New Year's Eve, 2009
As I write this, I realized that I've just finished one of the most tumultuous years of my life. Last New Year's Eve I was at my friend, Laurele's with her sister Karole and our good friend Carl. My apartment had bee on the market since September with lots of people walking through and only one offer that was so insulting I refused even to consider negotiating with them. 2008 had been a good year and I had successfully completed work one of the most gratifying projects of my career, JACQUES PEPIN FAST FOOD MY WAY. But 2009 brought a rafter of bad news. The economy had settled in for a long stretch of bad news. My funds were beginning to run on empty, and the only good news was the election of Barak Obama to the Presidency.
For the first time in years, I didn't take a vacation. I had to be home in case an offer came through. The layoffs were beginning to hit the publishing industry in a really tough way, and every day my phone rang or my e-mails were filled with dreadful news that a dear friend or a long-time industry colleague had been fired. I imagined myself losing my home. If I couldn't sell my apartment in one of the most sought-after neighborhoods of New York City, we were all doomed, I thought. I stopped looking at my 401k statements from the bank. It was becoming increasingly difficult to stay positive. I was cranky about everything. I sat and sulked through plays and opera (when I went because most of the time I was looking for any excuse not to go to the Met--a first for me in nearly 40 years of opera-going). I obsessively looked at houses in Portland on the Internet, and kept in close contact with my real estate agent there. She probably felt she would never sell a house to me, and she'd be stuck taking my calls for the next few years. I had put a third of my apartment in storage to stage it for sale and the bills were mounting. There was very little new business on the horizon. For the first time in my life, I was losing my sense of confidence. So was the rest of the world.
Spring was very late arriving in New York this year and I staged a number of temper tantrums about the number of open houses (every Sunday) and requests for private viewings for those who could not or would not come to the open houses with my broker. I really lost it when one rude young man insisted on a weekday visit at 8:30 AM. This spoiled Wall Street brat had to have it his way. I saw him in my apartment lobby the following Sunday attending another open house and hit the roof with my severely tested real estate agent. Then on Easter Sunday, I had an offer. It was nearly $90K under asking, and we'd already dropped the price four times by $120K. Before I could say no, another offer came in the next day for roughly the same amount. My broker and I decided to see if we could play the offers off one another. And then the next day a third offer arrived. It was at least respectful of my listing price and I decided enough. We accepted and for another twelve days I pushed through getting a signed contract. Now that the apartment was sold, I had to find a house to buy, and in early May I flew back to Portland to buy something.
It's ironic that for the better part of a year I had concentrated on a Craftsman-style bungalow home, which are available in Portland in abundance. But just before I left for Portland, I happened to notice an intriguingly updated Cape Cod in a neighborhood I wanted to live in, and at the last minute put it on my list. As many of you have followed this blog, this was the house I eventually purchased. I had to rush back to New York to make arrangements to pack up the rest of the apartment, and get it and the stored items shipped out to Portland.
No sooner had I returned than I got the news from my biggest client that they had to cancel all the agreed-upon projects for the fall season. Now I was totally unemployed, in contract to sell my home in New York and with a signed contract to purchase another home 3,000 miles away. Strangely enough it didn't rattle me. It was time to leave. I had lived in New York for nearly 40 years, and I was long overdue for a second act. It was time to say goodbye and figure out "what next." I would concentrate on moving into a new home, and take my time making it livable before deciding on my next move.
It was truly wrenching to leave my friends. I have bonded deeply with so many friends, and it would be particularly difficult to say goodbye to Maryann, Karole, Laurele, Carl, Joe, Tricia, , Sara, Pat, Dyanne, Christine, Jim, Bruce, Murray, Wilma, Alison, Jeannie, Susan, Susan and Susan. Alison had generously offered her apartment for a farewell blast, and I eagerly accepted. I also scheduled a lot of final dinners with these same dear friends. There was a publishing community of colleagues also dear to me to say goodbye to. And there was the added stress of kicking the bank's asses on both coasts. I became particularly incensed when my own bank demanded an additional fifteen days to close once I left New York. I wasn't having it. I wouldn't tolerate pitching my tent at a friend's in Portland, nor was I going to rent an apartment or stay at a hotel. My lawyer in New York was having his own problems trying to get everyone to stick to my scheduled departure date. I drove everyone nuts in trying to make all my original dates work. And then Murray announced he had lung cancer. Terrible news. Maryann organized a group of professional friends to say goodbye and we met at a favorite Irish watering hole on West 57th Street for an evening of eating, drinking and an exchange of war stories.
