Where everybody knows your name

Way back, late in August between my freshman and sophomore college years, I felt devastated. I’d come home after spending most of the summer in Sicily with my extended family. And there were no bars where I lived in New York. Okay sure, there were lots of places where you could get drunk and maybe, get lucky. But no bars in the Italian sense, and that made me feel lonely. I could joke about how most of my life since then has been a way to get back to the local bar.

But maybe it’s not a joke. So allow me to offer a tribute to the Italian bar. For those who haven’t been here, or haven’t paid much attention, a bar here isn’t like the American kind. Maybe in spirit like a British pub? Whatever. It’s sort of like a café, except that that word doesn’t quite capture the bar’s essence. Maybe, in the American context, it’s like the old small-town diners or cafés, where locals would gather, hang out, get anything from coffee to a meal, and share local gossip.

Bars are everywhere in Italy, from the big cities to small hamlets like Casacastalda, a 20-minute drive from Casa Sconita up a twisty country road. That bar has an amazing location overlooking northern Umbria’s hill-mountains. But they can be on a residential street, on a piazza, or even in the parking lot of a gas station. The toll roads through Italy, the autostrade, have amazing bars, some of them inside buildings that look like retro ’60s spaceships straddling the highway. The thing is, if it’s Italy, there’s a bar nearby.

You can get everything you want at the Autogrill—including an espresso or drink at the bar.

Basically, the bar serves most of your needs throughout the day. In the morning it’s the place for a cappuccino and a cornetto, or mid-morning, for office workers to have a booster shot of coffee (espresso mostly) before tackling some more emails. One of our friends here never makes coffee at home—he gets dressed and heads out to his favorite bar for breakfast, which here is usually coffee and a pastry. (His is the place in the gas station parking lot.) If you aren’t into sweet, there are little panini—my favorite is tuna and artichoke. Later in the day people stop for another pick me up, and around 6, an aperitif or cocktail, always served with a little snack, because here in the land of La Bella Figura, being obviously drunk in public is a faux pas.

It doesn’t take much to be a local. If you’re renting an apartment in Italy, even for a few days on vacation, one of the first things you should do is visit the local bar. Go two or three days in a row and you’re a regular. One barista in Perugia remembered us from getting coffee with our daughters in the morning. When we returned a few months later, he asked us why the girls weren’t with us.

We live in a small town here, yet I can think of at least five bars within a 20 minute drive. Three of them are down the hill from us. They all have their own style. The bar on our local piazza looks like it’s from the 1980s, but the real deal is to sit outside in the morning or late afternoon and soak up the sun and the murmur of the fountain combining with the sound of the local accent. And they serve addictive fried sage leaves with your Aperol spritz in the afternoon. Another, housed in a local shopping strip along with the main pharmacy and town supermarket, is Italian sleek modern. Even the spoons look like no spoons you’ve ever seen, and it takes a few seconds to figure out how to use them. Still, if I’ve been away, on my first visit we have to catch up with the barista and show pictures of the grandchild.

Breakfast in the piazza post-hike
Vian contemplates the view.

Come to think of it, we assign these watering holes to different occasions and frequent them with different sets of friends. Yesterday, for example, I met my friend Vian, a transplanted Canadian who moved to Umbria with his wife so that they could be near their daughter and grandchildren. He lives outside a town called Gualdo Tadino, a place with eccentric architecture that snuggles up against the Apennine Mountains. Vian and I like to meet for a mid-morning coffee and pastry, and we do it midway between our houses—that bar in the hamlet of Casacastalda. The place has a great view, and Vian, a sociable guy whose Italian improves every time I see him, is besties with the owner and always has conversations going with some old guy who hangs out there.

Uncle Ignazio’s hangout in Palermo

My Uncle Ignazio probably frequented his local bar every morning until he was taken to the hospital for the final call (he was in his nineties). A few blocks from his apartment, the bar was the focus for the pensioners, people on their way to work, parents taking their kids to school, and even groups of motorcyclists headed to western Sicily—his place was on the ring road around Palermo. A visit with him almost invariably involved a stop at the bar. He smoked (if outside) argued politics with his cronies, argued politics with his cronies, and did I mention that he argued politics?

