Sunday, 11 December 2005

Maine Update

There has been some confusion here that is entirely of my doing. Perhaps keeping two blogs is more than this old brain can handle even when I neglect this one.

While I was looking at properties in Portland, my New York real estate agent telephoned to say that my buyer had backed out. I posted the story about that on Time Goes By.

The bottom line is that the apartment in New York is still being shown and I await a buyer. Sorry for the confusion.

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 07:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Sunday, 27 November 2005

On My Way - At Last

Selling a home while living in it is one of the most excruciating experiences I have endured in recent years. To keep the apartment always ready to be shown requires daily sweeping, vacuuming, dusting, polishing, scrubbing and remembering to wipe up kitty prints in the bathtub where Ollie likes to play.

The worst part for me has been the paper detritus. To keep up with other projects and write this blog every day, there are open books, newspapers, magazines, stray clippings, computer printouts and sticky notes scattered over most of the horizontal surfaces so I can quickly find a fact, a highlighted quote I want or just catch up on research.

In gathering them together to make the place presentable, I’ve misplaced good blog ideas I may never locate again. At last, that has come to an end and I can be as messy as I want.

Just two days before Thanksgiving, I accepted an offer for the apartment. The contract will be signed by the end of this week and the circumstances of the purchase are such that I'm 90 percent confident nothing will go wrong.

The price is lower than I initially wanted, but it seemed prudent to take it before it drops even further. Last month, the consumer price index was down, fewer jobs were created than economists expected, interest rates are increasing, fuel prices are astronomical and nearly every day there are news stories about the real estate market going wobbly. The time was ripe.

In the months since I was forced to make the decision to leave this city I have loved for 37 years, I have reached beyond just an emotional equanimity about it. I am as eager and excited as a kid at Christmas now to begin my new adventure in Portland, Maine. It is a beautiful little city, as walkable as Greenwich Village with a lively arts community, excellent restaurants and an awesome seacoast and surroundings to explore.

It’s funny how perceptions change, and my sense of place has already shifted. As I've gradually made peace with leaving New York over the past few months, the disadvantages of New York City - which must be ignored to live here happily - have grown in negative importance. The biggest one for me is the noise - the never-ending cacophony of sirens screeching, car horns blaring, trucks rumbling and rattling, people yelling in the streets 24/7. Often, in the city, it is not possible to carry on a conversation while walking down the block with a friend without shouting to be heard.

Restaurant owners here are still enamored of the hard surfaces and loud music that first became trendy in the 1980s, making speaking with companions across a dinner table an exercise akin to hog-calling. I can’t wait for some peace and quiet.

That will come about now in mid-January.

There is much to do in the next five or six weeks: arranging details for the New York closing, trips to and from Maine, buying a car, sorting and packing the apartment, changing addresses on god knows how many snailmail subscriptions and online registrations, finding the helpers one needs in a new place – a bank, a handyman, an insurance agent, a doctor, dentist, Indian chief. And figuring out again what owning a car entails; I sold the last one I owned in 1969 and since then have rented when I needed one.

I think it was Carl Jung who said that if you don't move life, life will eventually move you. I had expected I would leave this apartment feet first someday, but surprise!

I've always liked surprises - the good kind, anyway - and I'm pretty sure this is the good kind.

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 03:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (26)

Monday, 08 August 2005

Limbo and Stress

Someone asked in a comment at TGB recently if I am still moving to Maine and I have neglected this blog in past weeks mostly because there is, right now, so little to say. My New York apartment is on the market, there is a steady stream of potential buyers and I am continuing to look at homes in Portland.

Having made peace with leaving Greenwich Village, I feel like I’m between lives, no longer a New Yorker, eager to become a Mainer and stuck in limbo for the interim.

The hardest part is that I have no control over when my apartment will sell, and “they” tell me summer is the worst time to put a home on the market. A week ago, a couple was ready to go to contract, but the husband changed his mind. He is tall and was uncomfortable with the low ceiling, only eight feet in a 200-year old house. Understandable.

