Wednesday, January 17, 2007

On houses, schools, and Brooklyn

Researcher that I am, my mother is in town and this week she and Dave and I are looking schools public and private. Last week Dave and I looked at houses in Amherst, and next week I hope to look at some more, both in and out of Amherst. Maybe it's the reporter in me: Research helps me feel safe, whether it's chatting with friends, meeting with a realtor, or walking around a school.

I never take notes at this stage of the investigation because I want to be as present as possible, to be aware of how I feel when I walk into a place, or when I meet someone, or when I observe something happening. We have not looked at all our options yet, but I had a strong sense, for instance, that Lily would really like Marks Meadow Elementary School in North Amherst, should we end up buying a house in that catchment area. Those are the kinds of reactions I am looking for at this point. We will narrow our options and then bring her into the discussion and look with sharper eyes.

The thing is, we might not buy a house in her current school zone, or even in Amherst, and if possible we'd like to put her in a school she'll thrive in. Leverett is a lovely town, with an impressive school, food coop, library, and librarian, although I wonder if it's simply too much in the country for my family. I think we'll have to look at a house or two to get a better sense of that. Pelham was also very friendly and welcoming, as is everyone in this valley.

We've been here long enough that we now go places and do things repeatedly. I've become accustomed to my routines -- grocery shopping yesterday at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's while Dave and Lily hung at the Jones Library; running errands today in Amherst while Dave and Lily went on their weekly ski trip, then bopping over to Northampton to meet a friend.

Beforehand I got some hiking boots at The Mountain Goat in Northampton. The guy helping me told me about a terrific short hike to a porcupine cave in Sunderland. He says this trail is kind of secret, but you hike up to a huge ledge and the cave is off that. His home is near the Connecticut River and he watches bald eagles nesting nearby. It's too cold to go this weekend, I think, but I plan to make this hike soonest.

We talked a bit about New York City, and I mentioned that years ago I went looking for the Vermont square dancers who lived there. I knew they existed because everything I could ever want was in New York -- well, except clean air, and stars. Sure enough, I found them. Hearing my interest, my helper advised me not to miss dancing at the Greenfield Grange, which welcomes beginners, and said to watch for the men wearing skirts. He said they chose to wear skirts because they are so confident in their dancing.

Later we went to a bookstore and noticing Teacher Man by Frank McCourt I mentioned to my mother that he was my friend Alyssa's high school English teacher. The man waiting on us was impressed, and I remembered that this is not New York City where everyone knows someone or worked with someone or waited on someone or sat next to someone -- Sam Waterston and his daughter at The Public Theater last year -- or was taught by someone, and that is just so refreshing. Not everyone has bald eagles living in their backyards.

And on that note, I was remiss in posting this Sunday, as planned, because we were in Brooklyn this weekend, my first time back to the city I lived in for 18 years. Although I had readied myself, it was emotional in ways for which I wasn't entirely prepared. Dave and I were nervous wrecks as he drove us the three-plus hours to Fort Greene on Friday morning to close on our condo, turning over a total of eight sets of keys to the new owner. What a momentous occasion! I lived in that apartment for the longest time of my life besides my childhood home, and now it is gone, as is our last chance to ever live in Brooklyn again, at current prices.

Afterwards, feeling a bit lost, we drove over to Fifth Avenue so Dave could deal with the checks and Lily and I could celebrate by having our nails done at our usual salon across from Key Food. Phew! Something familiar at last. Then we had dinner with our friends who live across the hall from our former apartment, bumping into the new owners at the same time. When we went outside after dinner to walk home I could not believe how bright the lights were, and how many people were on the streets! I knew that Brooklyn would feel foreign to me eventually, but I wasn't expecting it to hit me so quickly. As Jody Foster says in "Alice Doesn't Live Here Any More," weird.

We had arranged for Lily to have lots of time with her friends, so Dave and I were pretty free much of the weekend. We saw friends, read, had Thai food in Cobble Hill and walked back to our hosts in Prospect Heights, yakked, and slept. I was eager to head home, and felt, without forcing it, that Amherst is my home now. It might end up being a different town in the Pioneer Valley, but this is home now and I welcome it. Lily does not, unfortunately; as I walked her to a playdate on Sunday afternoonshe asked if we could move back. Oh well. I trust that will change.

It was a big weekend. In addition to the closing, the other major event of the weekend was going to the first preview of "The Polish Play" on Saturday night, the first production by the new Katharsis Theater Company. That's the company Henry Wishcamper and I founded in May 2005. It was odd being anonymous in the audience -- no one except the designers knew who I was -- since I had worked so hard with Henry to establish this company. I was and am immensely proud of Katharsis and its initial production. I urge everyone to see it, and not because I say so. It opens on the 19th but has already received a terrific review in the N.Y. Theater Buying Guide. Henry is brilliant, a wonderful director and a fabulous person to boot, and it's exciting to be associated with him and with this production.

It's been frigid this week, the windows in the kitchen covered with sheets of ice for much of the day. Bundle up, wherever you are, and be sure to come visit us. I hear spring is nice, here, too.

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