I could go into coffee etiquette, what to order, when to pay and when to wait (Ok, big cities and the road stops are pay first, go to counter and get your stuff; here in the sticks, it’s whenever you feel like it.). But that’s for another morning. Right now, it’s about 23:00—11 p.m. in US-speak—and I’m thinking about this little bar in Perugia that whips its own cream and fills pastries with it for breakfast. Sweet dreams….

[Update: I went to that little bar.]

Finally, a great maritozzo at the Antica Latteria in Perugia

Credit for Autogrill photo: qwesy qwesy, CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Bitter. Sweet. And something in between

Never mind.

Soldier Carlo

That’s the phrase that came into my mind as I boarded Iberia flight 6252 for Madrid last week. It was the start of a journey to Umbria in Central Italy, where I’ll register as a full-time resident. In doing so, I’m moving in the opposite direction of Carlo Ancona, my maternal grandfather, who tried to escape a second stint as a conscript in the Italian army during the incredibly stupid European conflict that we call World War I. (He failed and was drafted to fight in the trenches in the U.S. Army.) I’m also reversing the direction his wife, my grandmother Rosa traveled a few years after Carlo, sailing to New York in steerage with two young children. And finally, I’m canceling out what my father did in 1955, the year before my birth, sailing from Palermo, Sicily, to New York to join his bride, my mom Angelina Ancona.

All of them fled economic bad times. My mother’s parents were tenant farmers leaving the crushing poverty of the seacoast and agrarian town of Castellammare del Golfo, in northwest Sicily. “They ate pane e cipudda, bread and onions,” my mom would tell me. My father, from a middle class family in the big city, wasn’t starving. But when he left the Italian army, there was precious little opportunity for a restless young man in mid-’50s Palermo, the island’s largest city and capital.

What am I fleeing? Eh, nothing that affects me personally except, perhaps, boredom and endless HGTV programs like Love It or List It. I was involuntarily retired by Covid, when a lot of work I did dried up. A few years ago I did have a day job as a working journalist. I loved the job until it was turned into a soul-crushing exercise in scaring up website clicks by a bunch of Catalan consultants and dull-witted corporate executives.

I’m not alone in doing this reverse migration. Some 20 to 30 percent of the millions who left Italy during the great migration of the late 19th and early 20th centuries returned permanently to their homeland. In my own family, my grandparents and one of my aunts lived in the U.S. for a few years and then decided to return.

My Aunt Pia’s wedding on July 4, 1964. She and her new husband eventually moved back to Italy. (I’m the ring bearer up front.)

So here I am. I’m sitting on the patio of our house looking down into the valley of the Chiascio River, a tributary of the Tiber that runs to and through Rome 192 kilometers (about 120 miles) away. It’s a breezy sunny day, coming after a few days of leaden clouds and periodic cloudbursts. To call it pleasant would be, as the cliché goes, damning it with faint praise. We walked up and down our road earlier, getting reacquainted with the human and canine neighbors. Last night, we along with what felt like dozens of fellow Umbrians, ate gelato at a popular place a few towns away, signaling the start of a lazy Italian summer.

That’s literally and figuratively the sweet part. The bitter? Leaving my babies. Okay, they’re adults now, but I like to think that even though they’ve grown into terrific young women, they’re still my babies. And my older daughter gave birth to (this is grandpa saying this) The Most Beautiful Baby in the World. I’ll miss them terribly, even though it’s exponentially easier to stay in touch these days. Back when, my father and then later I kept in touch with overseas loved ones with postcards, letters, and the rare long distance (!) phone call. Even the baby responds to the screen when I use FaceTime to videochat with the fam.

And the in-between? Leaving the city where I was born, raised, educated, had a career, and raised a family. Either purposely or by accident, The Spartan Woman and I avoided what a lot of educated class Americans do. We didn’t let internships and college take us away from our hometown of New York. A big reason came down to economics: Coming as we did from families just getting their feet on the American ground, we couldn’t really afford to go away to school. Later on it was a conscious choice, that New Yorker snobbishness that considers every other American place to be, simply, not good enough for us. Hey, we had free university, great museums to wander around in, incredible hangouts and backdrops for romance. Did I ever tell you about the rehearsal show for Kid Creole and the Coconuts we were at? When my sister danced on stage with August Darnell? Or when as young adults we’d catch a Ramones show at 3 a..m. in a seedy bar and then head to work with impaired hearing?

