We’re moving out of the furnished apartment we’ve lived in for the past two years to an unfurnished, brand-new house in a brand-new housing “compound.” Abu Dhabi and Dubai are dotted with compounds, which are the equivalent of planned housing communities in the States: they’re little mini-suburbs, basically, even though the word “compound” to me conjures up images of armed guards, checkpoints, and barbed wire fences.
As with any move to the suburbs, this move has a lot to do with kids and wanting more space for them to run around both inside and out. Of course, after years of living in Manhattan pining for suburban peace and quiet, I am now worried about moving to a place that has nothing but peace and quiet. How will I silence the voices in my head, if not with the din of a city burbling around me?
But you know the real source of my anxiety?
We moved into a furnished apartment when we moved to Abu Dhabi, and while the furniture was not all to my liking (hello white leather sectional!) most of it was fine. And mostly it was fine because I didn’t have to worry about it; I didn’t have to choose any of it. It was just…there. And that’s sort of how it’s been for most of my post-college life: I lived in an array of small apartments and furniture simply accumulated. For decades my desk was two filing cabinets and a door laid over the top, purchased right after college; I had a blue wicker chair inherited from the mother of a friend, an assortment of bookcases from god knows where, a rocking chair that “one day” I was going to strip down and repaint but which, twenty years after I bought it, still looked exactly the same. When Husband and I got married, we bought a few things — a leather couch that after ten years of kids jumping on it looks like an heirloom from an English castle; a lovely round dining table that I put a water stain on the first day we used it; a glass coffee table that got wrapped with a sort of padded girdle while the boys were small, lest the sharp glass corners de-brain them. We also had my grandmother’s ancient sleeper-sofa, which I have to say made the world’s most comfortable napping couch but was, when we inherited it, about thirty years old, and aged more in the twelve years that we had it than in all the previous thirty.
In other words, the design principle that governed our New York apartment could be best described as no-point-in-getting-something-new-because-the-kids-will-wreck-it.
When we moved to Abu Dhabi, we gave away most of the odds-and-end and put everything else in long-term storage–and none of it is worth the cost of shipping here.
Thus: I move at the end of the month, mostly furniture-less, into a house with an upstairs, with several bathrooms, with a foyer, for god’s sake. What the hell does a person do with a foyer?
And windows! For the love of all that’s holy, I need “window treatments.” Our current apartment is on the 37th floor and there aren’t any other buildings within eyeshot, so if a person wanted to walk around in her altogethers, for instance, there’s no one to see. But down on ground level, where we’re moving, there are all kinds of prying eyes–not to mention the fact that we need to be able to darken the bedrooms when we sleep. I tried to figure out curtains the other day, with the help of the very nice Mr. Mohammed at the curtain shop near my office — and he was lovely, but mostly we talked about politics in Lebanon, which frankly was easier than sifting through all the sample books he pressed upon me.*
Linen? Cotton blend? Simple shades? Roman blinds? Sheer panels and curtains? Just curtains? And what kind of curtain rods?
Plus I need a couch. And the couch is supposed to go with the rug, right? Which is in turn supposed to go with the curtains, which should in turn harmonize with the rug and the couch? It’s a set of aesthetic algorithms that I haven’t mastered.
I’ve never had to make these decisions before, people; and while I now have an officially grown-up car, these choices present a whole new aspect of grownup life. I suppose I could just copy precisely the layouts that Ikea suggests in their store, but then, you know, it would be nice to live in a house that has a sense of actual individuality instead of mass-produced whimsy. If only I’d learned how to use Pinterest, then I would have an entire trove of “looks” that I could turn to in this, my hour of aesthetic need. But alas, me and the Pin? We’ve never hit it off. I’m pinterestless.
My wise sister suggested that perhaps my furniture-based anxiety in fact masks my feelings about moving away from the really lovely community that exists in our apartment building, which is where almost all the faculty and staff of the university live –it’s a bit of a hive, in that regard, an actual vertical village, where you can find someone to watch your kids at a moment’s notice, or borrow a cup of milk or wine by simply walking down the hall. It’s been a safe space from which to negotiate the huge changes in our lives in the past few years. And of course we’ll all stay in touch, and of course we will visit and our kids will play together, and of course of course of course…but it will be different. And, my sister suggests, perhaps it’s possible that while I’m excited (a little) to go live in the Abu Dhabi equivalent of the ‘burbs, I might be sad at leaving, too. You know: ambivalent.
Or that’s my sister’s theory, anyway.
Maybe she’s got a point…but I can’t think about that right now. I’ve got to go talk to a man about finials.
*Abu Dhabi fact: you can’t throw a feral cat down the street without it hitting a curtain maker /upholsterer’s shop. The shop-keeper will help you choose fabrics from a dizzying array of choices and then –even better– come and install the curtains (or shades or whatevers), all for only a tiny bit more than you’d pay for ready-made curtains, which you would then have to install yourself. And our brand-new house doesn’t even have curtain rods yet. Thus: “custom made” curtains.