WHY WE MOVED FROM ONE UNIVERSITY TOWN TO ANOTHER IN 1,000 WORDS OR LESS

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1.  We met in Cambridge (Massachusetts).  He was a 73 year old psychiatrist with a private practice. He also taught one class a semester at the Harvard Medical School.  I was a 69 3/4 year old civil litigation lawyer by then practicing at a small firm in Boston that permitted a four-day work week.  The other day a week I would trundle my laptop to the Boston Writers Room (where there was no laundry or internet to distract me) and try to write something that wasn’t a brief or a memorandum in support of a motion.

2. He hated Cambridge because it reminded him of his marriage to his second wife, who still lived in their Cambridge house,  which she had obtained during an acrimonious divorce.  Everywhere we went reminded him of something that had occurred during the marriage, or someone they had met when they were still, as it were, “together.”  So from the day I first knew him, he wanted to leave.  A psychiatrist can practice anywhere, once he obtains a license from the state he has moved to.

3. I didn’t hate Cambridge at all, but would have been willing to leave except I was chained to Massachusetts as long as I needed an income stream.  It’s not that I loved my law practice  so much. (I didn’t, really.) But I still needed money, having begun life as a single woman after a second divorce with a net worth of zero at the age of sixty. Moreover, my right to practice law wasn’t portable without sitting for two days of bar exams all over again, except to a few states that had reciprocity arrangements with Massachusetts. And even then, who would want to hire a 70-year-old lawyer without a book of business or knowledge of state law? So we stayed put where I was licensed.  In my condo on Brattle Street.

4. There are lots of interesting foreign movies, concerts, exhibits and lectures open to the public when you live where Harvard is. (Moreover it sounds very classy to have a Cambridge address, especially on Brattle Street, if you care about that sort of thing. And yes, I confess, I did care, at least a little bit.) Right across the river in Boston — take the Red Line to be there in no time — is also Symphony and the Boston Ballet and three theaters showing road company versions of New York plays and musicals. Not to mention outposts of Saks, Lord & Taylor, Neiman’s and Barney’s, where it’s much easier to shop than in the mother stores in New York and Dallas.  So it was really great to be in Cambridge, if it weren’t for the black ice in winter, and the miserably hot and humid summers, and Bill complaining loudly about how the grass would be greener somewhere else.

5.  Then three of our combined five adult children wound up living in New York. Also both my financial advisor and accountant opined that I had frugally put by enough so that if I remained frugal I could retire and live till 102.  (After that, if I were lucky enough to have an “after that,” I would need to get by on Social Security.)  We could leave! But where should we go?

6. Clearly, New York itself — secretly in my heart for all those many years since I’d left it — was out of the question.  We could probably afford no more than a studio in a good Manhattan neighborhood or a small one-bedroom in a not-good one.  And we needed more space than that, so that we could get away from each other for a while.  Where then? For reasons best known to himself, Bill suggested New Mexico or North Carolina, arguing that if we lived near a university in either of those states it wouldn’t be so bad to be so far from the Northeast where we both had grown up.  For reasons I made perfectly understandable — the three children in New York, one of his in Switzerland, and one of mine in Florida — New Mexico was a geographically bad idea and North Carolina had nothing going for it as far as I was concerned except girlhood memories of having read Thomas Wolfe, who had left the state himself as soon as he could and was now, in any event, dead.

7.  Then one sunny afternoon during our 2004 summer vacation on a tiny Greek island in the Dodecanese, Bill mentioned Princeton, New Jersey. Eureka!  An hour and a half from New York and 3/5 of our children (not to mention my soon-to-be first grandchild).  Home to a major university (think Princeton),  the Institute of Advanced Studies (think Einstein), Westminster Choir College (think free concerts). Home to McCarter Theater, which brings in five plays a year, plus ballet, concerts by world-class instrumental soloists, jazz, and three operas. The university has its own art museum, theater, and Richardson Auditorium, a perfect acoustic venue for Princeton’s resident string quartet, for free concerts by the University Orchestra and for not very expensive subscriptions to the Princeton Symphony Orchestra). And New Jersey is historically a blue state.  (We didn’t know Chris Christie was coming down the pike.)  It even had a Whole Foods!  How could we go wrong?

