Wednesday, August 12, 2015


10 August 2015

Just before the July 4th weekend Vince greeted me at the terrace door (bottom right of both images, if you are curious). I was on the terrace, gardening.

He looked at me. I have bad news, he said. He meant it. I was very quiet. There was some silence. Then he said, Graham is not renewing our lease. I looked at him some more. You're joking, I said. 

But he wasn't.

It was a bad time.

That seems a lifetime away. Then, it was flat out panic. But we are now six weeks out, and four days from decampment.

Everyone currently in the building is moving out.

Half our belongings are sitting in an empty apartment in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. Beyond its kitchen door a wide open, empty backyard waits for us. A quiet, tree-filled street is at the front, singing with cicadas. 

The Harlem terrace is being taken apart, piece by piece. Compare top and bottom. The wooden planters have been emptied of plants. The tall jewelweed thickets have been cut down and pulled out. The herbs have been transplanted and carted to Brooklyn. In the next few days the birch pole screen will be dismantled and the beans removed.

14 July 2015

Don't tell me that change is good. Change is just change. Don't tell me that things are meant to be. Nothing is meant to be. Things just are. Because of things that came before, because of decisions that people make. Consequences.

We will make the best of it because that is what one does. And the package of what is to come is a good package, all things considered. A beautiful neighborhood, a peaceful street, no construction in the building, no drummers. (But there is a principal ballet dancer on the top floor - does he jeté across the room in the late mornings?)

We are glad to be leaving the noise and tension of this apartment. We are glad to leave the fights on this street, the screaming motorcycle gangs, the worry about the random gunshot. I will miss the friendly neighbors on the stoops, saying, Hi, how you doing? I will miss the easy compliments and banter of the neighborhood men, who manage never to be creepy. I will miss the Tuesday night gospel choir practises and the rocking Sunday services. 

I will miss the cheap quails eggs at the supermarket on Lenox Avenue (I think they will miss me too - I bought all of them!), and the friendly wine shop staff at the new store on 125th. I will miss the proximity to Central Park's North Woods  in every season, and the Conservatory Garden, and I will miss the quick subway ride to Inwood Hill park. I will not miss the summer squallor of Marcus Garvey Park's hill, its propositioning lurkers, the flasher, the gunshots and the drugs. I will not miss the casual racism on the street. I will not miss the weekend hatemongering preachers on the corner of 125th and Lenox. I will not miss the terrible sign above the church of ATLAH.

I will miss the diversity and the effortless courtesy of doors opening, and opened. I will miss being called honey by women I do not know and I will miss the song of hm, hm, hm. 

I will miss the high ceilings and tall windows of our apartment. I will not miss hysterically high electrical heating bills and the frigid winters.

I learned to bake sourdough here, to make cheese, and to blend vermouth and fizzy wild flower ferments. I last saw my cat here.  

I will not miss the terrible stove. 

I will miss the terrace and its weather. I will miss the lady yelling at me from her apartment across the way that my barbecue smells good. I will miss the cool-season, open-window belly-laughter of the Hyena Man who watches TV on a giant screen, and I will miss the virtuoso tunes of the Whistling Man, who lives nearby.

I will miss the doves, the red house finches, the single cormorant flying east every evening. I will miss the robin's song which lulled me to sleep on noisy nights.

Knowing a place takes time. Plotting the sun, reading the light, learning the birds, recognizing the voices. I like to walk a regular path. To see a shrub in all its seasons.

I have become attached, and have always resented letting go.

Close the book.

[Curiously - predictably - there is another Limbo post: October 2013, the month we moved to Harlem.]


  1. Thank you for sharing this post, Marie. I don't know if it will make you feel any better to know that you have brought such beauty and humanity in the form of your beautifully written words and photos to me and how much it filled me up tonight. You see, I have been going through such a trying time right now and you have made such a difference in my life. I feel like I am moving out of Harlem with you and am wishing you and Vince only the best. -Beth

  2. Ugh. Put like that, it sounds awful.
    I feel like you do about places. I want to be settled, to know my surroundings. I hope the garden apt is a good one for you.