It is also hard to live, day in and day out, with extreme tidiness. I dust and polish and clean every day to be ready for buyers. I resist spreading around the books, papers, magazines, computer printing and the normal messiness that is life; I don’t want so much stuff around that I forget to pick some up when I leave before a showing. But it’s restrictive of my personal way of living, accustomed as I am to leaving current reading matter and research wherever I please.

Ollie’s favorite toys are little gray mice. He loses them in corners and under furniture, so we own dozens of them. But if you don’t know they are toys, they are easily mistaken for real dead mice, so to avoid the eek! factor with potential buyers, I’m stingy with parceling them out to Ollie. I feel bad about that. A cat likes to play.

I’ve cut way back on the kind of cooking a like to do. Odors tend to hang around here a long while, so garlic and onions have been shelved for the duration. Dinner is a bore these days and I’m resentful about that.

And there is the reason for the decision to leave New York in the first place: I haven't worked in a year. No money coming in, a lot still going out each month. The point of selling is to remove that problem.

Equally distressing is that I have discovered I don’t like strangers in my home. Ollie and I leave while it is being shown, but I’m bothered about people peeking in closets, the medicine chest, kitchen cupboards and all. For no good reason because, after all, it doesn’t matter, I don’t like thinking people who come through are judging how I live.

All of this makes me tense and uncomfortable, and my daily behavior has become erratic, unfocused. I’ve been having a terrible time writing the blog. I think they call it stress and the three-day trip last week for Blogher in California was a welcome relief. And it was sad that for the first time since I moved to New York in 1969, I didn't feel simultaneously elated and teary at my first glimpse of Manhattan from the plane. I suppose that means I've emotionally already left New York behind - but I'm still here physically.

In the past week, to improve chances of selling more quickly, I’ve considered lowering the price. But I’ve based all my calculations for Maine on getting within shouting distance of the current list price.

Stress and limbo. There is nothing to do but endure.

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 03:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)

Friday, 15 July 2005

Changing the Rhythm of Life

The place where one lives – rural, city, town, suburb, house, apartment, noisy, quiet, as well as the interior aspects of the dwelling and their arrangement - go a long way toward creating the daily rhythms of one’s life.

Here in my Greenwich Village apartment, the center of life is my desk with the computer, telephone and frequently-used items at arms’ reach and the kitchen, with its caffeine fuel at the ready, is just a few steps away in this open-living plan.

The television is in the bedroom so I’ve needed to make an appointment with myself to watch which is, most of the time, a blessing but an annoyance when I would like to monitor news developments during the day as when London was attacked last week. I’ve rarely seen the Sunday morning political interview programs in the past 20-odd years because at that time of day, my energies do not focus well TV watching. On the rare occasion I settle down to watch, I realize how much I miss those shows – the disingenuousness of our elected officials notwithstanding.

Here, I have the rarity of a backyard in the city. I am always aware, morning and evening, of the birds twittering and I can take my coffee outside with the newspaper or a book in good weather. But on the first floor, the view is severely limited, beyond the small garden, to the backs of other apartment buildings.

Whatever new place I choose in Portland, Maine, my home life will undoubtedly expand. Maybe my office will be in its own room, even upstairs. There may be a deck off the kitchen or bedroom or both. Perhaps an ocean view. Or room for a real kitchen garden out back.

New Yorkers of modest and even not-so-modest means are accustomed to living in tight spaces. So small, in fact, that special furniture can be found in this city that would be unlikely to sell elsewhere. I own a six-foot tall set of shelves, now in the utility room, that once fit exactly in a 12-inch wide kitchen space between the heat riser and the window.

Just about everyone in New York makes a vow that no new item, including books, can be added to the apartment without removing an old item. Of course, no one keeps that vow and we live cheek-by-jowl with too much stuff.

