Are You City or Country???

city mouse vs country mouseSome things about yourself change during a lifetime , others remain remarkably consistent. But then, some day you are likely to find, as I have,  that what had pleased you so consistently doesn’t bring as much pleasure as it once had.

I knew I was a “bi” before there was a name for it. I fancied myself part city mouse and part country mouse.  Maybe a little more city.  Now that I’m “older,” the life of the country mouse seems more appealing than ever and the city mouse routine is loosing ground.

City Mouse

My original city side liked the glamour, the energy, the cutting edginess of the big city.  I was particularly enamored  by the style, and the diversity of choices.  The city made my mind expand with ideas and experiences that I’d seldom, if ever, find outside the city..

When I was a teenager about to travel into NYC, I would think carefully about to wear.

city slicker

No matter how carefully I chose the outfits, in my own mind, I never made the grade. Now, I feel pretty comfortable in my own skin, and NYC has grown a lot more casual and forgiving.

At last, I don’t much care what other women are wearing, because it’s simply become irrelevant. By the time you’re in your 70’s, you’ve become largely invisible to the world of fashion, and have been for decades. That can make shopping challenging, but it’s also liberating.

Regarding the Big City world of food, I believed religiously that there was no place  better to eat than in NYC.  Now, I continue to enjoy the restaurants here, but detest the noise that literally bounces off the walls and floors.  Tables are too close together in this land of precious real estate.  Conversation can quickly become impossible if there are more than two people sitting next to you.  It’s then a game of endurance and the pleasure is gone.

Once restricted to Jewish environs, bagels are now available  just about everywhere. As youth, coming to NY meant eating a classic corned  beef or pastrami on rye.  Now, attempting that feat is an invitation to indigestion that could last and torture for an entire afternoon.

pastrami

OK, for live theatre, dance, and museums, NYC is unbeatable, but now there’s lots of inspiration online too.

For me, there’s too much ugly concrete. Too many buildings with the name TRUMP on them. Way too much traffic.  Too many luxury apartments towering over the city.  Too many people. Too many close calls.  On a daily basis, I come close to getting run over, be it from a reckless taxi driver turning into the pedestrian crossing or from a hell bent bicyclist riding the wrong way down a one-way street.

Country Mouse

So, I guess it’s no surprise that when we took an overnight trip to the NW Connecticut countryside, it felt like entering paradise. Here, the true charms of early summer easily revealed themselves.

Fields and meadows of waving grasses.  Green and deep woods. Deserted two lane country roads that insistently whisper, follow me.

daisies

By the ponds, marshes and lakes. Admire the wildflowers clamoring for attention during their brief growing season. Vines of wild raspberries and blackberries, clumps of daisies, pale pink clusters of mountain laurel, forests of ferns, all vying with each other for the title of Best in Show.  My country side mouse was grateful for the relief from the turmoil of the city. Deep breath in.

mountain laurel

And last, but not least, there is the quiet. Quiet. Quiet, only interrupted by the gusts of wind in the trees and the birdsong.  Deep breath out.

Green was the silence, wet was the light,
the month of June trembled like a butterfly….
~Pablo Neruda

THE GYPSY STILL IN MY SOUL, PART TWO.

MOVING ON FROM GEORGIA

Brutus:
There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.

Julius Caesar Act 4, scene 3, 218–224

I had to memorize these  lines in order to walk into English class in 10th grade .  I can still recite them verbatim. It might have been the most important thing I learned in high school.  Shakespeare’s words made it very clear that opportunity doesn’t knock twice and you can expect a steep penalty if you ignore opportunity when it presents itself.   I took those lines to heart and listened to Brutus.

After a decade living in Georgia, I urged my husband to take a position with a young company in CA. When the offer came through,I instantly knew this was just the kind of opportunity Brutus had in mind.  It seemed like a now or never proposition, if we were ever to move away.

CALIFORNIA, HERE I COME

Friends in Georgia asked us how we could move to a place that had earthquakes. That was mild compared to what our friends in the NorthEast had to say before we moved to Georgia!  It turned out, to my horror, that Georgia was smack in the middle of Tornado Alley. After living through a devastating and terrifying tornado, I decided you’re at risk for one catastrophe or another just about anywhere.

We moved to the relatively young town of Thousand Oaks, CA. in 1981.

In the early 80’s it was the land of endless Farrah Fawcett haircuts and butt-hugging dolphin shorts, ticky tacky suburban housing developments, large shopping malls and mega churches.  It was a pretty, but sterile and politically conservative town. Businesses had names like You are Hair, and Thanks a Latté.