  3. Leaving is always hard. You made friends, a garden and memories in this place and now you have to leave. It's hard to envision the new friends, the new garden and the new memories, but I know you'll have them all. Be well.

  4. Beautifully written. I enjoyed it all.

  5. New birds, new smells, new overheard arguments and I bet you've already plotted out the bit of earth beyond the slab! I'll miss Harlem stories. Before you moved there, I knew nothing much about it.

    I'm in awe of how quickly you've managed this change. You're amazing.

  6. Marie,

    Moving sucks quail eggs. Brooklyn awaits.


  7. So beautifully written, Marie. This is why I love your book--it's not just a lifestyle (hate that word) book. It's filled with intelligent, thoughtful writing, along with the lovely pictures and recipes. Moving is difficult. I'm sorry you have to go through this. I look forward to the new world you create and share with us. I have many fond memories of Carroll Gardens. I lived on Warren St. between Court and Smith, in the 80's when Smith St was scary at night, and certainly not cool. Loved walking to Carroll Gardens and seeing the men playing Bocci ball, the women tending their front gardens (which are a Christmas fiesta).

  8. Lovely post (as always).
    Change stinks, and I never liked it. However, I can't wait for you to find some new eggs and new neighbors!
    I am looking forward to the Brooklyn Backyard! (as long as it's YOURS, and not MINE!).

  9. Yes, you did not have time to learn your Harlem home. And when leaving a place is not by choice, it is always wrenching.

  10. Beautifully written from your heart. It hasn't been that long, tho, since you were not so attached to that Harlem space ... look back at your posts in sept. 2013, or december.

    New challenges await and new adventures, as well as returning to a neighborhood you've loved for years. Cant wait to follow along. Enjoy!!

    1. Yup, that is why I wrote now about the stuff we hated :-)

  11. Beautiful words and beautiful photos, as always. I'm looking forward to what's next, for both of us. xo

  12. I love your eloquence. I send you best wishes as you navigate this next chapter. Take care along the way.

  13. Such a beautiful post today. We close on a new house next week - a fixer upper - and I'm going through a lot of these same emotions about uprooting and starting over. I look forward to seeing you settle into the new place, becoming attached to it over time...

  14. A really beautiful post today, written from your (breaking) heart. But you will make any place you go into a beautiful home and garden, I am sure.

  15. Good luck and Godspeed. Even though it is difficult to leave this environment, I am sure you will find happiness in the next one. And we will all enjoy your posts about the next place.

  16. Holding thumbs for you that you new landlord will let you stay as long as you wish, and not raise your rent an unreasonable amount ever ever! And reasonable utility bills and a great stove! And maybe a new cat.

  17. You have the heart and the pen of a poet. And you are helping me gird myself for our forced move. Blue skies.

  18. So many wonderful things to find and to share...and your lens will certainly find them. :-) xx

  19. I’m remembering a line of poetry – I don’t have it in front of me but I think it is Marge Piercy – that says something to the effect of: “the body can grow used to a weight such that it must learn how to walk again without it.” I am always amazed by my ability to be attached to an experience that I hated. I suppose that is just another strange layer of the human experience, though my therapist would probably disagree. Either way, I think I understand how you are feeling. Those cicadas are a touchstone.

  20. Dear Marie,
    These beautiful and sensitive comments indeed do justice to this amazingly beautifully written and felt post. I hope you can take some strength from them -- what empathy and support! I look forward with great anticipation to following what you will do with A Real Yard in the Ground in your beloved Brooklyn. I, too, resented our many, many moves years ago and am so happy now to have been in my townhouse in SE Denver for 21 years. And Brava to you for this line: "Don't tell me change is good. Change is just change. Right on!
    Best to you and hoping there will soon be a new cat for you both to treasure, spoil and
    love. Best,
    Diane in Denver

  21. What a great post. You write so well and are such a delight. I will be excited to read about your new place and what you create in your new yard.

    Wishing you and the Frenchman a safe move.

    Deborah, Tucson AZ

  22. Dear Marie

    Love this post. Having recently moved, it resonates with me. Love your honesty about the things that you loved & things that you won't miss.

    You inspire me. Best of luck with the 'limbo'.


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