However the new space in Portland may be different in layout, it will be larger than the 825 square feet I live in now and that will undoubtedly change my routine along with how I move around in the space. If I sleep on a second floor, will the cat race me to the kitchen in the morning and perhaps trip me on the stairs? (Another good reason to take Millie Garfield’s advice to stick to one floor…)

What a difference it will make to be able to cook without having to remove half the pots and pans from the cupboard to find the one I want; to have a place for my hundred-year-old, wooden filing cabinet where I can appreciate its beauty instead of the dark corner where it sits now; a spot for the cat's litter box where I won’t trip over it every day.

Another change I anticipate is freedom from ‘round-the-clock street noise. I am adept, after all these years, of sleeping through fire truck sirens and car horns though, oddly, not voices of people talking while they loiter on the stoop at 3AM.

As I mentioned over at Time Goes By not too long ago, we humans like new beginnings, a chance to start over and do it better this time. Sometimes, however, it’s not better we seek, but different, and an opportunity to get out of a rut and discover other aspects of ourselves when we are no longer in familiar surroundings.

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 01:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Tuesday, 12 July 2005

Auto Inconvenience

It’s not for nothing I haven’t owned a car in 35 years.

Not counting a short period of youthful enthusiasm for freedom from parental oversight after gaining a driver’s license, I have never liked automobiles. They always want something: gas, oil, tires, windshield washer juice. And I still don’t understand why they don’t work like a refrigerator: plug it in and it runs for 15 years.

So it was with relief in 1969, that I gave up owning a car when I arrived in New York, a city with an excellent variety of public transportation where car ownership is an expensive nuisance.

In all these decades, I have ignored cars so completely that when a rental agent asks what kind I want, my answer is “red” so I have a slight chance of finding it in a parking lot. Aside from VW bugs, they all look alike to me – Beemer or Toyota - much to the chagrin of friends who, over the years, have wanted me to be impressed with their increasingly upscale or “cool” purchases.

Now I am moving to Portland, Maine, where a car, as in almost every U.S. city aside from New York, is a requirement to accomplish the everyday errands my feet have served me well for so long.

And I dread it.

Where, I ask, is the convenience? A car trip to the grocery involves:

  1. Buckle seatbelt
  2. Drive to store. Through how much traffic?
  3. Find a parking place
  4. Unbuckle seatbelt
  5. Lock the car
  6. Walk half a mile from parking space to store
  7. Shop
  8. Wheel cart of purchases to car
  9. Unlock trunk (if keys aren’t lost in bottom of handbag)
  10. Unpack cart into trunk
  11. Wheel cart to its parking place
  12. Buckle seatbelt
  13. Drive home
  14. Unbuckle seatbelt
  15. Tote packages to kitchen

Oh, damn, forgot the milk. Repeat steps 1 through 15.

Compare that to my shopping trips now:

  1. Walk to store
  2. Shop
  3. Walk home

Oh, damn, forgot the milk. Walk to corner deli.

And if I happen to have bought too much to carry, two or three dollars gets me home delivery within an hour. Maybe it's that during most of my car-owning years seatbelts were not yet required and I know their importance, but they are still an uncomfortable annoyance to me, however irrational that is.

And none of that addresses the cost: purchase, registration, insurance, maintenance, etc.

Yeah, yeah, I know. I’ll appreciate the car when I want to explore my new state and visit new friends and I would be isolated and confined without one in Portland. But when there is no parking place to be had and when the tires go bald, I will long for the days of putting out my hand and having a yellow taxi pull up right at my feet.

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 03:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Friday, 08 July 2005

Just a Dream House...

Yesterday, Deejay from Small Beer posted a comment on Favorite Things quoting from a poem published in 1938 by Don Blanding.

My mother owned this book when I was a little girl. When she later refused to part with it, I found a used copy of my own in 1963 or '64 in a San Francisco bookshop and have dragged it around since then through more homes than I can count.

I hadn’t read it in probably 15 or 20 years when Deejay reminded me of the poem, and it was a joy to sit quietly last evening becoming reacquainted with the Vagabond's House I first read as a child.

