An Irishgirl abroad — New York life through a European lens

The Craigslist cabinet

Posted in New York, Real estate by Frieda on April 27, 2010

Cabinet of Wonders = "a place where things of interest are set out, in possibly bizarre, possibly fetishistic presentation, for perusal by the discerning."*

I know it’s somewhat cheating to cull material from Craigslist. It’s such a diverse, colorful and infinite store of both good and evil that my personal research could never match it. I’m going to do it, though, just this once, in relation to my recent search for a new home. I kept a record of the creepiest ads I found and here are two of the most intriguing.

For $550 (Bushwick, Brooklyn):
“I have beautiful loft, I use for teaching my Yoga like classes looking to share with some who teaches Dance, or Yoga Meditation, Healing massage therapy, music acting or Photography…

“We are approaching an era where many of us know that without Vision people perish, and you know this posting is slightly unusual. But I think there are many creative people out there friends we haven’t met yet. With great talents in many different areas who are willing to try different ways of thinking an operating and there by creating new Venues for creative Expressions.

“If you think you’re one of those people then respond accordingly and lets be productive . This is not just a New Year but a New Decade where a new You must emerge better than you were before, leaving behind the old ways of limited hurtful fearful ways of thinking, and Begin anew living by faith and not sight because you have an inner Vision and know that nothing is impossible. You owe it to yourself to live creatively and joy-filled, Remember No guts No Glory.”

For $700 (Soho, Manhattan):
“Ultra-modern, brand new, soho duplex with 2 large bedrooms upstairs, one available to rent. Fully furnished. Huge 20-foot floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Broadway. Huge living room, huge open-space eat-in kitchen. Upstairs: shower, toilet. Downstairs: whirlpool bath, toilet.

“It’s posted at 700 but the rent can be dramatically reduced for the right female looking to … entertain me. I am in my late 20’s and in good shape.

“YOU must be highly attractive. All I need is some company in my lonely life because of my hectic work schedule. Your rent will be reduced based upon how … happy you make me, although things won’t work out if there is no chemistry between us. You are welcome to have your own life and friends over etc and I will keep any arrangements secret. I am discreet.

“Look forward to your response. Pictures a must.”

I don’t know. Do you get this in London?

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*All true of Craiglist except “discerning.” The definition, and the image, came from this blog.


Moving house — most stressful?

Posted in Brooklyn, New York, Real estate by Frieda on April 27, 2010

It's never that simple.

We all know that statistic — that moving house is the third most traumatic life experience you can have after death of a loved one and divorce (I even checked the fact; let’s believe the NS). Blissfully ignoring this stat I’ve moved house four times in the past year-and-a-half and am about to depart for a fifth new home. When I told a prospective housemate about it he said this meant I was a nomad. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.

In London and probably Dublin too, moving house is tough, but New York takes the cake. Real estate has a grand narrative here; it’s a site of tragedy and (less often) comedy. There are gossip blogs about it, local blogs, newspaper sections, and specialist blogs, all testifying to the passions that lie within the New York housing market.

In the past moving has stressed me out but this time I was determined to stay calm; which was a good thing. Let me tell you a few stories.

I saw several places before making my decision. The third was a commune/co-op where food and chores were shared among six occupants. Everyone was a member of the Park Slope Food Coop. There were two guys and four girls. The house was a gorgeous Park Slope brownstone with original 19th century features. A little old lady owned it  and it had been a commune since the 70s. At $800 per month including bills it was a steal, for New York. And it wasn’t a cult (I asked). So far, so innocuous.

One of the two men, tall and affable, gave me the tour. Then I went downstairs to the kitchen where seven or eight other prospective housemates were milling around with anxious eyes. We each had to make sure to speak to each of the five housemates because if we didn’t we’d automatically be disqualified. That was more or less fine, until one girl said to me: “So! Tell me about yourself.” It was too abrupt, and job-interview-like. But, of course, worse was to follow. We were given sheets of paper to fill out, with five or six different questions, including “What are the strengths and skills you’d bring to this house?” and “Why should we choose you?” Then, in case we were not memorable, each of us had to stand, holding a piece of paper with our name on it to our chest, while one of the housemates took a photo.

