Saturday, July 26, 2008

Reflections on Days in Paris

On the eve of my departure from Paris, I am disturbed to realize that I feel that melancholy feeling that all writers have described about Paris. For all its demoralizing and unpleasant features, this is a place that wrenches its way into your heart. This is the city of love, of light, of magic in the face of bureaucracy (a word that in its very nature seems French) and language barriers and never-ending queues. This is the city to which all those who can return do--if not for habitation, than for that small sensation, that uncomfortable fluttering that occupies one's depths when saying goodbye to this city.

Yet for all its hate-to-love-but-do, Paris is not for me. The view of Paris from the 59th floor of Tour Montparnasse did not rouse any feelings of excitement or even interest in me. My city is New York--from the 110th floor of a city building I could spend hours peering over familiar neighborhoods from a new perspective or spotting gaps in the novel my feet have stomped out in 13 years of being in New York shoes. To Paris I have no connection. A view of all of Paris is nearly the same to me as a view of Seattle or Berlin or Seoul. It is an image, a fascination from the novelty of an aerial view, a moment to enjoy but quickly forget the specificities of. On the ground, Paris continues to be a new frontier to explore--this will never cease. Yet the Paris frontier, unlike New York or London for me, evokes anxieties that are prohibitive to true absorbtion of this city. My calmest moments here, those during which I can mimic most fully the sensations and habits of Parisian life, are silent and solitary. On a park bench in Jardin de Luxembourg, beside the pyramid of the Louvre, on the metro or strolling down a tiny rue, engaging in peaceful, coordinated coexistence, I am most in tune with Paris. Yet these moments are few, and are abruptly burst by a confused, flustered exchange of inadequate words with a Parisian, angered by my French-less intrusion on their city. No, Paris is not for me--I'll keep my quiet, distasteful love of this city close to my heart, as I pass through this place on my way to somewhere else.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Reflections on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

In the taxi to Tel Aviv, Moshe (our driver) pointed out the intermittent concrete wall and barbed-wire fencing that separate the Palestinian Territories from Israel. On the other side, apartment complexes like those seen anywhere are inhabited with people like anywhere else--except they are in nation-less territory. Some people have compared Jerusalem and the Palestinian Territories to Luxembourg, proposing a multi-state-ownership solution. This has worked in Luxembourg because the participating states are content (enough) with their own territory. The Palestinians do not have any state right now--what feasible solution will be sufficient enough for them?

David Schulman and Yigal Bronner told me a bit about the Jewish settlers--people who live in the Old City's Arab Quarter or in the Palestinian Territories and attempt to make the Palestinians around them miserable. These people should not be given a medium through which to promote their inhumane perpetuation of a complex crisis. The Arab terrorists who do the same, who force all in Israel into a level of fear that reaches everyday paranoia, should be denied these mediums as well. However, quieting the extremists is not the solution, and if it is even part of it, it does not make a large dent.

Why is the United States the nation that has been designated as the third-party mediator? Other than the surrounding Arab nations, it is exceptionally biased and unlikely to serve as a fair mediator. Why has no other nation stepped up to the plate? Though the stakes are high, the rewards of facilitating a sustainable solution are much higher. While the UN and other multinational organizations will be influential, it may take the resources and status of a true nation-state to facilitate a mutual solution.

Pensive in Paris

Basilica of Sacre-Coeur

In Paris' Basilica of Sacre-Coeur, pilgrims and tourists follow familiar stations of the cross around the nave. How many of these people have walked down Via Dolorosa? It is incredible how a short series of historical moments have defined a universal routine that unites and divides. For Christians, and mainly Catholics, the stations of the cross serve as symbols of a collective memory and a shared set of beliefs. In their exclusivity, they create a particularity that for non-Christians denotes "otherness." Though the Muslim shopkeepers on Via Dolorosa peddle Christian memorabilia, the street will never have the same religious connotation for them as it does for the tourists (their patrons).


Le Select Cafe, Blvd. de Montparnasse

Cafes serve nearly every purpose in Paris--they are offices, living rooms, studies, park benches, hotel lobbies, restaurants, bars. In appearance they resemble the classic diners of America--some are retro, others tacky, a handful chic. Yet with rows of chairs facing the street and domineering the sidewalk, they are unlike anything America has to offer. Even in New York, outdoor cafes are neatly enclosed, with each seat facing another. Here, chairs spill out onto walkways, all chairs facing the passersby, as if they will be occupied by an audience or a judging panel. Is observation the central tenet of this setup? If so, which direction is it meant for, outside looking in, or inside looking out?