The party was wonderful with Alison and Jeannie master-minding everything. Afterwards, Kurt, a long-time colleague who often stayed at my apartment on business trips, with wife Sookey, invited me for a final dinner at the bar of Union Square cafe, a place where Kurt and I had shared manner a bar dinner over the years. As it was my birthday coming up, Maryann and I made a dinner date to mark both occasions. We had a wonderful evening, first at dinner at one of Jean-George's restaurant's in the Village and then we tied one on with Carl in the Village at Cafe Loup, laughing the night away with a few moments of tears to acknowledge that this was really happening. I had a particularly wonderful dinner with Jon and Linda Sawyer. I had worked with Jon at Jericho for nearly fifteen years. When Arthur was dying this kind, wonderful and very crazy man often kept me company, keeping an eye out for me. His generosity solidified a great friendship between us and he continued to make sure that I was a a part of his family. I had watched Linda rise to CEO of one of the most creative ad agencies in the city, and beamed as their sons were born and flourished. We shared a terrific evening.
I asked Sara Keene if I could stay with her in her apartment at 91st and West End Avenue between the closing and my departure on June 26th--my 59th birthday. She stayed one night and we have a lovely time before she left for her country home. Beau and I explored Riverside Park a block away. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the neighborhood, the spectacular river views, and the lush gardens just reaching their peak of summer beauty. A few more memorable dinners with Carl, and Carl and Tricia, and the day arrived for departure. I had to see Murray before I left and called to see if he would see me. He sounded frail but said he was up for a visit. When I arrived, I was shocked by his appearance. It had been less than three months since I had last seen him, and it was clear he was dying. He was not up for a long visit, and asked me to go about 15 minutes into our visit. I knew it was the last time I would see him (indeed Murray passed away a few weeks later). I went off to meet Joe for our last lunch. Through thick and thin and through most of my time in New York, Joe had been my rock--my longest friendship in New York. Now seventy and going through his own problems, it was a sad lunch.
Back at Sara's I got to spend a few minutes with her daughter, Gigi and her husband Tom and their children, Caitlin and Jackson. I had cooked the food for the reception at Gigi's wedding to Tom, and then again, when they got back together again after a separation. It seemed almost like a full circle.
And then we were bound for the airport--Beau and me. I was able to bring him on the plane with me, in a carrier. We were headed for a new adventure.
And here we are five months later in my new adopted city. Beau is gently snoring in his day bed next to me in the dining room. Through sheer will power, I've re-invented my life. At Rux Martin's suggestion, I launched a cookbook review blog which seems to be getting some acceptance. I've settled into this wonderful house of mine. I'm sure it is no surprise to anyone that I've managed to build a full social life, creating new friends and forging new alliances here in a very short time. I've gone to the opera, eaten exciting meals in a range of the city's restaurants, shopped the farmer's markets, unpacked, and furnished my home, hung my pictures, selected window treatments, hosted visits from friends from San Francisco (Joan and Fritz Hottenstein and their gorgeous daughters), Lynne Yerby came with her mother to visit Mark and Lucy, her brother and sister-in-law, and proclaimed that my home suited me to a tee! My friend, Pat Reshen from New York, came at the same time my brother Douglas, who has remarried and is now the father of a gorgeous little girl and looking for a house in the area to buy. It was a hectic time, but fun. I explored the area's wine country, and hosted my first Thanksgiving, during which Tricia came out for a wonderful visit. Susan's boyfriend, Michael came for an overnight visit in route to his step-son for a 4oth birthday celebration. Beau and I enjoyed a long and productive summer getting to know our neighbors, dining at outdoor cafes for the first time together (couldn't do that in New York). I've been warmly welcomed everywhere. But there's been plenty of time for reflecting on the changes and their effect on us and I'm convinced that I made the right decision at this time in my life. I got the opportunity to cheer my hugely talented friend, Christine, as she triumphed in her first Wagner role in Houston in November. What a thrill to watch this gifted singer electrify an audience with her magnificent voice and superb acting skills. I can count new friends here--most important Jean-Francois and his partner, Jay, John and Darren, Sarah and Carol, Kent, Mike and Duncan, Alan and Ruth, Lucy and Mark, Tom and Joe, Rafael and Connie, Lawrence and Stefania, Grace and John, and so many others.
It's another four and a half hours until the onset of 2010. I'll be 60 at the end of June. I've got a new project to begin work on in January. I'm feeling very optimistic about 2010. I'll be back in New York in May for a visit, and to attend the BookExpo America exhibit, where I will once again, be presiding over the press room. The International Association of Culinary Professionals will be holding their annual meeting in Portland this year, and I hope to have friends stay with me during this event. And the cookbook blog will continue to evolve. I have so much to be thankful for and even more to look forward to in the New Year.
Happy New Year, and all my love to everyone who made this such a special year.