Habitats: Private Lives in the Big City

Habitats: Private Lives in the Big City

Habitats: Private Lives in the Big City

Habitats: Private Lives in the Big City

Synopsis

There may be eight million stories in the Naked City, but there are also nearly three million dwelling places, ranging from Park Avenue palaces to Dickensian garrets and encompassing much in between. The doorways to these residences are tantalizing portals opening onto largely invisible lives. a Habitats offers 40 vivid and intimate stories about how New Yorkers really live in their brownstones, their apartments, their mansions, their lofts, and as a whole presents a rich, multi-textured portrait of what it means to make a home in the world's most varied and powerful city.a a These essays, expanded versions of a selection of the Habitats column published in the Real Estate section of The New York Times, take readers to both familiar and remote sections of the city-to history-rich townhouses, ato low-income housing projects, to out-of-the-way places far from the beaten track, to every corner of the five boroughs- and introduces them to a wide variety of families and individuals who call New York home. These pieces reveal a great deal about the city's past and its rich store of historic dwellings. Along with exploring the deep and even mystical connections people feel to the place where they live, these pieces, taken as a whole, offer a mosaic of domestic life in one of the world's most fascinating cities and a vivid portrait of the true meaning of home in the 21st-century metropolis. a Constance Rosenblum, most recently the author of the Habitats column published in the Real Estate section ofa The New York Times, is the longtime editor of the paper's City section and a former editor of the Times's Arts and Leisure section. She is the author ofa Boulevard of Dreams: Heady Times, Heartbreak, and Hope Along the Grand Concourse in the Bronx.a

Excerpt

There's an exquisite short story by the writer Laurie Colwin that perfectly captures the lure of living in other people’s houses. the story, which is called “The Lone Pilgrim,” is about a sensitive and rather lonely young book illustrator whose greatest pleasure is being the ideal houseguest and observing firsthand what she describes as “the closed graceful shapes of other people’s lives.”

She spends an October night when the moon is full in an old house in a college town, a sleeping dog by the stove, an apple pie in the oven, and atop a window ledge a jar of homemade jam and cuttings of grape ivy in a cracked mug. a rainy night that reminds her of England finds her in a 19th-century brownstone where the mood is set by polished molding, leaded windows, a Spode platter, and a walnut dining table. On yet another occasion, she is ensconced in a house in Maine where the décor includes fancy-back spoons and bouquets of dried flowers in lusterware pitchers.

“The Lone Pilgrim” was published in 1981, a moment when people were becoming increasingly obsessed with the places where they lived, be it lovingly restored town house or reclaimed loft in an abandoned industrial district. But the story speaks to us not simply because Colwin captured a shred of the zeitgeist or because of her lapidary prose. We’re also drawn to the subject matter. We’re fascinated by what homes and their contents reveal about other people’s lives. That’s one reason so many people love Victorian novels, with their wealth of domestic detail and their lush evocation of the rooms in which characters’ lives unfold. That’s why readers are drawn to shelter magazines, with their almost pornographic depictions of lustrous marble and gnarled wood and buttery leather upholstery. It’s no accident that people sometimes have dreams about finding secret attics or long-forgotten cellars. They seem to be searching for the perfect home even while asleep.

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