Monday, January 31, 2011

Gray skies, snowbound earth, streak of phosphorescent apricot to the southwest where the sun has set behind the ridge. It's the last day of January, and as the days march forward hereon in, the sunset will move from the left end of the ridge (as viewed from the aerie) in a northerly direction, until - I don't know, mid-March maybe? - it sets due west. This house was such a mess when we first looked at it and decided to buy it. We didn't exactly do matrix analyses to measure and maximize whatever it is we wanted. The house was a bit of an idea for me. I had worked to rezone a small maritime island to help try to preserve some of its memory as built on the landscape. Now I desired, in the next step of my plannerly evolution, to save a solid, well-crafted house of pleasing interior spatial dimensions (airy rooms, tall windows, high ceilings), from sinking into the ground - and to make it our home. We'd seen a lot of grossly abused houses in our hunt. This one wasn't the worst, and had, perhaps, the most potential in terms of its essentially solid lines. What sold it for me, though, one of the afternoons we viewed it, was stepping upstairs into what I now call the aerie, pausing at the windows, and realizing that there was the slate blue Catskills ridge in the distance in an undulating, sinuous, silent, immovable line before me. Maybe not a million-dollar view (distant, partially obscured, seasonal - the view of mountains disappears when trees leaf out in spring) but still... a view - if only a glimpse, a hint - of mountains. Which is plenty! Sometimes the hint is just enough, just what one needs. If one lives on the ocean, does one really need a glass sided house to feel "at one" with the seascape? Or, will simply a portal, a porthole, a smaller window, an oriole, a glimpse - suffice to tantalize the eye and mind into savoring the sensational proximity and yet forever remove of the sea?

So we bought the house, and years later much has been improved - and D has saved it from literally capsizing into the clay - but much is still unimproved. So I hang out here in the aerie, which is much improved from the smoke-redolent pumpkin-colored walls and cheap supermarket plastic-wicker furniture that decorated it the afternoon I spotted the view that the realtor (setting a price on the place) hadn't. Since then, too, I've appreciated how beautifully light-filled this house is, and shudder to think - what if we'd bought a house down a hill, where even at midday or mid-afternoon, hillside or dell cast in shadow, there isn't direct sun?

I've always loved light, savored it, craved it. Many years ago, living on Union Street in Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn - D and I lived in a parlor floor south-facing apartment - beautiful space, lightfilled. Except that due to the configuration of buildings across the way, all forms of direct sunlight would vanish by three in the afternoon even in summer, which I found incredibly hard to take. Harder to take than trying to savor a sense of garden, or stepping outside into a quiet space, by easing myself precariously out the fire escape window, where, above the wild overgrown garden with, I think - an apricot, or perhaps peach tree, all wild and unpruned, and in the shade, but still bearing fruit - out of reach from us! - we had a hibachi, a tiny grill, and did our best to savor the pleasures, from a perhaps 2' x 3' black oil-painted slat landing, of a private aerie garden. Somewhere in a shoebox of photos is a snapshot of D, crouched on the tiny fire escape, grilling something, and holding a black umbrella over his head because it had begun to rain.

Not long afterward we moved quite literally a block north, to a parlor-floor apartment where we spent about fifteen years. There's a bit of a story there too. In the market for an apartment c. 1988, we'd gone around the corner to an open house to see it, one fine late afternoon in June - at the very moment an enormous rose bush in the center of the garden - which could be glimpsed as one stepped through the French door onto the terrace - was in full glorious bloom. I fell in love with the place, and when we returned to our rented apartment, I burst into tears because this place had everything we wanted - a garden, a terrace, a working woodburning fireplace - everything. It was only a one-bedroom - really, sort of a glorified studio - but it was an amazingly beautiful space. I lamented that I didn't feel that I was asking so much in life, just a place of my own I could step outside into, a place one could grill a steak for dinner without crouching on a fire escape with an umbrella.

I had a good cry that day, and a year went by. In the meantime, D and I were working hard, socking money away, etc., etc., and lo and behold one day, the owners of the apartment I'd fallen in love with, that had felt so unattainable - called us up. They hadn't been able to sell the lovely place - they were dropping the price - were we still interested?

Yes - we were! The price had dropped significantly, and our savings had improved - it worked! And so we made a deal, and D and I lived there very, very happily for many years.

Darlings, part of me wished to write something more of my weekend, and somehow I couldn't quite get there - had to approach it "slant," or "sideways" - in other words, change subject, or at least, not come at it head-on, or right away.

Loving you very much, you at the Pole, you at the Sea.


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