It has a lot to do with a sense of place, but it is too long to quote in its entirety. So here are some excerpts:

When I have a house as I sometime may
I’ll suit my fancy in every way.
I’ll fill it with things that have caught my eye
In drifting from Iceland to Molokai.
It won’t be correct or in period style
But oh, I’ve thought for a long, long while
Of all the corners and all the nooks,
Of all the bookshelves and all the books,
The great big table, the deep soft chairs
And the Chinese rug at the foot of the stairs,
(it’s an old, old rug from far Chow Wan
that a Chinese princess once walked on).

My house will stand on the side of a hill
By a slow broad river, deep and still,
With a tall lone pine on guard nearby
Where the birds can sing the storm winds cry.
A flagstone walk with lazy curves
Will lead to the door where a Pan’s head serves
As a knocker there like a vibrant drum
To let me know that a friend has come,
And the door will squeak as I swing it wide
To welcome you to the cheer inside.

For I have good friends who can sit and chat
Or simply sit, when it comes to that,
By the fireplace where the fir logs blaze
And the smoke rolls up in a waving haze.

A long low shelf of teak will hold
My best-loved books in leather and gold
While magazines lie on a bowlegged stand
In a polyglot mixture close at hand.
I’ll have on a table a rich brocade
That I think the pixies must have made
For the dull gold thread on blues and grays
Weaves the pattern of Puck the Magic Maze.

And there where the shadows fall I’ve planned
To have a magnificent Concert-Grand
With polished wood and ivory keys
For wild discordant rhapsodies
For wailing minor Hindu songs,
For Chinese chants with clanging gongs,
For flippant jazz and for lullabies
And moody things that I’ll improvise
To play the long gray dusk away
And bid good-bye to another day.

The roof must have a rakish dip
To shadowy eaves where the rain can drip
In a damp, persistent tuneful way;
It’s a cheerful sound on a gloomy day.
And I want a shingle loose somewhere
To wail like banshee in despair
When the wind is high and storm-gods race
And I am snug by my fireplace.

On the gray-stone hearth there’ll be a mat
For a scrappy, swaggering yellow cat
With a war-scarred face from a hundred fights
With neighbors’ cats on moonlight nights.
A wise old Tom who can hold his own
And make my dogs leave him alone.

Oh damn! I know what the end will be
I’ll go. And my house will fall away
While the mice by night and the moths by day
Will nibble the covers off all my books
And the spiders weave in the shadowed nooks
And my dogs - I’ll see that they have a home
While I follow the sun, while I drift and roam
To the ends of the earth like a chip on the stream,
Like a straw in the wind, like a vagrant dream,
And the thought will strike with a swift sharp pain
That I probably never will build again
This house that I’ll have in some far day.
Well, it’s just a dream-house anyway.

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Wednesday, 06 July 2005

Favorite Things

Part of what makes a house a home and gives us our sense of place is our stuff, the things that don’t always have much purpose, that others might dismiss as uninteresting, but mean something to us.

In anticipation of my move to Maine, I’ve been sorting my stuff, figuring out what I can throw out or give away and what to keep. In doing so, I come across things, particularly little things, that are favorites.

Cup This is my sterling silver baby cup, which makes it the same age I am - 64. It is engraved with my first two formal names, Veronica Michael, and there are dents and dings all around the bottom. The family story, although I have no memory of it, is that when I wanted more milk or juice, I would bang it on the table of my high chair and scream. What a charming child I must have been…

Shellcasing A television news producer friend brought this back for me from Sarajevo a decade ago. It is a Russian shell casing and during the worst times in the aftermath of the war there, when there were no businesses left, no jobs to be had and in some cases no houses to live in, people engraved these (which lay around the streets by the thousands) and sold them as souvenirs for the equivalent of pennies.

It reminds me that no matter how much our elected representatives seem eager to pull every safety net out from under ordinary folks, I do have a roof over my head, food to eat and am far better off than so many millions in the world.