Can you hear the ships’ horns?

For better or worse, I have the foghorns of New York Harbor embedded in my brain. And the clickety clack of an elevated train making its way to Coney Island. Hell, it took me years to orient myself here, a place on a landmass with lots of what looked like identical towns at first. A New York kid, I knew that if lost, I’d end up at a shoreline eventually. I walk fast, even as an old guy. It’s what we’re trained practically from birth to do. Skyscrapers don’t faze me, and I’m frankly bored of upscale restaurants where the chef is so hell-bent on innovation that he or she forgets to actually feed people.

I don’t think I’ll miss the rest of the United States. Still, there’s nothing like a lobster shack in Maine, or the honky tonk Jersey Shore. I do miss our summers on Cape Cod, where we’d rent little cottages with the kids when they were little and eat way too much seafood.

Living here in Central Italy feels natural. It’s not as intense as Sicily yet not as proper as the north of the country; it’s somewhat of a halfway house between the Latin and Anglo-Saxon worlds. I didn’t have to go through any cultural acclimation, since I grew up in an immigrant family full of relatives who moved back and forth between Italy and the U.S. for vacations or to live. I spent my first times in Italy at relatives’ homes, the first time a lazy beautiful summer in a beach town just outside Palermo and got first-hand lessons in how to shop and get an espresso or beer at a bar.

I’m going to go back and restate the original point of this blog, besides my having the urge to write every so often. I aim to show what living here is like in a realistic way, without the romanticism of silly stuff like Under the Tuscan Sun or A Room With a View. Italy is a modern, vibrant, sometimes infuriating place to live. If I’m successful, I’ll smash some stereotypes, yet leave you with an occasional smile.

I unearthed a bit of history—and this 25-year-old relic still booted up and ran a couple of apps

The digitization project here at Casa Sconita is almost complete. But The Spartan Woman remembered one thing she wanted rescued: the incomplete manuscript of a kid’s book. Problem is, said manuscript was on an ancient Apple Powerbook from 1998. No one ever backed it up to the cloud. Back then, clouds were just those puffy things in the sky,

[Image up top: Boxes and boxes of photos either scanned or about to be scanned.]

So yesterday we pulled the ancient beast out of its carrying case. Krikey, the thing is heavy. And….it booted up! Only problem was that the screen showed lots of horizontal lines, and the problem got worse when I found the file’s icon on the desktop. Was it lost forever? Repeated bootings got no better.

In frustration, I smacked the screen. Problem solved! The screen looked normal, and I called up the manuscript. I couldn’t connect to our ‘net, but the manuscript was short. I went into power typing mode and within a few minutes, I had a copy on my newish MacBook.

Check out the differences that 25 years made to laptops. Keep in mind that the 1998 model was pretty sleek for its time. The model on the right is the current M2 MacBook Air.

Digital photography saved my life. Or at least it helped me remember a lot of it

I miss the telephone. I really do. I don’t mean my iPhone, or I guess any smartphone. Those aren’t phones, they’re pocket computers that allow you to make telephone calls. No, I mean the old-fashioned, bakelite telephone. I spent hours on it as a teenager talking to friends. And then later, as an editor and writer, I spent a lot of time every day talking to writers, sources, friends who worked elsewhere.

Apart from the conversation, something that’s turning into a lost art, I loved the spontaneity of phone calls. You didn’t have to arrange a time to chat unless you wanted to. You just called, or picked up the “receiver” and talked. If it was a bad time—the universal excuse during my day job days was “sorry, I’m on deadline”—you just said so and talked another time. Easy as pie. I kinda laugh now when I’m working on a freelance piece and my clients won’t make normal phone calls. They email invitations with complicated instructions. Then you click on something and the allotted time pops up on your computer’s calendar, and it involves using an app on your computer or phone. Kludgy, no?

