Since moving to Chicago, the question most posed to me has been “How does Chicago compare to New York?” I usually respond with a simple, “It doesn’t.” I believe there is no way of answering that question. At least there is no way to answer it without offending someone. The thing is, I spent my formative years there: the first half of my 20’s. I was born and raised in the south, I inked tattoos on my skin that represent places like Georgia and Louisiana, I currently live in Chicago, but when asked “Where are you from?”— I often say, “NYC.” Even though I lived the first 19 years of my life below the Mason-Dixon line, I have no accent. Weird, I know.
But, when I went back “home” to NY a couple of weeks ago I didn’t feel like I was home at all. Instead, I felt as if I was in another country. A fucking beautiful one at that. I was in Greenport, Long Island. The Northfork. The antithesis of its five-minute-ferry-ride-away step-sister, the Hamptons.
The day I arrived at the house I was swept away in smells of lavender and sounds of the ocean, just steps away from the door. No longer was I in New York, per se. It felt more like Piemonte, or Provence. I had never made it to Long Island my entire sojourn in New York. I began thinking to myself, why the fuck did I spend four years in Manhattan? Occasionally I made it to Brooklyn, Queens, and The Bronx. Hell, I even made it to Staten Island. But, for some reason, I never made it to the end of Long Island.
My friend, colleague, and mentor, Chris Genoversa had been out here for a couple of months already. I hadn’t seen him since I left our restaurant, 6th Street Kitchen, for Alinea. He showed up on my second day with a motorcycle and a list of places we needed to check out. I found a kid-sized bicycle helmet, jumped on the back, and we took off. We only planned on being gone 30 minutes or so, but time in the Northfork went by faster than expected…
…Eight hours later we came back. After visiting two farms, a local cafe, and riding through vineyards on a motorcycle, I completely forgot we were even in New York. We grilled lamb, cooked green beans, had brisket, and kugel. We finished off the night with a cigar on the beach, watching shooting stars with my girlfriend’s family.
For the next two days I did nothing other than go to farms and markets, cook things picked that day, caught from the sea that morning, milked that afternoon, with a travel tag of about six miles.
I guess my point is that this place I call “home”, this place people put on a pedestal above every other city in America, is a place I knew nothing about.
I will always miss you, New York, but I think it’s time to move on. Yes, I am breaking up with you.
My advice to transplants is love where you are, but don’t dwell on where you’ve been. There probably are a few things right under your nose that will take you years to find.
“I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.”- Maya Angelou