Sunday, July 3, 2011

Mi Casa, Su Casa

Last Thursday evening between five and eight p.m., 350 nice people paid $25 a head to tramp through our ‘historic’ residence in downtown Albany. We bought this house in 2006 and moved up from the City in October, 2007 (I’ve bored you with the reasons why before so not again). My 3-story red brick row house was built in 1871.

Rose and I have belonged to the Hudson Park Neighborhood Association since taking up residence in our house on Elm Street so, like good neighbors, when asked to open our home to the 2011 Hidden City House & Garden Tour, Rose readily consented and I stayed mum. In the City, we lived in a co-op apartment in Jackson Heights, Queens; in fact, in 60-plus years in NYC, I’d lived in apartments in three different boroughs so it was a mind-numbing idea for me to ‘buy’ the apartment I’d already been living in for five years. I still have trouble with the concept, obviously the invention of real estate lawyers.

The inciting incident for our move to Albany was being shown the house on Elm Street while tooling around upstate in search of a smaller city to grow old in. (NYC natives know in their marrows that as they age the odds they will become prey grow apace, unless they reside in upper-class Manhattan enclaves).

Our house is three stories: at street-level is what the realtors call ‘the garden floor’ because you walk through a country kitchen out the back into the garden. Rose found her green thumb up here and has transformed it into the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. But what really got me about the garden were two trees: upfront, a towering pear tree that didn’t give pears but whose foliage gave enough shade that you could shelter a good-sized dinner party on the deck beneath (We have); in the back, a wide, stunted tree, so ancient it looked to have turned to stone, bringing to mind good associations like seeing the movie, “One Million Years B.C.” when I was a kid in Brooklyn. I’d never owned any trees before.

In the middle, ‘the Parlor Floor’, is two rooms with original moldings, connected by ‘pocket doors’ which appear to cause orgasms in the cognoscenti. The top floor has a master bedroom with a walk-in, room-sized closet (Rose likes it), a guest room, and built-in walnut bookshelves that cover the wall separating guest room from a large enough area in the hall to accommodate desk, computer and files. I barred the tourists from the top floor.

I was curious so I stuck around as a fifth wheel. The Historic Albany Foundation sent shock troops to funnel the gawkers in and out, giving them a spiel on what’s-what in each room. They were eight ‘docents’ in two shifts spaced throughout the premises, including the garden. Nice enough folks (I’d never met a docent before), especially when they’d point to me and call me ‘the owner’ and I’d smile and recount the provenance of the art on the walls (Rose and I have been collecting art, separately and together, forever). Rose had laid down lengths of plastic sheeting over our outrageously expensive Pakistani carpet purchased at Bloomingdale’s in the City—sort of a ‘yellow-brick road’ to guide their 650 feet through the parlour. As they began to stumble on the bunched-up plastic, however, a bossy lady docent ordered it taken up. As a former police officer, I recognize a command voice when I hear it. The plastic sheets were taken up with all deliberate speed.

A funny thing: I enjoyed meeting and chatting up my 350 paying guests. At the end, one of the docents whispered to me that all the visitors said our house and garden were the most beautiful on the tour. . . Guess we’ll have to have them over again sometime soon.

Robert Knightly

1 comment:

  1. Having had the privilege of staying in that guest room, I enthusiastically attest to the charm of that lovely house. And I still love the picture with cow in it in the kitchen. It's the best!