But I’m not a Luddite. I keep our home network reasonably up to date and recently made sure that The Spartan Woman replaced her 9-year-old MacBook Air with a new model. We’re about to jump ship and live most of the year as Italian residents, and computers and similar devices are a lot more expensive there.

I save my reverence, though, for digital photography in general—and my iPhone specifically. I have at last count some 37,000+ photos and videos on my little MacBook, and they’re easily accessible and fun to look at on a bright colorful screen. And to do that I don’t have to set up a slide viewer and sit in the dark, boring friends with my narratives. And having an iPhone—that non-phone phone—with a decent camera doubled the pleasure because I rarely forget important events or good times, or places I’ve visited.

Yeah, I take a lot of pictures.

The point was made clear by my weeks of scanning family snapshots. Most of them were stored in boxes in the basement gathering dust and who knows what else. Thousands of precious photos in envelopes were casually piled up in boxes, with no organization, and I’m racing to scan in decades worth of snapshots. I had to guess when certain events took place. It was relatively easy with my kids, because I mostly remember what they looked at during different stages of their lives. But the specifics were fuzzy–great t-shirts, where we had drinks in Montreal, my younger one running around on a Cape Cod beach. Our hairstyles. You get the idea.

Welcome to my laboratory.

The best part of the mass scanning was getting to reconquer my memory and my life. It was mainly a blur for almost two decades, as we went to grad school, partied, had our kids while working long hours (me) or dealing with disadvantaged kids as work (The Spartan Woman) and taking care of our charming young women while I coped with late night deadlines and headline inspiration that came on late night walks with the dog. Before scanning some 6 GB of snapshots, those two decades were in soft focus in my mind, a blur of newsrooms punctuated by vacations and big life events.

By contrast, everything from 2001 is crystal clear. That’s when I bought a decent digital camera, and I imported nearly every shot. (Importing photos even sounds archaic now. When I take a shot with my phone, it magically pops up on my Mac.) It’s fun to see the differences from the fairly drab digital shots 20 years ago taken by a Nikon or Canon point and shoot, and the near-pro quality of photos from my last two iPhones.

The quality, too. Here we have a tale of two families. TSW’s childhood and early adulthood was pretty well documented in film-based photo prints. Her father was a photographer, and a good one especially when his subjects were people. So there are good portraits and spontaneous action shots that are well-lit and framed. My family, on the other hand, used a bunch of nasty little Instamatics with their tiny film. So there’s hardly any detail in the shots to begin with. That flaw was compounded by the fact that my parents, sweet souls that they were, happened to be lousy photographers. My mother was better at it, but she was usually too busy cooking or looking after us to be bothered with pictures. My father was just indifferent and not that good at it.

Luckily, there’s Photoshop. Every now and then I’ll come across a photo that’s worth fixing. My mom’s teenage photo album in particular has a lot of gems, from rollerskating with her sisters on the streets of East New York, to my Uncle Tommy’s homecoming from fighting in Europe in World War II.

Soldier boy Tommy comes home to East New York Brooklyn in 1945.

Come to think about it, going through these shots and fixing them using modern photo editing software is the perfect marriage of old and new tech. I’ll share some more shots as I do that.

EDIT: My gear: A Plustek ePhoto scanner with ePhoto software—easy to use, you just feed the snaps through the front plate and they appear on your screen. Then you can edit, save or send the scans.

MacBook Air M2: I updated my computer gear. I do some video editing on it, too, nothing really intense but the new M chip MacBooks are really fast and the battery life is unbelievable. I’ve never plugged mine in because I had to, in 4 months

LaCie portable external hard drives. One is the primary location for the scans; I don’t want to fill up my computer’s hard drive with them. I back this up to another external drive, just because I’m superstitious about backups and lack of.

Adobe Photoshop: Apple’s system Photo software is pretty good with edits, but for real fun and games, Photoshop and its companion Lightroom are peerless for quick and accurate color correction and for teasing pixels out of faded photographic prints.

Welcome to the real New York: Take a walk with me around one of its few nongentrified neighborhoods

This city is insane. It really is. If you aren’t rich, or a trustafarian, good luck finding a place to live. It’s not just regular folks who are having trouble. Even elected government officials are complaining that they can’t find a decent apartment at a decent price.

