papa). e.g. smearing desitin all over her favorite stuffed animals. The soft fur of the penguin, her own hair and face totally covered. Now when we change Romy’s diaper, she says with sincere eyes and nodding head for emphasis, “Cream for Romy’s skin, not for animals. Not for fur.” We emphatically agree.
One morning last week, I was dropping Colette off at school. It was a frenzied morning, where sock seams and the milk level in the cereal bowl were all wrong. I had an early meeting and was already going to be late, so was taking little micro breaths trying to keep the pressure I felt in. Finally got out the door, up the hill, around the corner and into the school. I walked Colette to the central drop-off spot for her class and as she entered the space, all the kids lining the benches of the lunch tables started chanting,
"C O L E T T E,
C O L E T T E,
C O L E T T E..!"
The stress instantly cleared. Big smile on both our faces - Colette's teacher's too. Such a great start to a day.
A great Colette quote recently: "Can I feel my soul in my chest? (Concentrating) Oh! I think I felt it - kind of jumpy in there."
She's also been asking about death. One good question on the subject: "Is bumpy or smooth?"
Good news. Bindia is back. I frequently find Colette in intense conversation with someone. Arguing, but there are pauses for a response to the points she is making. One time I asked her who she was talking to: "Bindia. She is back! I don't see her anymore, but I do hear her. All Bindia talks about is poop now," (with a disappointed expression).
Colette is a very serious artist.
Our grande Marguerite – leading them all. Tall and lithe, lines of a dancer, she headed back to Paris this weekend after one of her visits. Colette dreams of time with Marguerite, imagining moves she wants to show her or dreaming up how Marguerite might react to an idea. After Marguerite headed to the airport, Romy spent all day yesterday asking where Marguerite was. In the middle of the night, “Where is Marguerite?” Vanishing act – after good time together.
One Saturday morning we went down to the kitchen and found all three girls sitting, eating breakfast together. Marguerite had quietly herded everyone down the stairs, gathered the bowls and spoons and served cereal to her sisters. Xavier and I stared at each other, raised our eyebrows and said bravo! She had also unloaded the dishwasher. Loves order. Wonder where that comes from.
I love the 10-year old moment – curious, super creative, dying to help and so sweet. Especially Marguerite. She is really delightful. Memorizing beautiful French poetry and gracefully dancing along. I marvel at her independence, her emotional balance. We celebrated her birthday with a treasure hunt and her good New York French friend, Brune.
Colette is convinced Brune’s name is Broom and can’t be persuaded otherwise.
A great moment from the birthday sleepover with Brune. We were eating rotisserie chicken for dinner (a rare, fulfilling moment for Romy).
Colette: Why are there bones?
Brune: We have to kill the chickens to eat them
Colette: So they are not alive, Broom?
Marguerite and Brune: No.
Colette: But how do we kill them?
Brune: With a pistol
Marguerite: NO! We just break their necks
Colette: (crying) OK I am not eating chicken then
Romy chimes in: Cheeken
Xavier and I just sat shaking our heads.