We’re falling into a comfortable rhythm, Lillie and I. Lillie is Eric’s dog, here for a several week stay as her custody is shared with her other daddy, and she is a sweet, smart creature. She knows from past visits that when I get out of bed in the morning it is time for her to hop out too, and to stay still for me to put her collar on. She knows to wait on the back stoop as I put my boots on, and then leads me to the first stop on the morning chore route, the chicken coop. She knows that from there we go to the pigs, and runs around ahead of me to the gate going down to their pens. Something about our sow Possum, similar in coloration to Lillie but roughly six times her size, mesmerizes her. She knows that when we get up to the sheep at the barn, she must stay behind the fence while I shepherd the flock past her out to the pasture.
Routine structures our days and our lives. I share Lillie’s love of routine. I sorely miss some of mine. The biweekly dinners in the City with my friend George, at which matters existential, political and deeply personal are plumbed; my egg deliveries to my neighbors downtown, the occasion for more casual banter; warm evenings entertaining friends on my terrace; my weekly pilates class next to Union Square Farmers Market, the perfect observation point for the wonderful carnival of humanity that is New York City.
It’s not surprising that so much attention of late has been paid to the fate of cities in general, and of New York City in particular. There is apparently a great pandemic exodus in process. The Times, using analysis of cell phone location data, has reported that about 5% of the City’s population, 420,000 people, left between March 1 and May 1. In several rich, densely populated neighborhoods, including the Upper East Side, the West Village, SoHo and Brooklyn Heights, more than 40% of the residents decamped, most often to the suburban and exurban rings around the City, but also to such far flung places as West Palm Beach.”The Richest Neighborhoods Emptied Out Most as Coronavirus Hit New York City” (May 15, 2020) Apparently, properties in places like the Hudson Valley and the Berkshires are selling like hotcakes, despite the obstacles to sale caused by lockdown orders.
Whether what I’d call the pandexodus is temporary, and simply an expression of the privileged classes’ ability to seek safety and comfort in hard times, or permanent , in a way that will reshape the relationship between City and country in unforeseen ways, is the great question. The same day the Times published its findings on the exodus, it ran a very intelligent op ed by Mary Bassett, a former New York City Health Commissioner, entitled “Just Because You Can Afford to Leave the City Doesn’t Mean You Should”. Dr. Bassett argues convincingly that cities are overall healthier places to live than nonurban areas, with longer life expectancy, and that we should not abandon New York City.
Some of Dr. Bassett’s supporting evidence is not entirely convincing as an argument for staying in the City right now. She points out that the areas with highest population density in Manhattan are not the areas with the highest per capita Covid rates. Rather, she argues, the incidence of disease is much likely the result of living in overcrowded households, going to work on overcrowded transit, and working in crowded workspaces than with living in a dense high rise neighborhood. With income and white collar work comes the ability to better protect oneself, she says.
But thanks to the pandexodus those rich areas she found to be relatively safe are not nearly as densely populated as she asserts, which weakens Dr. Bassett’s argument that density is irrelevant to disease transmission. Nor did she compare the incidence of disease and death in Manhattan to other parts of the country. Manhattan’s incidence may be lower than the Bronx, but it’s still very high compared to other places. Even in fancy buildings, people still have to ride elevators close together. Even people of privilege in New York ride the subways at rush hour.
Nor does Dr. Bassett suggest what advantage a shut down city would have during the lockdown from the presence of those who left. The City is going to great lengths to not operate as a normal city does, discouraging use of mass transit, limiting access to parks to avoid overcrowding, transforming streets designed for vehicles into walkways because the sidewalks provide inadequate space on their own to maintain social distance. While the health-promoting aspects of being outdoor activity are recognized, the City cannot encourage it too much without undercutting its efforts to prevent disease transmission.
Dr. Bassett is undeniably right when she says “The walkability of urban areas builds exercise into everyday life, improving physical and mental health. The large numbers of people means a tax base that can support cultural institutions, world-class medical care, public transport and parks. Denser living is more efficient, less wasteful and kinder to the environment. It makes possible the interactions of all types of people, across the many divides of our society.” She is also right to conclude that “Cities’ density underlies their wonder — the people, the bustle, the democratic impulse born from the mixing of cultures and identities.” I will at the right time eagerly go back to the place I always thought of as the center of the universe, and will remain a taxpaying citizen and employer there even while away.
But in a time when the cultural institutions are not operating and cannot be patronized, the world class medical care is too consumed with dealing with a deluge of Covid-19 to pay attention to much else, the public transportation is curtailed and discouraged, the parks and sidewalks are minefields of potentially unwanted proximity, requiring masking to enjoy, all those interactions of all types of people, across cultural divides that Dr. Bassett praises are impossible. What is to be gained, on the City’s part or mine, from my return? Does it make sense to encourage the return of 420,000 people to join the ranks of those feeling virtually imprisoned in their apartments?
Summer seems to be upon us. The outdoor shower is operating. We’ve started taking meals on the porch, and had burgers on the grill for dinner last night – with margaritas! Those routines of summer are easy to get used to as well. While I feel guilty for my economic privilege, and think such advantage should be more broadly distributed, I don’t consider staying here an abandonment of the City that I need feel guilty about. Indeed, if anyone is interested in subletting a penthouse with a fifty foot roof terrace overlooking the World Trade Center reflecting pools for, say, the next six months, hit me up.
WHAT’S NEW THIS WEEK:
We are now sold out of pork chops as well as chickens. Our “to market” date for the lambs has been set for July 14 (Bastille Day – hoping the lambs don’t revolt). If you’d like to reserve a whole or half lamb, we still have one (that is two halves) available. On the produce front, much has germinated, and new offerings will be popping up here in the coming weeks.
WHAT’S AVAILABLE THIS WEEK
Tiny hot matchbox peppers, $5.00 a string, dried and quite decorative.
Fresh dug horseradish root, $3/lb.
Sorrel, one gallon bag, $3/bag
Mint, $1/ bunch
Garlic chives (the flat kind), $1/bunch
EGGS: $5/doz, $3/doz (fun size)
MEATS: We keep some on hand, but it helps to order ahead in case we need to retrieve from our stash in the big commercial freezer. See below.
ROASTING CHICKENS – Nice fat Freedom Rangers are now sold out
LAMB: a few remaining small loin chops, $14/lb., leg of lamb $14/lb, lamb shoulder roast $7/lb.
PORK: Loin pork chops, $12/lb (2 to a pack, btwn 1 and 1.5 lbs),
fresh ham roasts (2 to 3 lbs), $12/lb
smoked bacon, $12/lb
Email us your order at firstname.lastname@example.org, and let us know when you’d like to pick up your order. It will be put out for you on the side screened porch of the farmhouse (110 Lasher Ave., Germantown) in a bag. You can leave cash or a check in the now famous pineapple on the porch table. Regular pickup times are Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., other days by arrangement. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to call at 518-537-3815 or email.