And it’s not just housing. Food, both in stores and in restaurants, is absurdly expensive. Have a car? Insurance alone becomes a major expense. I know wah-wah-wah. I can’t help it. Maybe I’m just building my case for being on the precipice of leaving New York, except for regular visits because I’ve become the nonno of the Cutest Baby the World Has Ever Seen ™. Yeah, I’m prejudiced.

But really. One of our kids spent the past couple of months visiting prospective apartments. Real estate agents have apparently gotten really good at using their phone’s ultra-wide camera lenses to make closets look somewhat habitable. Or in some cases, they don’t care about presentation and leave an array of roach traps on the kitchen counter. Yeah, that’s where I want to cook dinner every night. Even more than the crappy apartments, long a New York tradition, are the sky-high prices. Thousands a month for what’s basically a tenement, in the kind of building that had its heyday around 1938. And an application process that makes candidate vetting for the CIA seem lackadaisical.

So it’s been a nice break spending a couple of days a week with daughter number 1, who gave birth to a baby boy last month. The kid’s adorable and loves to boogie around his basinet—he’s going to be a handful. And said daughter lives in one of the few neighborhoods in Brooklyn that’s proudly non-gentrified. This is not to say it’s cheap; a typical rowhouse goes for a couple of million. But it hasn’t yet caught the precious disease. You know the symptoms: Curated coffee, whatever that is, little restos owned by recent and hipper than you French or Italian arrivals. Lots of twentysomethings from Ohio subsidized by mom and pop, the kind of people who sit around curated hipster coffee bars with no apparent means of support.

Boy am I sounding like a grouch. I am a grouch. Sue me.

What’s made me less of a grouch, other than the perfect grandson, is that old-timey feeling you get from walking around Bay Ridge. It looks more or less the same as it did when I was growing up; I traveled through the neighborhood on my way to high school eons ago. But that’s not to say it’s stayed the same. Back then it was inhabited mainly by recent immigrants from Italy and Greece, and had large Irish-American and Scandinavian-American presences. The mix has changed now and there are lots of people from Asia and the Middle East.

What all that means is that walking up and down Bay Ridge’s avenues (like Manhattan’s, they run north-south), you’ll pass Italian, Greek, Palestinian, Georgian, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, and Mexican restaurants. I’m sure I left something out, but you get the idea. Often the places are cheek by jowl, with interesting juxtapositions. And while some might be a little upscale, most of them exist for their fellow immigrants. They aren’t fashion shows boiled down to eateries, they’re part of the New York tradition of local immigrant-owned businesses serving their communities, rather than competing for a New York Times restaurant review and a Michelin star. This Georgian restaurant’s menu looks really good to me right now:

So let’s take a look. First up, when Italians talk about how similar they are to Greeks, they often use the phrase “stessa razza, stessa faccia.” Get past the imperfect rhyme and it means “same race, same face.” And while Italy and Greece are separated by the Adriatic and Ionian seas, in Bay Ridge their people live cheek by jowl, especially when it comes to restaurants.

Over in the Middle East, the Palestinians and Israelis are mixing it up again, with the Lebanese sometimes getting in the mix, In Bay Ridge? Jewish delis and Middle Eastern restaurants coexist, no problem.

Elsewhere in the neighborhood, you’ll find combinations of ethnic shops and restaurants that you would never see on a map, or maybe anywhere else in the world. Thai and Sicilian, anyone?

Let’s pay tribute to the newer establishments, whose owners are from Central America and the Middle East:

Of course Bay Ridge wouldn’t be Bay Ridge without an Irish pub with an pun name:

Some terrific photos, the “larky life,” and a clown parade

We aren’t the only weirdos in our neighborhood who live abroad for part of the year. I present Gerard, who lives down the hill from The Spartan Woman’s and my Staten Island home. He’s a photographer who has a business making beautiful photographic prints. If you’ve been to any photo exhibit in the recent past, most likely you’ve seen his exhibition prints.

