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Personal Essays

Townie or Country?

City or country? Weekends of restoration or weeks of relaxation? With one renovated country house behind him, can our food writer take the plunge and finally open a preserves shop in the woods?

Two weeks ago, I and The One Who Brings Me Love, Joy, and Happiness (henceforward known as “The One”) made an offer on a weekend home in Roxbury, Conn., the next town over from where our current weekend home now sits on the market. And I’ve taken it hard. The One, who’s a Manhattan real estate broker, tells me it’s seller’s remorse. I think it’s something far worse: the realities of manual labor. To get the house ready to show, we had to scrub, polish, and buff every surface to an impeccable sheen rarely seen in the nine years we’ve owned it. Closets were cleared, the basement rearranged, the garden newly planted. Friends marveled that I actually did something for the common good, instead of mole-ing away in the library, lights off, going slowly blind while writing on my laptop.

What I’ve found ironic, and terribly revealing about our joint self-esteem, is that just as The One and I got the place looking exactly as we wanted it—brand-new kitchen with refurbished original hardwood floors, wainscoting, Corian counters, and a cutting-board-topped bookcase that doubles as an island; two fully remodeled bathrooms with all new fixtures; a perfectly landscaped backyard with a huge flagstone patio (suitable for large-scale entertaining), hedges of boxwood, and enough fresh herbs in the garden to merit a guest shot on the Food Network—we decided to sell.

To counteract the impulse to call our broker, Donna, and scream into the phone “We were only joking—take it off the market this instant!” we drove countless times by our new home, which won’t be officially ours until contracts are signed in a few more days. With each slow, stalker-like cruise by, I took in the fact the house is twice the size of ours and has six times as much property. I realized that, no, we weren’t doing the wrong thing, and that if one of my old psychology books is correct that, yes, pathologically cathecting an inanimate object (i.e. our old house) is a sure sign of a feeble and disintegrating mind. It is time to more on, I told myself.

But instead of being soothed, all that extra space—inside and out—started closing in on me. With great property comes great responsibility, a voice inside said. Suddenly I had visions of myself on a John Deere lawn mower spending the better part of Saturday cutting and trimming that damn yard. Then on Sunday, with Murphy’s Oil Soap in hand, The One and me mopping, swabbing, and cleaning all day. A quick supper, a cursory glance at Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy while trying to get the umpteenth revision of my proposal to my agent, and then we’d be off to city by 6:30 Monday morning. What the hell ever happened to the weekend part of a weekend house?

WE WERE ONLY JOKING—TAKE IT OFF THE MARKET THIS INSTANT!

Of course, The One and I have been asking each other the same question since we got a country house 13 years ago: If getting away just on the weekends is such a pain in the ass, why not just get away full-time? Throughout the years we’ve toyed with the idea of chucking it all in and going country, and came close right after 9/11, but our current house is too small to accommodate our middle-age spread of materialism. Still, we went through every torturous turn of possible country careers: owning a bed and breakfast; starting a small general store, like the Barefoot Contessa in East Hampton, or a coffee shop, or bakery; creating our own line of preserves—after all, everyone loves our homemade rose-petal jelly; buying, renovating, and flipping homes; working at the post office. But the problem is after just a week away from the city, The One gets anxious, and I get, dare I say it, even lazier. Writing dribbles off to a paragraph, maybe two, a day. I forget to shave. I kick dirty clothes under the bed instead of washing them.

“You’ll want a dedicated computer, printer, and scanner—for when you move out here full-time. Why are you two looking at me like that? Everyone eventually does, you know.”But the Roxbury home can comfortably garage a Cessna Skyhawk, not to mention the accumulated detritus of both our New York and Connecticut lives, so once again my country-life fantasy kicked into overdrive: I awake in a sun-drenched bedroom, shrug on a satin robe and slippers, and sip coffee and dine on oeufs en cocotte while watching the birds twitter outside the kitchen window. Once fortified, I retire to my writing studio to put in a ridiculously prolific day’s work. Now, the curious thing about all this is I hate sun in my face in the morning, have never worn anything satin in my life—thank you very much—don’t drink coffee often, and have an instinctive reaction to annihilate anything that makes noise before 10 a.m. I do, though, like oeufs en cocotte. About the only thing remotely salvageable from this Hollywood-fueled nightmare is the writing studio, which, at this moment, is a small glassed-in porch off the family room.

When our friend Kevin, a fantastic interior designer, came by for a look, he wasn’t in the front door but a moment when he started channeling ideas, which irked the hell out of me because nearly all of them were brilliant, and, knowing Kevin’s taste, exorbitant.

Outside front entry: “First, start by cutting back these shrubs, moving these two boxwoods around to the side of the house—it’s kinda bare there. Add a wraparound railing all along here, and that’ll give the front a much better look. Oh, and change all the windows in the house—what are those things, anyway, ‘60s castoffs? They make my eyes hurt.”

Master bedroom: “Too small. Knock this wall down and make these two rooms one huge master suite. Of, course, the bath has to be completely redone. Rip out the sink, commode, and shower. Bump the wall out two feet this way, put in a claw-foot tub that way, install an antique basin where the shower was, and get a lot of magazine subscriptions ‘cause you’ll never want to leave.”

My future writing studio: “Oh, this is easy. Rip out these exterior shingles and replace them with sheetrock. Same with the ceiling. Lower this floor—why did they raise it in the first place?—and splice in new oak boards to match the family room. It’s not a problem, I have a bunch left over from a previous job. Drop in heating, electric, phone, and cable, blow out this wall with French doors into the family room, and you’re done.”

Then, almost as an afterthought: “You’ll want a dedicated computer, printer, and scanner—for when you move out here full-time. Why are you two looking at me like that? Everyone eventually does, you know.”

WE WERE ONLY JOKING—TAKE IT OFF THE MARKET THIS INSTANT!
 

biopic

TMN Contributing Writer David Leite has stated a little too emphatically that he is not a food snob. (But we have it on good authority that while other people have moldering hot dog buns and withering mesclun in their fridge, he has been know to harbor lobes of foie gras, exotic mushrooms, and bottles of champagne.) He’s quick to note that he loves plain ole mac and cheese, but he was overseen recently pish-toshing at the waitress until the chef agreed to drizzle it with truffle oil. He’s not above a McDonald’s Filet-o-Fish, though. He’s also the publisher of the James Beard Award-winning website, Leite’s Culinaria, and the author of the upcoming cookbook The New Portuguese Table: Exciting Flavors From Europe’s Western Coast. More by David Leite