Updated: Apr 26
Sometimes you need to change your view. Covid made me aware of that. Confined to our homes much of the time, working remotely, ordering in groceries or meals as we can, assessing potential risk and taking precautions with every interaction, we’ve become hyper-aware of the spaces we inhabit, tweaking, rearranging, updating. Or, sometimes, needing to escape them.
Escape has become the by-word for a large number of urbanites, and the Berkshires have experienced a tsunami of full- or part-time renters and buyers seeking new surroundings, open space, wider skies, outdoor recreation where social distancing is a given, and views of the stars that are unadulterated by ambient city lights.
Though I love living in the Berkshires, the joys of nesting in my home eventually grew old. Unwilling to risk airline travel during Covid, I postponed longed-for trips to France and to Greece, where I had hoped to celebrate, in September, a milestone birthday at the Temple of Delphi. By then—though I knew my Facebook friends better than I ever would have imagined possible and though my real estate business was active and got me out of the house, masked and with Lysol wipes in hand—I was suffering from a serious case of cabin fever.
So I went in the opposite direction: when I spotted a studio rental in my old New York City neighborhood, I jumped on it. Since I haven’t been able to travel overseas, this is how I’m experiencing travel this year, through New York, its open spaces, museums, and street life. It’s a new view and a new perspective. I know I’m fortunate to be able to do this, that so many Berkshire real estate buyers and sellers hail from the Big A, and that the company I’m with, Sotheby’s International Realty, has a strong presence here and in the Berkshires.
Gilding the lily, my friends call the studio a pied-à-terre, but, really, it’s a 450sf garret, tucked into the mansard roof that forms the top floor of a landmark historic building. The mansard and its architectural details make the building feel like it’s in Paris. But, outside, it’s my other favorite city in the world—New York—ever-resilient, continually growing, changing, and renewing itself. Having lived here, it still feels like home to me. And, I know that those who think Covid has killed or will kill this city, aka, The City, have another think coming. New Yorkers can handle this: since March of 2020, they’ve been masking, distancing, and disinfecting as a way of life; per-capita infection rates on the Upper West Side were ridiculously low even before vaccination became possible. I’m still cautious and risk-averse, yet I feel safe.
The apartment is flooded with light—good news, because, well, it’s light, bad news because the south sun blasting through the windows turns the tiny space into a sauna. So, when I’m inside, I wear summer clothes and open the windows. (It’s an old building. You can open the windows!) From these glorious floor-to-ceiling windows, I enjoy the view to the south. In the day, it is beautiful, including, as it does, skyscrapers finished ten minutes ago and older, lower buildings so dated that the roofs retain their original water storage tanks. At night, the view is beyond stunning, with thousands-upon-thousands of incandescent lights: this is New York’s answer to the Milky Way.
As a substitute for wider horizons, it is better than fine. I hung a favorite photograph—one my photographer friend Scott Barrow took in Myanmar, which I visited in 1982, when it was still Burma. The photo, called “Lunch,” is of two young Buddhist monks, seen from the back, high-tailing it down the colonnaded hallway of their temple toward their midday meal. Their dark red robes flap at their ankles, and they carry ruby-red parasols over their shoulders. I’ve never used that vibrant red in any of my houses, but it’s the pivotal color for this one. I added a couple of red Chinese pieces including a wedding cabinet, textiles, and other Asian furnishings found on eBay, objects from the years I lived in the Philippines and Japan, and images from Vietnam, Bhutan, and Myanmar sourced on art.com, to remind me of where I’ve been and where I still want to go. And, so, this small studio links me to Asia, Paris, and New York. I travel without leaving the room. It’s a view from windows that are, like a porch, contained and safe, but looking out over the world.
I still have my Berkshire porch to enjoy in warmer months, though, knowing what I do now, I may want to pare down my life there. But, this, this is a new porch, a new view, a new perspective.