Rue Saint-Dominique

At its terminus at Place de les Invalides, ancient men play bocce and smoke cigars in a tiny, street-surrounded park. Rue Saint-Dominique is worth revisiting, I think. Strewn with clothing stores and sandwich shops, interspersed with an occasional barbershop or pharmacy, it is a placid dose of normalcy between two of Paris' grand attractions.

I have decided that Paris would be better experienced with a quiet companion. Traveling comes with difficulties that, when stubborn Parisians are involved, are successfully dealt with in pairs. However, the gentle romance of even the most mundane facets of Parisian life begs a reflection and serenity that can most fully be achieved in silent observance of goings-on. One is overwhelmed, distraught nearly, if he or she attempts to maintain this reflection for too long. A companion could help balance all this.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Understanding Communication

Despite the fact that English is widely recognized now as the international language, you cannot reasonably expect it to be spoken on international flights between two non-English speaking countries. For this reason, I find myself sitting in the Tel Aviv airport listening to announcements about my Air France flight being given in French and Hebrew. I seem to be the only one who doesn't understand. Are we really in that straight-forward of a world? Are Israelis and Parisians truly the main demographic on the Tel Aviv-Paris flights? How many of us are just passing through? How many of us are ex-pats of some other nation? How many of our reasons are unaccounted for?

It takes the experience of being left-out, of having no comprehension of what's being said, to understand the value and weight of communication. In Jerusalem, Adeesh said he felt like a child sounding out the words on signs. Learning a new language is beginning again. It involves the most basic maneuvers--those we learn by rote through the simple act of being a child--to achieve any level of comprehension. The patience and commitment associated with this act, and the resulting allegiance to the language which one learned first, and even second, is so great that the possibility of one universal language surpassing all others seems inconceivable. Language is so thoroughly embedded in history and culture that some languages have words for emotions or settings or crops that cannot be translated because the very concept is inexplicable beyond the particular cultural context. The result is often the incorporation of another's word into a language that desires or adopts the word's object. Schadenfreude, cabaret, and yallah are examples of this. Hundreds more are exchanged everyday. But this incorporation is piecemeal; a new, foreign word is a shortcut to save us from a lengthy explanation. It does little to bridge the barriers between French-speakers and Catalans, me and the Hebrew-speaking flight attendants, the two of us who sit in silence, strangers though our language is the only thing that distinguishes us.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Jerusalem's Old City

The transition from the Muslim Quarter to the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City is stark. On one end of a walkway, Arabs man crowded storefronts with hookahs, rugs, and brass spilling into the street. Pedestrians crowd every cobblestone and Arabic conversations continue across the gritty ends of the road. On the other end, a pristine and empty passageway is dotted with Israeli flags and quiet, women-run shops touting glassware and high-end paintings. The newness is eerie, utopia-like, throughout the quiet, deserted streets of the Jewish quarter. The distant laughter of children echoes and it is apparent that this is what the Jews were longing for. How has something so Western been created within the same walls as a preserved Arab community continues to thrive? The lack of integration is the most surprising feature of the Old City. The transitions in language on street signs, apparel, and goods between quarters in the Old City signals that these quarters serve almost as ghettos--as enclaves with clearly defined borders and boundaries.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Does an Eye for an Eye Make the Whole World Blind?

Initial Reflections on Israel

There are many realities here that I am trying to unearth, to explain or rationalize or just see clearly. It all begins with history, with the perpetual persecution and "othering" of the Jewish people. When Israel, the Jewish nation, became a reality in 1947 and then extended in 1967, it seemed that Jews would finally be able to live as one in the absence of ghettos and markers and all the things that made Europe and other locations unbearable for the Jewish people. But as David Schulman pointed out tonight, Jerusalem is defined by ghettos. Whether this can be called projection or retaliation or the nature of human dynamics is not for me to say. It is so clear here that the branding, the consequences of being identified as Jewish or Palestinian or Arab or tourist, defines daily life to an extreme extent. People are not living here simply as people living in a nation. They are living here as communities and enclaves that connote dangerous potentials--their ID cards and passports and religious affiliations are demanded of them at random, in drugstores, at historic sites, on city sidewalks. Has the collective memory of persecution, first in the Jewish community and now fermenting in the Palestinian community, really led to respite from this persecution? Doesn't an eye for an eye make the whole world blind?

