Neighborhood Nomad: Sara's Brooklyn Ballroom
November 20, 2011, Washington, DC: Sara is one of my oldest and dearest friends. We met in the first grade in Baltimore, Md., stayed in close touch after my family moved away, and eventually became college roommates in two adjoining 80-square-foot dorm rooms in Manhattan. When Sara first emailed me this summer about her new place in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Park Slope, I couldn't picture it. "I found a new apartment just a couple of blocks away from my current one," she wrote. "Let's just say I think my new apartment used to be the ballroom!" Then she sent a photo. Wow. Then I saw for myself last weekend. Double wow.
Sara, this is incredible. Describe this place and some of its craziest features.
I love my apartment. I've come to affectionately call it "Le Petit Versailles." It has ornate blue and gold molding and a floor-to-ceiling gold mirror that covers my living room walls. Its design peaks my curiosity about the family that originally built this home. In the bedroom, you can spot the hand-painted names of tens of Italian writers on a wood beamed ceiling - scientists and philosophers like Virgil, Galileo and Machiavelli. It's fun to fall asleep at night wondering if these chronicled writers and scientists are in any way influencing my dreams. My apartment is decked out with so much charm from another era - ornate wood-carved archways, diamond-patterned hardwood floors, candelabras that suggest a lifestyle from the late 1800s or early 1900s.
Why Park Slope over other New York neighborhoods you've called home?
I've lived in New York for close to ten years with the most recent two years spent in Park Slope, Brooklyn. By far, I love this neighborhood best. I had some anxiety about leaving Manhattan, but there's something about Park Slope that makes me feel like I have the best of New York City without the worst of it. Park Slope offers a really great neighborhood lifestyle with all the regular customs and routines of a smaller city, but also provides great transportation access to Manhattan and a less congested feel. Brooklyn's equivalent of Central Park, called Prospect Park, is just a few blocks from my door.
What are your favorite places in the neighborhood (beyond your amazing apartment)?
There are lots of places in my neighborhood that I might call my favorites: Prospect Park in the spring and summer, local ice cream joints like Blue Marble and Ample Hills Creamery, the Farmer's Market that takes place every Saturday morning, and the Brooklyn Museum and Botanical Gardens that seem to offer something new for every season.
Where are your other hometowns?
I was born and grew up in the north part of Baltimore City, MD and most of my family still lives in and around Baltimore/DC. Most of my life has been split between Baltimore and New York City, where I originally moved for college and seemed to have stayed put. In between, I've tried out other neighborhoods in Baltimore, including Federal Hill/South Baltimore, and have also called Santiago, Chile and Dublin, Ireland home.
Where were you born and where is your family from? Baltimore, MD is my birthplace. Interestingly, I am a first generation born Baltimorean. My father was born in Billings, Montana and later grew up in Seattle before moving east to Maryland. My mother was born in Pittsburgh and lived there until she was 12 before relocating with her family to Buffalo, NY. Graduate school caused her to relocate from Buffalo to Baltimore.
What do you miss about New York when you're in Baltimore? What do you miss about Baltimore when you're in New York?
When I'm in Baltimore, I miss that I'm not able to walk everywhere I want, hop on public transportation to visit a friend, or find the variety and frequency of theater, cultural experiences, food and ideas that I have come to depend on in New York City.
But when I'm in NYC, there is lots I miss about Baltimore. I miss Baltimore's small town feel (Smaltimore). I miss bumping into old friends at the grocery store or out to dinner. I miss the constancy of tradition that seems to be more a part of my life in Baltimore than it is in New York. In a weird way, I miss that Baltimore does have fewer options. Despite having anything you could want in New York City, there's something about having too many options that can make a city like New York that much harder to navigate and that much more difficult to become invested in.
Any other places you can see yourself living?
There are lots of cities I've visited during my travels that would be amazing places to live. I have been to Portland twice and really love what I've experienced there. Charleston, South Carolina and New Orleans have also peaked my interest - mostly because they are so different than anything I grew up knowing. And there are cities outside the U.S. that would also be amazing to live: Barcelona, Paris, Tel Aviv and Istanbul among them.