Oh, the Abundance!

I'd forgotten what it's like to live in NYC! I usually stay with friends way downtown, which is where I'm staying now. And it's very familiar since T and I worked a few blocks away before AFS was acquired by Sungard. But it has only been a residential neighborhood since after 9/11, so there aren't a whole lot of conveniences for residents yet, like in more established neighborhoods-- like The West Village, where our cheese shop had been open since the 1800s or something like that. The financial district finally has a grocery store or two, but mostly the shops cater to office workers. Although it's been over ten years, so some progress has been made (there used to be NO groceries anywhere near here, it was a problem for early residents).

But tonight, after I had gotten Max to sleep, I left T in the apt with the kids and stole out to our old neighborhood so I could shop in my favorite store (Loehmann's!!). While I was slightly disappointed with the shopping trip because I left with only a few items, I enjoyed the feeling of being back in the old neighborhood. Many places have changed since we lived here (inconveniently for me, I discovered the Old Navy had been replaced by a Best Buy, which was of no use to me since I wanted a cheap pair of flip-flops).

But 7th Ave was very recognizable. But there was a new grocery store where a drugstore used to be. It has been there a few years, but came in after we had left the city for NJ. When I went in there to pick up a snack for T (since he was stuck at home minding the kids and couldn't fend for himself), I was reminded of what it's like to live in an established neighborhood in NYC.

The best word to describe it is abundance. Terry likes savory snacks, those little prepared salads like antipasti etc. In VA, I'm used to maybe a dozen to choose from in any given grocery store. I'm not sure if my jaw was actually unhinged as I stood there gaping at the selection in the 7th Ave market, or if I just looked indecisive. There were enough salads in those little quarter-pound containers to feed every person in Crozet with something different. The refrigerated shelf with the prepared foods was probably 30 feet long and 6 feet high. And filled, shelf after shelf, stack over stack of those little salad containers. The entire bottom row was fried foods, it was like the state fair of Texas, but neatly packaged in small servings to be reheated in your apartment toaster oven. Near the top were the vegetarian and "healthy" salads. I estimated I could make every side dish in every cookbook I own (which is many!) and still not have as much variety as I saw in that one case in that one grocery store.

On the other hand, for the prices they were charging I could prepare one side dish at home for probably $1.25, package it up into single servings, and sell the stack of them for $20 or more. That's how they "get you", so to speak. But as I stared agog at the selection, it all began to come back to me.

When T and I were first married, I didn't often buy the prepared foods. His salary really wasn't that high by Manhattan standards. We were younger, and his salary was quite good for someone his age, but we lived (by virtue of his scoring a rent-stabilized apartment before we met) in an area full of middle-aged professionals and our local shops were priced accordingly. But after I finished cooking school, it was no problem for me to cook great meals because the ingredients available were top-notch, and we could at least afford whatever ingredients I wanted to use. I loved making that dish with shaved raw beef fillet, usually served with shaved Parmesan and some sort of vinaigrette. Good grief, it's been so long since I've even had it (much less made it at home) that I don't even remember what it's called. But I had a truly excellent butcher (Ottomanelli) and cheese shop (Murray's) which made it possible.

It was only much later that we could afford to eat whatever we wanted. But by that time, the apartment had become de-stabilized and we moved to NJ. At the time, we were yuppies on the vanguard. JC Heights was not particularly gentrified. So on the one hand, things were so much cheaper than we were used to. But on the other hand, the fancy stuff just wasn't even available at any price (much like in Crozet, VA). We spent a lot of money on parking and tolls in the city to get the good stuff, but we still wound up so much ahead on rent that it was worth it.

Anyway, it would be a different experience to live in the Village with a big income. Real estate is not as crazy high as it once was, and we could probably find someplace comfortable if T go back to his old executive salary. Not that that is in either of our plans, but never say never, right?

But it did remind me why so many New Yorkers never leave. The place does kind of spoil you for anywhere else. Even when we would go to Europe, and try out the patisseries in Paris, etc. we would realize when we returned that we could get the same thing in NYC. Not some simulacrum of Parisian pastry, but the real thing, imported daily via jet plane to a shop on the upper east side. Sure it's expensive, but way less than a trip to France, right? The abundance of good things in NYC is hard to imagine if you haven't lived it. Or at least observed it, since many who work here see such things but can't really partake. They get their $2 egg sandwiches from a convenience store and thats it until they go back home an hour or more away via subway.

Do I want to move back? Not really. Not anytime soon. Although I do toy with the idea of moving back here in our old age. NYC is GREAT for old people. And we won't be able to maintain the farm on our own forever. We're both young-ish and healthy, and we "maintain" the place in only the loosest sense of the word. We keep the area around the house trimmed up, but the forest is slowly encroaching on our fields. It was sobering to look through an album of photos we took back when we first bought the place. Quite a bit has reverted to wilderness. But for now, and for the foreseeable few decades, I think we'll stick to VA. With frequent trips to NY to live the high life for a few days at a time. That's enough.