There are too many parts that I am struggling to piece together here: the Palestinian experience, the many Jewish perspectives, the role of the Israeli government, what it means to claim what you deserve, to speak a different language, to ignore similarities when the particularities define the deserving-ness. These are only some of the things I'm trying to understand.

I am also thinking about newness. Though I have no real sense of what was here before 1947 or even before 1967, I doubt it was in Hebrew. How has an entirely self-sufficient, self-perpetuating, self-defined nation developed in such a short time? How is it that it seems as though this is how life has been here forever?

Another element to process is fear. Two incidents today paused the pace of daily life in Jerusalem for a handful of moments before business returned to usual. Near the King David Hotel, a Palestinian turned a construction tractor onto pedestrians, injuring about thirty people. Nearly simultaneously, the doors to the Old City were closed, creating a fortified section of what has become a much larger urban realm. Around the same time, two blocks from where we stood, watching, an Israeli officer detonated an abandoned duffel bag that was considered a suspicious package. Once the streets reopened, locals photographed the charred contents--coping by calling it a novelty. In these moments, fleetingly, I understood the fear with which many residents of this terrain must life. Especially during intifadas, when anything is possible, how do you maintain both patience and composure?

Amongst all these thoughts, I visited some of the most holy sites in the world today. The Temple Mount, the Western Wall, the birthplace of Mary, the tomb of Jesus, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Via Dolorosa. These are the footprints and cornerstones of modern history. These are the symbols that restrict and presuppose the ways that I will interact with Christians, Jews, and Muslims. Simultaneously, they should be informing and enlightening my own personal relationship with my spirituality. Each of these thoughts, or brackets of thoughts, could occupy me wholly. Which should take precedence? What is my duty? How can this visit define (in part, at least) the plot of my course?

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Epic Crossing from Jordan

I have just arrived at the Fellows Lounge on the Givat Ram campus of Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The journey door-to-door from my hotel in Amman to here was surprisingly only five hours. After all the hype about crossing the border, I expected much more chaos. I took a JETT bus from Amman to the Jordanian border terminal. It was odd to be the only rider, other than a few men who seemed to be friends of the bus driver. At the terminal, families at the head of the departure line moaned that they had been there for hours and I expected the worst. It was not long before I headed for the next bus with my 5JD departure stamp in hand. The bus waited until it was full and then took us across the King Hussein/Allenby Bridge, after which we were unloaded for a young Israeli with a machine gun to board the bus for 30 seconds and then tell us to re-board. A 2-minute drive brought us to the Israeli border terminal. Luggage in hand, I passed through a series of easy checkpoints and then reached passport control. The entire operation was being half-heartedly handled by 18-year-old girls (and a few boys) wearing required garb paired with current youth fashions. Alternating between vaguely gesturing toward a line for travelers and furiously texting on their cell phones, these girls commanded absolutely no sense of security or authority over the state of Israel and those who enter it. On my turn, though, a terse teen demanded my return ticket home and spewed a list of Middle Eastern countries that she wanted to be certain I hadn't visited. It was both terrifying and laughable. After stating that she intended to stamp my passport (with a brief pause for me to speak now or forever be marked with visiting Israel), the guard waved me through a corridor where I wound up lost in a slew of cafe deliveries with no sense of how to exit. Finally an employee gave a helping gesture. Outside, I followed the building's side until I came to what looked like two guys with a hut and a van. I gave them 35 shekels to ride in an extremely hot servecee to Jerusalem's Damascus gate. From there, another taxi took me to the Givat Ram campus, and a few kind souls struggled to help me find the Feldman building. It fascinates me that Israel is so focused on security. I still can't figure out who is allowed to enter and live here, what the status of the West Bank's residents is, and why many Muslims continue to live here. Hopefully this visit will provide some insight.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

On Petra

In the 1980s, the Jordanian government turned Petra into an official tourist destination. The Bedouins who previously occupied Petra's caves were made to leave, despite their continuation of the cavernous living that the Nabateans began here. In 2008, ten Bedouin families remain in Petra. All of them offer some tourist service--they run cafes, sell jewelry and other goods, and offer "taxi rides" on donkeys, camels and horses. Bedouin children run up to passing Germans and Swedes and in perfect English offer compliments and necklaces for 2JD. These people, like gypsies and pirates, have traditionally been nomadic. The requirement that those Bedouins living in Petra contribute to the tourism industry somehow means that goat-herding has become a secondary priority, and learning English, European languages, and Japanese essential to survival.