Gerard, a first generation American of Italian parents, also has a family home in the hills south of Rome and north of Naples. He and his father bought the house back; it had been out of the family for some time. So he and his wife and family spend some time there each year. It was fun a couple of years ago to see Gerard in Perugia. He and his wife Toni Ann were driving around Central Italy and for a few hours, Perugia had a contingent of Randall Manor residents wandering around—we’re good tour guides—and having a terrific lunch at Il Cantinone.

Last weekend, Gerard’s photos featured in an opening of an exhibit of local photographers. His photos depict the woods in our neighborhood. I’m still amazed after nearly 30 years of moving here that we have a forest in the middle of what is a fairly dense North Shore Staten Island neighborhood. For an hour or so, you can wander past a pond and into the forest, following trails that scale a couple of hills and wind up at another pond. You’d never know that you’re in New York City.

But back to the exhibit. It was held, appropriately enough, at the Alice Austen House. Now a museum, the gracious estate was once the home of one of Staten Island’s stars, the photographer Alice Austen. When she lived there, the place was called Clear Comfort, and it’s in a beautiful spot right at the edge of New York Harbor. From the rolling lawn that descends to the bay, you can see Brooklyn, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, Manhattan, and New Jersey.

Austen, who died in 1952, was an intriguing character. A member of Staten Island’s upper class, she got a camera from her uncle and was immediately hooked. She photographed her friends and family playing tennis, mugging for her on the beach, and attending fashionable parties. She also ventured into Manhattan and photographed people on the streets, many of them poor immigrants scrambling to make a living. Try to imagine a young woman more than 100 years ago hauling cumbersome cameras around and the heavy glass plates that she used as film. (Remember film?)

She and her friends called their doings “the larky life.” And there was something else about Austen that until recently, the prissy Staten Island Advance (the only local daily in New York) never mentioned: Austen was gay. She had a long relationship with another woman and because of her social standing and personal wealth, she broke free of the constraints that women of her time had to live under.

I WAS THINKING OF Alice earlier this week when Staten Island’s St. Patrick’s Day parade took place. It’s earlier than the bigger city parade, presumably so underage alcohol abusers could have an extra day to get wasted. The parade is notorious for another reason: It’s the only St. Pat’s parade that every single damn year bars the local Pride Center and the police gay group from marching as groups. It’s straight out of the Taliban’s playbook. Every year our friend Carol Bullock, the genial and all-around cool head of the Pride Center applies to march in the parade. And every year, parade committee chief Larry Cummings turns her down.

Carol Bullock of the Pride Center of Staten Island

Cummings hides behind what he maintains are Catholic teachings about homosexuality. Yet his boss in religious matters, Pope Francesco, in an interview in January with The Associate Press said: “Being homosexual isn’t a crime.” Noting that some prominent clergy back anti-gay laws, he added, “These bishops have to have a process of conversion,” and they should apply “tenderness, please, as God has for each one of us.”

The situation reached a head this year. When Carol tried to submit her application, there was a physical altercation at a church where Cummings was taking parade applications, with that brave man Cummings shoving a press photographer. The police had to be called to calm things down, and Cummings remained a bigoted little soul who kept those nasty LGBTQ people out of his ever-shrinking parade.

Because of his stance, the island’s public high school marching bands won’t participate, and their youthful exuberance made the parade fun to watch. It seems that most of this year’s participants were motorcycling groups and guys with old cars. We can’t forget three local Republican politicians, including the borough president Vito Fossella, who achieved notoriety when, as a U.S. congressman, he kept another family in the D.C. area and it emerged only when he was arrested for DWI. Cummings is in great company.

I’m sure Austen would have appreciated, if not actually relished, the irony of how she became, as a fairly open gay woman, a Staten Island icon as a few 21st century Staten Islanders tarnish the reputation of her beloved hometown.