Magnifier Those two were gifts. This last item I bought for myself about five years ago. I use it almost every day to magnify print that is too small for these old eyes to read – directions on containers, the telephone book, even on the computer screen when webmasters have been so inconsiderate as to set a fixed tiny font.

It’s useful, but I also like its simple elegance.

These items, at a yard sale or flea market, wouldn’t garner much attention or money. But one person’s junk is another’s treasure and these are three of my favorite things that will definitely go with me to Maine.

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 01:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Friday, 01 July 2005


Neighbors make an important contribution to a sense of place. Sometimes they become true friends, but more frequently, Crabby Old Lady thinks, they have a category all their own. They are usually friendly, share a concern for the well-being of the surrounding area, and it’s good to have people to trade favors with: feed the cat or water the plants when one is away overnight or accept a UPS package.

A good neighbor occupies a pleasant space in life somewhere in the middle of the continuum between friend and stranger. A bad one can plague one’s daily existence and there’s not much to be done about it.

As with relatives, we don’t get to choose our neighbors. It’s the luck of the draw - sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Crabby knows and likes most of the people who live on her block, but of the 15 people who have shared this four-unit condominium with her since she bought her apartment 22 years ago, half have been horrors.

(Remind Crabby, someday, to tell you about the celebrity who lived here for a year or so who was convinced his minor position in the constellation of music/TV stars entitled him to circumvent the by-laws of the condominium and to harass and threaten Crabby for opposing him even after he sold his apartment.)

The atmosphere is only slightly improved now, surrounded as Crabby is by two condo mates (one owns two of the four apartments) who in addition to never having made the slightest effort at daily upkeep like taking a turn at sweeping the sidewalk, seem bent on making it difficult for Crabby to sell her apartment.

One assured Crabby, the day before she left for Maine, that the 10 or 12 huge, black trash bags piled just beyond Crabby's patio in the neighbor’s yard (but out of sight of her windows) would be removed the next day. Crabby was horrified, when she returned Friday evening, to see them still there and the real estate agent told her that several potential buyers had asked if that is where the condo keeps its garbage until pick-up day. Did Crabby Old Lady lose a sale for that? She’ll never know.

It took until Tuesday for the bags to be removed and not without an argument.

Two decades ago, the condo as a whole determined that window air conditioners in the floors above Crabby could not be placed so they drip in her separate entrance and there has never been a problem until now when, suddenly, a pool of water collects in front of Crabby’s door. Two phone calls to this neighbor, who took the celebrity’s side in trying to bend the condominium by-laws to suit his desires, have gone unreturned.

What can a Crabby Old Lady do…

This apartment will sell and at a good price, but Crabby will gratefully leave behind these bad neighbors.

Posted by Crabby Old Lady at 02:48 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, 29 June 2005

Falling Out of Love

It was rush hour when my train arrived at Penn Station last Friday and after a week in the less populous and more civilized ambience of Portland, Maine, the dense crowd surging in all directions around me, the din and the dirt were disorienting for a few moments.

The air was hot and close and I’d forgotten the long, long walk in the station from Amtrak to the subway - an obstacle course of thousands of people who never pay heed to keeping to the right or left and who compete to rack up the highest number of personal points for banging into the most people. Show the slightest courtesy and you lose points.

The subway arrived in a reasonable length of time and the car would have been air conditioned if there had been fewer people vying for standing room.

When I emerged at Houston and Varick, evening gridlock was at full tilt, cars stuck facing every which way in the intersection, horns honking, an ambulance caught in the center with its siren blaring, unable to move.

On the two-block walk to my home, people shouted into cell phones – Can you hear me? Are you still there? – and I realized I’d not seen or heard anyone yelling into a cell phone for a week. In Portland, that seems not to be done.

I rounded the corner into my block, one of the most beautiful in Greenwich Village with its historic townhouses, large shade trees cooling the humid summer air and as though for the first time, I saw the trash along the curbs and the dog droppings inconsiderate pet owners leave behind. A truck lumbered by, as I waited to cross the street, belching carbon monoxide in a gaseous blue cloud while honking at the slow driver in front of him.