What would Petra be today if it had not been so heavily tourified? Would its inhabitants be migrants, traveling between here and the desert, speaking languages that only fellow Bedouins and Jordanians can understand and pursuing trades that their ancestors have pursued for centuries? Would Petra be deserted, lost, empty?

This ancient metropolis is stunning. It reminds me of a time I have never known--when cities were self-contained and self-sustaining--when a city's residents were a people, with a shared ambition or culture or believed purpose.

Yesterday we climbed to the High Place of Sacrifice and the Monastery. From both, the rolling hills, cascading mountains and sandy deserts of Jordan unfold before naive, non-native eyes as untouched, unexplored, full of potential. To a student or historian, this unfolding serves as a physical manifestation of centuries of historical events, discoveries, destinies, battles. These soft, soundless lands muffle violent conflicts and trying passages that, though bereft of any remaining witnesses, are so deeply embedded in the collective memory that our modern decisions, both large and small, are determined by them. It is on these lands that Christianity was built--it is here that Islam flourished--it is just across that sea in the distance where Jews are creating new dynamics with their fellow Peoples of the Books.

Yet thousands of years ago, a Nabatean priest was performing a sacred ritual at this very spot; a Nabatean family was mourning the loss of a loved one; a young boy was collecting sticks for a fire. The basic processes and priorities of life remain the same--though the spaces have changed (what used to be the high altar, perhaps the holiest of places in Petra, is now a stomping ground for scarcely dressed foreigners with Nikon cameras and sun hats), the way that we as people interact and grow has perpetually defined our existence.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Can We Make Such Comparisons?

I have been thinking a lot about the parallels between India and Jordan. Both are full of ungraspably ancient sites that serve as living reminders of some of the earliest human memories. Both have witnessed an onslaught of increased tourism in the last 25 years and have reaped the benefits and suffered the consequences of this constant global migration. Driving along the King's Highway today, I could have changed the shop names, slightly altered the women's clothing, and been in India all the same. Scattered towns with either immensely scattered or densely packed storefronts, many peddling the same goods, dot the drive south along the King's Highway. Between them, Bedouins herd goats and set tents on lifeless desert terrain, resembling Indian farmers who cross lonesome roads with their flocks.

Yet for all the similarities, some crucial differences are striking. Jordan seems to live life much more privately. Though traditional gender roles saturate both societies, Jordanians do not seem to conduct as many of their affairs in public as the Indians (or even the Dominicans). With a significantly smaller presence of beggars and a tendency towards patience, Jordan has surprised me by the lack of attention its residents pay to me, and the friendliness I encounter when they do engage me. Coupled with a minimization of private business in public spaces, this quiet co-existence makes Jordan seem less primitive, cleaner, more advanced than what I saw of India.

In Petra, things are different. In the mid-1980s, the primarily Bedouin town and its neighboring Wadi Musa were transformed into tourist enclaves, with buses of Russians and Germans unloading at new 4-star hotels. The local culture has responded with disdain and curiosity, it seems--both welcoming of its visitors, as Jordanians always are, and concerned about the future and status of this formerly peaceful area. Only here have I been called out to by streetwalkers and store salesmen, while in Amman and Madaba, I walked by unnoticed. There's a tension in the air that suggests an unfamiliarity with how to manage the transition from an ancient base for nomads to a static preservation of the past on view to the world. I fear that we're contributing to a stifling of the energy here, the stopping of this town's movement through time, its progression along an ever-unfolding tale.