So I didn’t get that room. I got one much nicer, in an artists’ commune in a converted factory in Prospect Heights — here’s a pic:

My new apartment! (entrance)

When I gave the landlord, who will be a housemate, my deposit last weekend he said, “Oh, I think the roof leaks by the way. Did I mention that?” He hadn’t. But I am hopeful.

I kept a record of the weirdest housing ads I found on craigslist. Here are two you might enjoy.

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[I got the pic from]

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Poet of the sky

Posted in New York by Frieda on April 13, 2010

Philippe Petit

If you’re afraid of heights, or risks, you should take a look at this video as a sort of exposure therapy. In 1974, a Frenchman named Philippe Petit stretched a cable from one of the Twin Towers to the other, and spent an hour walking back and forth between them with no net beneath. Actually, he didn’t just walk, he ran, lay down, and spent time looking at the people 1,350 feet below. You can see a wonderfully dated newsreel about it here.

It’s old news now of course, and it has become part of New York’s mythology. The novelist Paul Auster said the walk was “a gift of astonishing, indelible beauty to New York.” Petit wrote two books about it over the years, Man on a Wire and To Reach the Clouds, and his film won awards at Sundance in 2008. Last year Irish writer Colum McCann wrote a fine literary response to Petit’s highwire act, Let the Great World Spin.

Petit walked back and forth eight times.

McCann gave several talks in New York and I heard him speak. He said that in his book, which Esquire described as “the first great 9/11 novel,” he wanted to dwell on an act of creativity that countered the destruction of 2001. I’m almost finished reading it now, and it is indeed very good, though it took me a little while to get into and I’m finding it marred by having too many characters and plots — I keep wanting to find out more about one group, only to discover that the story has moved on.

Nor did I get the significance of the tight-rope walk right away: who cares, really, about a circus act?

He dangles his leg and looks down.

When I discussed the novel with a friend, she told me I should see the film Man on a Wire, and then I’d understand. That’s when I watched the Youtube clips and found these unforgettable photos. I was entranced.

I still am, not just by the walk itself, but by Petit’s impish smile as he afterwards told an interviewer: “There is no why. Just because, when I see a beautiful place to put my wire, I cannot resist.”

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Waiting for paint to dry

Posted in Brooklyn, Local by Frieda on April 9, 2010

My house in Brooklyn, today: picturesque, no?

This is what I came home to on Tuesday. Our landlord — who’s otherwise very nice — has made an executive decision to paint the front door dark green and to further improve our living situation by retiling the porch. Today I returned around lunchtime to find both the main door and the door of our apartment wide open (the green paint was drying). This was annoying. Our little cat Booboo could have made a bid for freedom and met her end on the street outside. More crucially, someone could have crept into my bedroom and stolen some of my stuff.

I came in and sat down in the kitchen to do some work. But the big orange contraption you can see in the photo started to make the beep — beep — beep sound that it has been making all week from 8.30 am onwards. I flew out the door in a rage to ask the men who were working (now doing something on the third floor as you can see) to keep it down.

The door slammed behind me and all of a sudden I was outside without phone or keys or purse. I shouted up to the men asking if they had keys. They didn’t, our landlord’s dad had opened the door for them that morning. How about the landlord or his dad? They were at work.

The younger of the men, a pallid guy in his early twenties with short spiky hair who spoke with an unidentifiable accent, climbed in the upstairs window and came downstairs to help me. Taking a set of cards from his wallet he began to slide one into the lock to open our door, with worrying expertise. The trick failed. Then, when I told him the back door was open, he knocked on the upstairs apartment. After, I have to assume, leaping off the roof and entering through the back door, he opened my front door from the inside and politely let me in.

An emergency was averted, I wasn’t going to have to sit on my steps for hours waiting for a key-bearer to arrive. I could feel ambiguous relief: the people working on our apartment, performing whatever mysterious tasks they’re engaged in, are friendly and helpful and chivalrous; they just happen to be good at breaking into houses too.

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