For the first time in 36 years, I couldn’t remember why New Yorkers ignore these disadvantages. For the first time in 36 years, I didn’t feel the welcoming relief of returning home to my town from a trip. Instead, I thought about my stroll along the Old Port wharves in Portland at about the same time the night before, a breeze from the ocean cooling off the heat of the day and I wanted to be there with no more noise in the evening than the lapping of water against the docked boats and the murmur of conversations coming from the open-air restaurants and bars.

Whether it is a person or a place, falling in love is a mysterious process, as is falling out of love. The latter certainly involves noticing the negatives - maybe for the first time or at least not ignoring them anymore. Perhaps New York is a young person’s town, the place to be when you’re on the make, building a career, gulping down life experiences, too busy to care that there is no time or place or even desire yet for some calm, some quietude and a dinner out minus shouted cell phone conversations from the next table.

Perhaps I’ve gotten too old for New York City.

I wouldn’t trade my three-plus decades in Manhattan for anything. I’ve had an excellent life here. And even though no more than two months ago, I felt forced out of this city I’ve loved so much for so long, it is time to go now and I’m eager to start my new life.

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Sunday, 26 June 2005

Disappointment and Recovery

I have a minor confession to make. When I announced my choice of Portland, Maine as my next home, it had been closer to 20 years than ten since I had last visited, and then only a day trip – two or three hours - when I stayed for a week with friends in Bar Harbor.

So I had no recent knowledge at all of the city when I picked Portland, but the gods were with me. It is visually attractive with the wide variety of beautiful architecture and water views within a few blocks of almost anywhere. It is clean and well maintained. There is a fresh breeze most of the time, cool in the evenings no matter how hot during the day.

And it is, compared to New York’s raffishness, civilized without being stiff or formal. I knew the first day I was there that Portland, Maine is the right choice for me.

Over two days, I looked at about two dozen houses and condos ranging in size from not much larger than my 850 square foot New York apartment to 1750 square feet. I saw homes in town and further out in the more suburban neighborhoods north of the main peninsula, but quickly realized that I’m an urban girl – I want to be in the city proper. I like to walk city streets and lawn care is not my idea of a well-spent weekend.

The easiest part of house hunting is saying no. There were several I rejected without going inside. They didn’t live up to their descriptions at all. With some others, the disadvantages outweighed the attractive features.

York2b Remember this magnificent view of the bay with boats in the distance? Move the camera slightly to the right and you would see the on-ramp to the Casco Bay Bridge, with all its traffic, directly below the veranda. Unacceptable.

Vesper2b It’s mainly true that you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince, but I could have stopped looking with the fourth apartment I saw on the first day in Portland - a two-bedroom with a terrace view of the water, modern kitchen, enormous dining area, beautiful living room with bay window and a “bonus” room for the washer/dryer, additional storage and space for more bookshelves – all newly renovated from the outer walls in and fairly priced.

I made a strong offer on Wednesday and found out Thursday morning that I’d lost it to another bidder. I was more disappointed than I expected; in my head, I’d already moved in and arranged all the furniture.

So Plan B is that my agent will keep looking and in the next few weeks, I’ll make a quick, overnight trip to Portland when/if something good turns up. Meanwhile, my agent will locate a short-term rental for me and he expects there will be something I will fall equally in love with by fall.

I may not have found my new dream home, but it was a successful visit anyway. I know where I want to live (for those of you familiar with Portland - the Eastern Prom/Munjoy Hill area or the West End) and best of all, I already feel the stirrings of a new personal sense of place.

Who is to say what gives a town or city, for each of us, a sense of comfort, of being part of its community, of caring for its well-being, and of feeling at home there. I was going on only the vaguest memory, a little instinct and a whole lot of hope when I chose Portland, Maine, and I got lucky. I will be happy there.

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (13)