On our way to this strange, haunted Wadi Musa, we traveled along the King's Highway to see spectacular countryside, Wadi Mujib (what many compare to the Grand Canyon), and the Crusader castle in Karak, the site of many of the Crusade's holy wars. Will the United States ever have such history? In the castle we peered through slit holes for archers onto endless rolling hills, spotted with houses of people whose families came from all across the region to that spot. Unlike Petra, Karak remains a living, breathing city--did it get the right balance of preservation and continued transformation?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

On the Dead Sea, Identity, and Carpets

At Mount Nebo, tourists peer through the haze over the rolling hills toward Israel. They strain their eyes, close them, squint--they try to see what Moses saw, what Jesus proclaimed--they remember this as the Holy Land. At this site, Moses was buried. From here you can see across the Dead Sea and the River Jordan, Jerusalem and the glaring deserts of Jordan. We begin our morning here, reflecting on this historic site, this place that shaped most of modern Judeo-Islamo-Christian civilization. Then, we descend through the hills, past Bedouins and camels, to the border that didn't exist for Moses. After 2 checkpoints, we arrive at the Amman Beach on the Dead Sea. Israel lies just a few miles across the water, and guards keep watch for any signs of illegal crossing.

The Dead Sea region is not nearly as hazy or as putrid or as calcified as all the guidebooks have led me to believe. At 400m below sea level, the Dead Sea shore is rocky and sandy, like any ocean shore. The sea, an eerily calm basin separating two barely amicable nations from one another, muffles sound, as if this were the quietest, most solitary place in the Middle East. But then the Arab families and the French tourists arrive, and happy children squeal at the strange sensation of floating on water. Breaking the sheet of serenity, Jordanian salesmen pedal mud products while women in hijab wade steadily into the sea. We walk into the water until our feet are swept up from under us, and we are turned horizontal by a silent, powerful, motionless force. Floating effortlessly, unable to right ourselves without conscious strategy and careful motion, we gaze at Jordan to one side and Israel to the other, alone in a lifeless, dying Dead Sea. Is this where Jesus walked on water? Where Moses dreamed? Where countless explorers reached a seemingly insurmountable barrier?

Stinging from the salinity, I pull myself toward the beach. It is a strange sensation, but not one that is particularly alarming or fresh. On the beach I dream of sharing tea with the Bedouins, being nomadic, shepherding. Are these things I could ever do? I cannot stop thinking about the boundaries that we can't surpass, those things that by defining us confine us: the color of skin, gender, language, to a much lesser extent now, nationality. In a borderless world there are some borders that will always remain. There will never be a day when I can sit with a group of Bedouins or Parisians or African-Americans and not be, even just a little bit, an outsider. This makes me strangely sad, this permanence of identity, so malleable but ever-present.

After visiting the Dead Sea, we drive back up the winding road through the hills to the Mariam Hotel. We decide to mail our carpets and embark on a Madaba adventure. The post office gives us mildly credible information, and we visit a small stationery shop in hopes of finding packing supplies. A friendly man plays charades with us as we try to obtain packing tape and a box. After many comical interactions with other shopkeepers, we return to the hotel victorious. We end the evening poolside, supposedly the "hot nightspot" in this town, after overfilling our bellies at a reasonable restaurant.

I am not overwhelmed by difference here, as I expected to be. I am not sure if this is a pleasant or disappointing surprise.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

On Palestinians and Jordan

We ended tonight in a sweets shop, ordering 3JD worth of sugary, sticky treats. This morning, falafel and fresh juice in Amman from friendly street vendors fueled an hour of taxi rides around town to purchase bus tickets for destinations beyond Jordan. After noon, we board a bus to Madaba with students, police officers, and tired men, and arrive in this small city in time for a poolside lunch at the adorable Miriam Hotel. In this largely Christian town, we discover mosaics in countless churches, play with wide-eyed children, share tea with a weaver-shopkeeper who sells us handmade carpets. I purchase two--a runner from Iraq and a unique piece by a Bedouin woman. The shopkeeper's brother gives us a ride back to our hotel, and we peer through the hazy windows of an ancient, wide-bodied Mercedes-Benz at tiny shops catered at the tour groups we have magically avoided. In the evening, we stroll down mildly populated streets in search of food and find full stomachs with a little room left for sweets.

I am glad we came here and saw the Greek Orthodox churches--a reminder that religious diversity exists in the Middle East beyond the Jewish-Muslim conflict that plagues this region. I am thinking more and more about Palestinians--what it means to be a displaced population so large and so much in the public eye. Canada and Jordan offer passports to these people--what does it mean to be a citizen of a nation to which you have no relationship beyond the acceptance of an act of generosity?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

At 2:00am in New York, I Am in Jordan

At Queen Alia airport, the sun sets over the desert, bleeding into the immigration chamber where we fight, passport to passport, for the JD10 entry visa. Shuttled through the diplomat line, I claim my luggage and greet two khakied, familiar, facial-haired grown-up boys. Nick, Andrew and I ride in a taxi past a small amusement park, countless fruit stands, the sun disappearing into more and more distant sand. At the Palace Hotel, a dingy room greets us with its one perk: a balcony which brings the sweet Amman evening air in to cool our tired bodies.