Dismantling a life that’s fading in memory

Yesterday I went upstairs to our bedroom to do a task I’d neglected to do for years. Every time I went to get a pair of socks they’d be staring at me: Piles of paper, mostly receipts, with some notes, business cards, and post-its. Finally, as part of our emptying out the house we’ve lived in since 1994, I was tackling the Scary Sock Drawer. And in the process, I filled in some blanks in my memory that lasted for years. (For those of you just catching up, we’re doing a reverse immigration thing and moving to Italy soon,)

I’ll admit that I’ve got a weird memory. I’m good at images, and I remember strange facts, maps, pieces of music. And most of it is pretty recent stuff, unless it’s a childhood memory. I can replay images I saw as a baby—in one vignette, I was in my playpen in the Brooklyn apartment that was my first home. I was looking toward the window and a shaft of sunlight that came in through the blinds, illuminating the dust particles in the air. I can see, even now, how I blew on those particles to watch them dance, and then giggled at how clever I was. (This probably explains a lot about my later habits.)

There are huge gaps, though. I tend to remember the last year or so, maybe because I’ve taken more than 30,000 photos on my phones and various digital cameras But for awhile my recollections had a huge void in the 1990s, probably because I was too busy working, trying to get rid of evil bosses, and playing with the kids while keeping my marriage with The Spartan Woman going. It’s only when I started to digitize our hard-copy photo collection that I was able to fill in some details

But why did I save so many receipts from Rainbow Cleaners? And receipts for non-expense account meals? And boarding passes?

We’re not talking about recent garbage. The meals dated from 2013-14. Oh look, the Oyster Bar from 10 years ago. Now I remember, it was with Josephine, my ex-colleague. She and I had a great lunch—I think I was off that day—and we spent way too much on a plate of raw oysters on the half shell and some ice cold flinty white wine. Josephine was in from living in Barcelona, after she’d been cashiered along with a bunch of my former co-workers, and had lately discovered the joys of day drinking. She probably followed that with a nap when she was in Barcelona, but New York doesn’t encourage such things.

What amazed me was how many times I was taken to the cleaners. Ok, I walked, it’s only two blocks away. I kept coming across yellow receipts from Rainbow Cleaners, and I didn’t realize how much dry cleaning we had. Why so many receipts? Who needed them? The guy who owns Rainbow is young and tech-savvy, typical of his Korean-American cohort, so naturally he had both an up to date client database on his laptop and a keen memory. I’d walk in and he’d already located my suit or jacket, so I learned that I never had to give him a receipt.

Not that I wore suits that often in my former life. It’s now more than six years since I left one of the most boring newsrooms on earth (it wasn’t always boring, but once the company brass took over and hired consultants…), and even then I rarely had to dress up. I confess that every now and then I’d don a suit and take a long lunch break uptown just to make it look like I was leaving. Rummaging through the sock drawer, I found receipts for the black suits that I favored, and even tuxedo rental receipts for the one time a year where I had to get on stage and present an award to some corporate lawyer type. I hated those award nights, had bigly stage fright having to speak to 500 Masters and Mistresses of the Universe, plus the food mostly sucked. (One shining exception: the Parmigiano Reggiano chunks sitting in those big cheese wheels at Cipriani.)

I found at least two things in there that are useful: a €5 note, a €20 note, and two Greenmarket tokens worth $10. I plan to celebrate the last one by pairing them with some others we’ve found to get a couple of dozen oysters from the fisherman guy.

THIS WHOLE PROCESS IS both tedious and fascinating. And a little sobering. For one thing, in cleaning out the media wall in the living room, we’ve had to decide what to do with a couple of decades of technology. We stashed everything away, usually in a panicked last minute cleanup if someone was coming over for dinner. So….let’s see: A white Macbook; two MacBook/PowerBook chargers; various USB cables for iPhones long gone (I got my first one in 2008); albums on tape cassettes; empty cassette boxes; blank CDs; blank DVDs; SCSI cables (why there and not in the office-graveyard?); photographic slide film (!); a huge flash attachment for a camera that used said slide film, probably last used in the mid-1990s. And so on.

We’re almost done with the living room, bar the furniture and the electronics in use or too big to deal with right now. Our son-in-law looks wantingly at the decent Advent speakers I bought years ago when I used something called a “stereo system” to play CDs and vinyl “records.” He can have them. I’m not sure about the garden variety DVD player, last used…? I can’t remember. Or the receiver. Does anyone still use those?

Next up: the dining room. We don’t have much in the way of family china and silver. But we do want to pack up some Italian pottery and take it back home. We also have a buffet-top full of bottles of liquor that we never drink. Maybe we should have a party?