Saturday, June 12, 2010

Quick Takes: Return of the Native, Bronx Edition

1.  When I went back to New York last week, my days there took a shape that was practically identical to their shape during the last few years I lived there.  I stayed a block away from my old house in the Bronx.  I got on the train to go downtown and rehearse with my colleagues at my old university.  My old voice student B., now at conservatory, watched my son while we rehearsed, and took him to the university language lab, where he was in a language study as a toddler, and which has a nice playroom full of toys.  I went to Starbucks every day, which I never do where I live now, because you have to drive there; in New York, though, there's one on every other corner, so you have to be a hard, coffee-hating man to walk on by.  I hung out in playgrounds with Rosie and our children.  I pushed my son in his stroller for miles down city streets in ninety-five-degree heat with a backpack on my back.  (This last, I must admit, I found quite hateful, though it was something I had always done in the past without a complaint or a second thought.  I now realize that one gets quite spoiled living in a place where this kind of extreme parenting is not the common, shared experience of all mothers.)

2.  Rehearsing with my pianist J. is something that has become second nature for both of us.  We met in our doctoral program in 2003 -- she was the only Korean pianist who wanted to hang out with singers, and, a first-rate musician, soon began working as a collaborator with some of us -- and we have performed together more times that I can count off the top of my head.  So our musicianship is well-known to one another, and we have certain codes and cues to bring out certain aspects of the other's musicality, and after a minute or two of rehearsal time we fall into a kind of groove, gradually building up to an intense experience of the kind we hope to recreate for our audience.  It is such a great pleasure to work with colleagues whom we know, musically speaking, as intimately as spouses.  It is a great pleasure to make music with other people in most circumstances, come to think of it.

3.  Back in the Bronx, I loaded up on the things you can only get there:  Barry's tea, and these Italian whole-wheat cookies from a shop just over the city line in Yonkers that I've never found anywhere else (which is saying a lot because in New York you can get anything).  And the truth is that Barry's tea is not really exclusive to the Bronx; I can even get it where I live now.  But in the Bronx, the box pictured above retails for four dollars, and in my new town it goes for nine.  I suppose Irish tea is one of the few things less expensive there than here.

4.  It's funny about the Bronx.  When I moved there after living for so many years in "the city," I felt as if I already wore the mantle of the exile, in spite of the fact that I had moved only about four miles.  But as any New Yorker knows, four miles might as well be a million; venturing even four blocks from your home can catapult you into a parallel universe, one with strange and incomprehensible customs and a populace that may or may not view you as having come in peace.  If the four miles separating you from your old home are inaccessible by public transportation except via an elaborate system of transfers, as is often the case in the outer boroughs, you might as well forget about seeing what begins to feel like your distant, native shore.  When I moved to the Bronx, my English friend and mentor John Allitt wrote me a letter in which he commented that "Bronx" was an ugly name, and what did it mean anyway?  (Well, Archie Bunker said it meant "the land where no trees grow.")

Nonetheless, the Bronx, that most forsaken of boroughs of the City of New York, really burrows its way into your heart.  Anyone who has ever lived there will tell you that, for all of its problems, they have come to love it.  When I moved to my old neighborhood, people there used to say that it was the best neighborhood in the world.  I looked at them as if they were out of their minds then, but now I agree.


Rodak said...

Welcome back. Did you take any pictures in the Bronx (or elsewhere) that you could share with your Bronx-hungry readership?

Pentimento said...

Thanks, Rodak, and I have to admit I'm terrible about taking pictures and didn't take a single one, even though I had a little camera with me the whole time. I was busy and just forgot. But I may go back next month, and, if I do, I promise to lay some photos on you then.

Rodak said...

Cool. Something to look forward to.

mrsdarwin said...

I wonder, can one find Barry's tea at World Market? I love tea, and I'm always looking to find the perfect black tea.

Pentimento said...

Give it a try, Mrs. D. Barry's Tea is SO fantastic. Really strong. In Woodlawn, my old neighborhood, all the diners had your choice of Lipton's or Barry's.