We venture up a hill, or many hills, to the Wild Jordan, where we order many bland courses and incredible smoothies. The green florescent lights within hundreds of minarets speckle the Amman panorama--neon awnings for a city's biggest trade: faith.

At first, coming in from the airport along a mid-sized populated road, I reminisced about India--the clusters of mis-matched shops, the free flow of traffic and pedestrians and goods, the busy-ness of the shopping streets even late at night. Further into my first night in this country, in this city, I am not so confident that India and Jordan can be compared. Walking along a deserted Jebel Amman street at 1:00am, with two friends alongside, I sensed a serenity, a comfort, that India may never know. Here in Jordan, this tiny, peaceful nation amongst warriors, the pace is purposeful but relaxed, the mission meaningful yet not urgent. What more will I discover on its worn and lively streets?

(You + Me =) We Are Here

When we landed in Paris, everybody applauded, banded together like witnesses of some feat or spectacle. It is 9:55am and it is Bastille Day. Will we de-board to a celebration? Or will we go our separate ways, as we did for all those moments prior to that in which we, as individuals, families, groups, lost souls, boarded this plan and formed "we"? I love the ephemeral quality of this particular pronoun.

It is 10:00am in Paris and we are here, arrived from New York JFK full of cognac and coffee and sleep.

Friday, July 4, 2008

July 4, 2008

"Here's where I am, here's where I stand," tearing down the walls of apartment 2G in 90 Morningside Drive, pushing papers into heavy cardboard boxes, as we say goodbye with sweeping brooms and ladders to reach the cabinets we haven't touched since day one. It feels like we have been moving always--13 years of trips to storage and spring cleaning initiatives blend together now. We have lived here the longest, we keep saying, both as an excuse and as a coping mechanism.

How do we reflect? When do we look back to C.'s 1st grade "presidents" birthday party and M.'s senior prom? When do we honor these hallowed hallways?

We can see where we are now. C. is a young woman--she eats at school now and doesn't count her handwashes. Mom is tired but still exuding creative energy. Dad is the same as always but more worried. I am too practical, less passionate, disoriented.

For years we have defined ourselves as a family that lives in New York. Do we define ourselves as a diaspora now? Dispersed for economic and educational reasons? In Chicago, Dad inhabits a world of academia that many see only in movies. In Alfred, Mom will re-learn (or discover for the first time?) rural life and a real opportunity for leadership. Back in New York, remaining in New York, C. and I will navigate the remains of our youth. Like ghosts, we will traverse the streets of Morningside Heights pursing new, revised dreams. We will cross independently at crosswalks that used to require a held hand; we will make decisions that used to be made for us; we will open doors we could not have yet imagined.

Yet some doors, like that of 2G in 90 Morningside Drive and like 5J in 400 W. 119th Street before, will close to us, vaulting previous phases of our lives so that they are accessible only in the memories that visit us when certain smells or notes or conversations invite them. Now remembering seven odd years earlier than this moment, writing a poem that begins: "there comes a time when memories are all we've got. A shoebox of photos, an attic of pasts, decorating the modern memorabilia." We are so vulnerable to our memories--this has never occurred to me before. Nostalgia is the most powerful feeling that has no immediate rooting in the present moment. It is the past intruding on where we have arrived--it is a reminder that we may or may not need.

How long have we used this apartment, this home, as our base? From here we learned New York. Speeding down Broadway on the 1 train, we learned the restaurants of the Upper West Side, the Stardust Diner, the need to avoid Times Square, Younghee in Tribeca, Canal Street, the World Trade Center. Privately, we made our own discoveries, building secret New Yorks that no one else will share. We found patterns that suited us, routes we found preferable, places that meant comfort and safety and hope. We began to define ourselves through these individualized ties, these constructed days and weeks that we could allude to across the dinner table but never fully recount.

When did our relationship with this city change? Was it when M. left for college? When D. left for Israel? When the plan became to leave this city, to go our separate ways? Or was it only when we packed the last straws, the wrapping paper boxes, the Ganeshas over the doors?