Last weekend a neighbor was telling me how she once lived in an old carriage house on 29th street, on the wild west side of town near Twelfth Avenue; it was one of several accounts from her many New York lives, which she captivated me with that evening. The description of this cozy, multi-story artist's abode which she and a friend fashioned for themselves on what was then a very dodgy, windy (it's still windy) part of Manhattan sounded completely magical—like a lost world from a different time and place. And it was. I hear a lot of these enchanting New York tales, always recalled by older residents who seem to be on their fifth, sixth, seventh lives (which also gives them this distinct air of invariable youthfulness). Of course it's a given that one has to be a certain age to have experienced so many personal epochs, but for me and my peers, not yet middle-aged, I've been tussling with this cloying, unsettling feeling that such rich and multi-chapter lives aren't as easy to come by anymore—at least not here in New York.
As I see more of my friends and acquaintances leave New York for new jobs, bigger homes, locales with less expensive costs of living to raise their kids, they're definitely touching on major milestones, but in entirely new settings that almost render such changes as natural. Maybe what I find so thrilling and otherworldly about my neighbor's stories is that they all take place in one setting. And yet it could be a different city for every different story.
New York used to be so many separate-feeling cities compacted into one, perhaps it was harder to acknowledge any others beyond its five boroughs (or there was less need to). At least that's my sense of it—and it's just supposition. Although some things are true, like the carriage house. It's still there, according to my neighbor, even if the city she described isn't.