People liked to say it was a good place to raise children. I guess that was because it was pretty, sterile and politically conservative.   It seemed to epitomize every cliché I’d ever read about Southern CA.  Within a year, my pre-adolescent smart-ass kids  took to calling it Thousand Jokes, CA.  I never came up with anything better.

dolphinfarah

I reached my limit with this location during the first Gulf War. The knee jerk patriotism became intolerable.  Within hours of the initial US strikes on Iraq, our house was the only one in our neighborhood without a boisterous American flag.  My chest was one of the few not emblazoned with the stars and stripes. Time to move on.   The day we moved, I drove down the driveway of our Thousand Oaks home for the final time and felt nothing but relief.

patriotic sweatshirt

Our next stop was Santa Barbara, just up the California coast.  I’d been attracted to it for many years. It met all my criteria for an ideal place to live.

sb

It has ocean, mountains, and a university.  It’s not too large, but is within driving distance of a large city. It’s got a strong sense of place and a strong sense of community. It hasn’t disappointed me. It can get insular and small townish, but the positives more than make up for the negatives.  Each time I return after being away, I’m happy to be home.

I’m quite sure that I won’t be initiating any more major moves.  I’ve lost the desire or energy to start over someplace new.

That said, without fail, visits to Japan renew a child-like state of wonder, discovery and delight in learning.  It’s been that way since my first visit in 1983. I delight in the warmth and kindness of the people, the celebration of the seasons, the scrupulous attention to detail and the intrigue of living in a place where there is much that remains mysterious.

Wandering the lanes, the gardens, the temples and the shops, the lyrics of Gypsy in My Soul, still ring true, particularly in the phrase, “my heart has wings.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

THE GYPSY IN MY SOUL, PART ONE

FIRST STEPS:   PART ONE.

As a child, I became a gypsy at Halloween almost every year.

As a young adult, there was still some gypsy spirit that remained lurking within.

This cool tune provided a background theme song for my life in high school and college. During high school, I fancied myself a wanna- be free spirit, trapped in a dull conservative, blue-collar, New England mill town that was on its way downhill.  Intuitively, I knew I needed to get the hell out if I didn’t want to go down with the ship.

abandon

I eagerly left grim Western Mass. behind me for a new and more glamorous existence in college at the University of Miami.  I quickly fell in love with the carefree sunny tropical vibe of South Florida. I’d spend weekends on Miami Beach with few thoughts of the future.  It took determination and focus to acquire a good tan.  Gypsy in my Soul continued as a part of my musical sing to self repertoire. 

On rare occasions, I’d convince a current boy friend to hit the road for a long and leisurely drive to the then, exotic, unspoiled Florida Keys. That improbable two lane highway floats between the aquamarine waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the turquoise Gulf of Mexico.  Driving that road at sunset, I gasped at Nature’s extravagant display as the still waters reflected the  towering clouds of a late summer Florida afternoon . That experience bordered on the spiritual.

keys sunset

My parents used to tell  me I had “shpilkes,”because I stayed on the move whenever the opportunity presented itself..

For my yiddish-challenged readers:

DEFINITIONS

  • nervous energy, restlessness. Lit. ‘pins’

EXAMPLE SENTENCES

  • “Sit still!”, said Gwen. “I can’t, I’ve got the shpilkes,” responded Marti.

NOTES

Pronounced SHPEEL-kuhs, SHPEEL-kiss, or SHPEEL-keys. Made famous within English by Mike Myers in the Saturday Night Live skit “Coffee Talk.”

 I think my parents were correct.

tuchas

The Broadway song that celebrates shpilkes is a tune from the show Gypsy. I sang Some People with the same enthusiasm and vigor as Ethel Merman or Patti LuPone.  I sang it as if it had been written for me. Every once in a while, I roll it out for an enjoyable, if dated, reprise.

At one point in my college life, as I listened to Ravel’s Bolero blasting on my  hi-fi, I read a Life magazine cover story about the allure of Big Sur, I tried to convince my best friend that she and I should ditch school and hitch to the West Coast.  She convinced me it wasn’t the best plan. As a young woman of that era, I did not have the guts to take that adventure by myself. That was a road not taken. The truth is, I hung somewhere between my desire to be a wild child and the reality of my conservative, nice Jewish girl upbringing.  Big Sur remained out of reach.

big sur

MOVING ON

I moved from the NorthEast to Athens, Georgia, in the 1970’s, when my husband accepted a position on the faculty at the University of Georgia. For the nine years that I lived in Athens, I was  cautious about venturing outside of the city limits. Experience had taught me that in rural Georgia, as soon as anyone heard me speak,  I’d immediately be branded a damn Yankee and a Jewish one at that. In the eyes of a certain kind of suspicious Southerner, I imagined they expected me to sprout devil horns at any moment. I went so far as to announce to my husband, that if I were to die in Georgia, he must promise not to bury me there. I needed to make another move.  Far away.

jerish devil 2To be cont’d:  Part Two