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Princeton University in the spring.

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This is the historic (and picturesque) part of campus. There is strikingly modern architecture elsewhere.

8. It took us over a year. (Selling Cambridge real estate, buying Princeton real estate, and like that.) When we finally moved, he was 78 and I was 74 1/2, which people sometimes say was brave, given that we knew no one here. But would it have been less brave to go on slipping on black ice at the risk of breaking elderly bones, and (in his case) go on being reminded of an unhappy past lived in Cambridge neighborhoods?

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University Chapel. Convocation and Commencement ceremonies are held here. There are half-hour organ concerts open to the public at noon throughout the academic year.

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A late April flowering. Outside a reading room of the library. (I think.)

9. Anyway, what’s done is done and here we still are, nine years older.   When people ask why Princeton, I sometimes say — because it’s easier — we just threw a dart at a map.  If we really had, it would have been even braver of us.  But I guess it’s too late to try that one.

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Between Firestone Library (left) and the University Chapel (right).

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McCosh, where English and American literature classes meet.

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22 thoughts on “WHY WE MOVED FROM ONE UNIVERSITY TOWN TO ANOTHER IN 1,000 WORDS OR LESS

  1. A great post over which I will pore many times yet. I love reminiscing and with photos the icing on the cake. Nina, I’ll keep in touch. A big drama in Australia with the execution of two of us in Indonesia.
    It just never stops.

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    • Thanks for the compliment, Gerard — although “great” may be overstating the case, since I just knocked it off to atone for the heavy lifting in the previous post. As for your Australian drama, yes it’s terrible. But I must question “two of us.” Were you also a smuggler?

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      • (Two Aussies being shot). Your insightful reminiscing about the past does seem to suggest and tell a story of much drama and emotional turbulence, possible marital whiplash with the multiple marriages en route. And so many children from many sides as well.
        It is an area that I have no experience in , hence my delight in your generosity in allowing a glimpse in a period that would have been, at least very busy.
        Of course, no life is without turbulence. Thanks, Nina.

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    • Nice to see you back, Christine. Yes, it is beautiful here, and I suppose it is “our place,” faute de mieux. But don’t we all need courage, at any age — not only to make changes but to deal with what happens when we don’t make them?

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  2. It is lovely to read how you made your decisions. My move here was made solely on price, though my neighbours are nice and the view as you turn into my road is great whatever season. I agree , you paint the scene with your words and the pictures just enhance .

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    • Price was very much a determining factor as to where in Princeton we live. Parts of Princeton are opulent, and there are mansions here of a size and luxury I would never ever have thought of inhabiting. Moreover, most of the other, not-quite-opulent available housing owned in fee simple (meaning a free standing house on its own ground) would have also been too much of a stretch. I didn’t believe I would consider living in a “town house,” connected on both sides to other units in a condominium association, but here I am, and it’s pretty, and it keeps us in the town we chose, where all the things I described in the post are available to us.

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      • We call ‘ fee simple ‘ Freehold. My bungalow has a small garden which backs onto a children’s playing area. My garden has so much blossom in it such as flowering raspberry , tulips and many other spring flowers. I just mow the lawn once a fortnight and someone comes in to prune the bushes . The weather today has been different. A heavy downpour lasting 30 minutes with black clouds and now brilliant sunshine and a blue sky. That’s England for you.

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    • I didn’t discover your blog, Shimon, until the point at which you had just moved in and reclaimed your cat from wherever she had been staying, so I’m not quite sure why a move from one part of Jerusalem to another would almost “do you in.” However, I seem to remember you had considerable help from dear friends, which is of course the important thing. Bill and I had each other as we ventured out on our adventure in late-life living. Had I been alone, Princeton almost certainly would not have been my choice. I might even have opted for the studio apartment in a desirable part of Manhattan — to be near one of my children and a few old friends who were then still alive (although no longer).

