Park Slope is like the Island of the Lotus Eaters. Decide to leave and it offers up delight upon delight. Suddenly there will be a thousand reasons why now is not the time.
In the dark night of my soul I have already missed Park Slope. I miss the thing I thought I would miss the least: Two Boots. I miss the cob salad, the undersized, over-filled, warm wine glasses and the reassuring thought that it was always there as a last resort, like watching reruns of Seinfeld or joining the French Foreign Legion.
When I told people I know that we’d decided to leave Park Slope, there was a certain degree of incomprehension, especially when I explained it was not to move to Portland, Seattle or Montclair but to the Finger Lakes of Central New York. This is not something people do as a rule. They mainly move to places that are as much like the Slope as possible.
There is a recurring thread on the Park Slope Parents list in which someone asks, “where is the Park Slope in _________? and everyone chimes in with the names of similar communities around the country. There’s even one in the Finger Lakes: Ithaca.
But we did not move to Ithaca. We moved about an hour north west to Geneva, New York, a little town at the top of Seneca Lake that is home to Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Cornell’s Agricultural Experiment Station and Red Jacket Orchards. It’s the kind of place where people say “heck” instead of “hell”, thank you earnestly for donating part of your change to cancer research and look genuinely crushed if you don’t.
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with other slope-like communities or with Park Slope itself. On the contrary. Winding up in Park Slope after we moved from London 13 years ago felt like winning the lottery.
We found ourselves in the most beautiful neighborhood of the greatest city in the world. And the people – so many talented people! Where else would parents from two local elementary schools win Academy Awards for best documentary? Some days it seemed like every second person I met was an author, an artist or a journalist. And everyone else was just very bright.
The problem, however, was that the constant work-arounds that are the prerequisites for life in the city began to wear us down, especially after we had kids. By the weekends we were too knackered to do much but sort the recycling and fall asleep in front of Netflix. Moving to Geneva appealed to us for a number of reasons.
The house was one. We bought a modernist barn conversion on five acres of wooded property for much less (obscenely less) than the cost of anything in Brooklyn or surrounding areas. In Geneva it’s hard to find anything over 300k. It has stone floors and a groovy wet bar and a library. It has oodles of room in which to lose the children and a wall of windows that allows us to curl up by the fire to watch the snow fall.
The lower cost of living was attractive too. Almost everything costs less – except dry cleaning. Dry cleaning, or “cry cleaning”, as I now call it is ridiculous. Yoga and Zumba (why is it always Zumba??) classes cost a whopping $5 per session at the local fitness studio. Most importantly perhaps, we are lucky that our jobs evolved to allow us to work from home. The economy in Central New York has been depressed for a long time so local jobs are not always easy to find unless you happen to be a scientist, a college lecturer or a wine maker.
Finally we liked that it wasn’t Park Slope in the Finger Lakes. It was less predictable, not just shades of blue, but red, blue and all the sometimes surprising shades of purple in between.
Of course I should admit that most of this rationale emerged after we bought the house. We embarked upon our journey to the center of New York in a frenzy of emotional impetuousness that took nearly half a decade to settle into a coherent plan. I spent most of the first few years of our adventure apologizing to people in Geneva for parachuting in and to people in Park Slope for disappearing to the Finger Lakes on every significant weekend. My standard line was “we’ve done this crazy thing…” and then I’d twitch and mumble something about liking Geneva and being used to the drive. It was almost a text book example of how not to do things and yet it had its advantages, chiefly that it got us out of the Slope.
Park Slope is like the island of the lotus eaters. Decide to leave and it offers up delight upon delight. Suddenly there will be a thousand reasons why now is not the time. Leaving in Spring is out because you’d miss the cherry blossoms and the baseball parade. Summer won’t work because Celebrate Brooklyn has THE BEST LINE UP YET. You couldn’t possibly leave in Autumn because it is – hands down – the most exquisite season of all. Who would willingly miss the trees ablaze with color, the nip in the air and the crunch of leaves on bluestone.
You could move in winter of course, except that would be insane, and you’d never get out anyway because they don’t plow the streets. Add to these concerns to the specter of losing your parking place and it’s a wonder anyone ever goes at all.
On the flip side of all the attractive things about the slope is the fear of trying something new. There’s always the risk that it won’t work out, that it will all go horribly wrong that you and your family will be miserable. Let’s face it, nobody wants to be one of those unfortunate families who move to New Jersey only move back a few months later, wiser but poorer.
It’s no wonder some people suffer a failure of nerve. One couple I know backed out at the last hour even though they had offers for their apartment above their asking price and another family own a house in New Jersey they can’t bring themselves to move into!
Rushing head-long into buying our house forced us to be some place else, to see different people and made the prospect of leaving more imaginable. We still felt the fear of course. When bears started passing through town a few years ago, my fear became a bear stalking my children. I began casually watching episodes of Hunter and Hunted on the National Geographic Channel just in case.
I have wondered about this fear, which became more intense as our moving date approached. Perhaps it’s only natural to fear change? Maybe anxiety about moving increases exponentially with age, children and real estate added to the mix. Or maybe it has something to do with the times we live in, when Americans have balkanized into communities of commonality and lifestyle which make the distance between Portland and Park Slope seem less than the gulf between Park Slope and Staten Island.
Then again, perhaps its not fair to draw comparisons between leaving New York City and anywhere else. I remember the feeling of elation when I moved here back in the 1980’s. I could barely make my rent, and there were weeks when I lived on not-so-famous Ray’s New York oily pizza slices but I loved every thing about it. My heart beat faster every time I walked to work. I loved the way steam rose from the grates. I loved the sour smell of hot summer sidewalks and the tongue-singeing heat of over boiled deli coffee in blue and white cups. I still do.
I lived in Park Slope briefly then too. I’d walk around the neighborhood at twilight stealing glances into the windows of the brownstones on 3rd street imagining what it would be like to live in one. In that sense, leaving is not so much moving house as ending a love affair.
I would never want to be in the position of arguing that people should leave Park Slope or that one place is better than the other. If I won the lottery today I would split our time between both places (and London – but that’s another story). Still, It seems to me that really great loves stay with us where ever we go and it would be a shame to miss the beauty of the forest because of a few bears.
In the very early morning while the rest of our household sleeps, I like to slip out on our side deck with my coffee and scan the woods. The big cotton wood tree sounds uncannily like the ocean when it sways in the wind. Cardinals and yellow finches dart and swoop and call. No bears yet.
Nancy McDermott, late of Park Slope lives and works in Geneva, New York.