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  3. Spending most of my visiting time in America, in the southern states (GA, SC, FL, TX) I haven’t seen a great deal of the academic/cultural side of the USA. I remember, on having a spare weekend to pass in Dallas, asking a colleague where I might go to take in some of the local heritage. I was directed to the ‘grassy knoll’ (which, for all its historical significance, is basically, um, grass) and the house which doubled as TV’s ‘South Fork Ranch’.

    Your love of those adacemic/cultural cities of the north east is obvious, and your photographs are delicious. It’s quite a different side of the USA, and I can easily see why Princeton is so appealing. It looks like a relatively compact urban area, but blessed with culture, heritage and academic status. It sounds like a lovely place to have made your home.

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    • It is indeed probably the best choice we could have made, given our inclinations and extremely limited finances. What you are noting, though, is that the US is not a homogenous country, either in geography, ethnicity, or cultural level. To biased me, for instance, the USA is the eastern seaboard from Maine to D.C. (plus Florida only because I have a son and grandchildren there), Chicago, New Orleans, and the West Coast. So what can I say about Texas? (Red state home of the second Bush.) If someone like me had had to live there, it would probably be in Austin, which is reputed to be quite cosmopolitan and is where the University of Texas is located. I did have a weekend in El Paso, though, and it isn’t so bad, either — if it’s just a weekend. You might have gone there to see the Alamo (historic), eat well along the river, and take in some art galleries (cultural). But if I had a stopover in Dallas between two elsewheres, I think I would have gone right off to Neiman Marcus to shop!

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      • And…. That’s exactly what I did! Dallas was the least interesting and attractive of all the places I have visited in the USA, and grass verges and TV homes held no appeal, so I went shopping.

        I’ve worked a lot with companies based around Atlanta and have a particular fondness for this city, mainly due to how warm and hospitable I found everyone I worked with – a marked contrast to the folks in Dallas, for sure. Atlanta has heritage, warmth and a tempo which somehow combines vitality with that languid Southern style.

        New Orleans too, left its mark on me. I attended a wedding in the cathedral, took part in a jazz parade to celebrate the nuptials, ate soul food, hung over cast iron balconies in the French Quarter clutching cocktails, and even took in a few hours of Jazz Fest. That’s about as much cultural heritage as there’s time for in a three day visit!

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  4. Such beautiful photos. There is such joy, and great advantage, to living in a college community. My husband and I met in State College, Pa. and often go back to visit. It’s fun just to listen to the conversations. ☺ Van

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    • A woman after my own heart! Living in a college community does indeed keep us mentally young, and emotionally younger. Glad you liked the photos, too. I took them on a Saturday when most of the students were away, either for the day or weekend, which is why everything looks so calm. There were plenty of tourist groups around, but I tried to avoid them or wait till they had passed before framing what I was going to shoot, as they aren’t really what Princeton is about.

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      • You did Princeton proud ! ☺They have built many condo communities in our alma mater that are designated for alumni, offering free classes in exchange for volunteer contributions. We really considered it for retirement, then thought about those mountain winters. Maybe not ! Van

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  5. My sister-in-law and her husband wanted to retire to a “university town” and they did. They spent 20 years there before the moved to be closer to their children. I live in a big college area with two almost in walking distance and another 3 close by. Lots of cultural activities and things to do. Your husband picked a great place to relocate and as long as you have your health you are never to old.

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    • Connecticut, where you live, would have been another option for us, except the weather isn’t too different from its almost next-door neighbor, Massachusetts, and we were hoping for something a little warmer. Princeton is about ten degrees F. warmer than Boston. Not much, but it helps. As for getting old and losing our health — it goes in tiny increments, so it’s hard to notice, until something big strikes, which hasn’t quite happened yet, knock wood — Princeton is still a good place to be. Plenty of assisted living facilities, a decent hospital, good doctors, and equidistant between Philadelphia and New York if you need a top expert in something with which you’re afflicted. I like your mantra, though: “Never too old!”

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      • Actually I live just north of Philadelphia, not that far from you. My sister-in-law ended up in northwest Massachusetts (I can’t remember the local college). It is so cold there they can’t grow tomatoes because the season isn’t long enough. Fortunately, she’s a snowbird for the winter.

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