North America

Sven, Ajay, Fiona, and Mary Beth celebrating our new condo with us

A chunk of the early part of April was spent waiting and waiting for word on going to closing on the Cooper Square condo we were trying to buy. The unit we were buying had previously been part of a larger unit before being split off on its own. Because the occupancy permit stayed with the rest of the unit – which was in fact occupied by the owner – we had to wait for a new occupancy permit before closing. Wait and wait and wait. Of course, all that waiting saved us plenty of money; she was paying property taxes and condo fees while we were using the time to develop the floor plans that we would submit when we finally owned the unit.

And then, when the occupancy permit finally came through – Hooray!! – the owner wanted to delay the sale even longer. The purchase agreement had said we would close within a week or 10 days of issuing the occupancy permit, but her lawyer thought it would take longer than that and she wasn’t going to be in the city until the end of the month and on and on. And then there were questions about building permits she had taken out that were still open. The purchase agreement said that they would be responsible for ensuring they were closed, but her lawyer basically said “Yeah, we’re not going to do that.”

The tiny New York Marble Cemetery, quite near our temporary apartment, is the oldest non-sectarian cemetery in the city.

Frustrating, ugly, nasty … what a process. The night before we were scheduled to close it looked as though the whole thing was going to fall apart, at least for a few weeks and maybe even months. Finally, that night, frustrated and angry, we accepted her lawyer’s position on the work permits, agreed to take responsibility ourselves (since our work was going to be a total gut job renovation anyway) and we went to closing. Frustrated and angry instead of joyous, but we closed. And then held a little champagne lunch party with 10 friends to celebrate.

With that behind us, the next steps would be just as challenging. Our architect had to put the final touches on the plans to submit to the condo board’s architect who has to approve them to ensure we are not doing anything that would affect the building’s structure or that would be too disturbing to current residents. After that we go to the city for permission. In other words, it could still be a while.

The south view from our condo in what will be the living room

Meanwhile, while not spinning our wheels waiting or working with our architect on the plans, we tried to enjoy spring in New York. There’s a lot to like about the city in April, including an early visit to the Botanical Garden out in the Bronx (we’re getting around, even leaving Manhattan!) where they had a stunning orchid exhibit.

And then, the day after closing, it was off to London where we were to spend a few days before meeting my brother and his wife for a two-week tour of Italy. To be honest we weren’t too keen on leaving so soon after getting the keys to the apartment, but, well, it is Italy, so how bad can that be?

Here Mark is with the keys. Finally! Now it’s off it Italy.

Toasting our new condo with fancy champagne glasses, a gift from our realtor (who did very well on the sale…)

Mary Beth and Mark celebrating our closing, standing in what will be the dining room. That drop ceiling towards the back will be removed during demolition giving a much better view of downtown when it’s done.

A beautiful spring day in the New York Botanical Garden up in the Bronx with Mary Beth

Orchids the likes of which we’ve never seen

Feels like spring!

Mark had to go to a hospital for a fairly routine medical exam … and was greeted by this large portrait of David Koch, one of the most vile libertarian/Republican funders. On the good side though the hospital was really nice and everything checked out fine for Mark.

Moving gently into the role of hosts, we had our friends Sven & Mary Beth over for drinks one night before going out to dinner. Soon we would face our fears and insecurities and actually cook a meal for guests.

This whole “Catching Up” process hasn’t gone so well. I was pretty happy back in April when I wrote up our final stop in Brazil, and then in May when Mark posted our January doings. But here it is in June and instead of having caught up … well, we haven’t. And it’s not as though we’re super busy or anything. I mean, retirement leaves a lot of spare time.

At any rate, back to February. The big deal for the month was getting a household set up after not having a household for nearly six years, but there’s not much interesting to write or say about that. We started the scary process of inviting people over for dinner; after six years of not cooking our skills were a little rusty. Mark’s parents came for a visit, our first house guests though we were pretty confident not our last.

It was a mild winter in New York and only once in February did we get any accumulation of snow at all. That once was enough for me to go down to the Battery at Manhattan’s southern tip to enjoy the views.

A lot of the month was just getting to know our new home town. Turns out it’s a big city with a lot to do. We’re trying to embrace the cultural opportunities here so we joined both the Metropolitan Museum and the New Museum, a modern art exhibition center just a couple blocks from our apartment. We even went to a “Music in Time” lecture an old graduate school classmate was giving on the Upper West Side. He’s mostly retired from the CEO-ing he did after graduate school and instead puts his energy into researching the relationship between music and political history. In this case it was Verdi’s role in the Risorgimento, Italy’s reunification campaign of the 18th century. It was a fundraiser (in an apartment on Central Park West) for a music scholarship program where his lecture was interspersed with real opera singers doing some of Verdi’s arias. Very New York.

Speaking of very New York, we absolutely love this view of uptown from our Lower East Side apartment

And then of course there was the seemingly interminable waiting to close the contract on our new loft at 62 Cooper Square. We wanted to close as quickly as possible to get the whole process rolling but that was not to be. The previous owner had had some construction done and needed to get an occupancy permit for the unit before the condo board would allow the sale to go through. You see, she had previously owned both the 11th and 12th floors, with a staircase connecting them, since no one could be expected to live in just a single full-floor unit. But she was downsizing and had the staircase removed and the floors created as separate units, meaning ours needed the occupancy permit. Now, all the work had been done; it was a perfectly livable with toilets and a kitchen and all that. It’s just that the city bureaucracy, particularly in the Department of Buildings, can move at a glacial pace. So we waited. In the meantime we were working with our architect to design the space (assuming we would be able to buy it eventually) while the then-current owner was paying taxes and condo fees. Frustrating to have to wait but ultimately not a bad deal for us.

As the month closed though we had no occupancy permit and, more frustrating, no idea whatsoever when the city would get around to issuing it.

Our first house guests, Mark’s parents, enjoying pre-dinner snacks and cocktails

Classic New York street scene near our apartment

One of New York’s new “pencil towers” on what is becoming known as Billionaire’s Row up near Central Park

We met Tamara in April 2014 when we first discovered the fabulous Temple Lodge in Bali. We bonded with her, stayed in touch, and even visited again with her in Bali in January 2017. While she still travels a lot, she lives over in Brooklyn so she was our first dinner guest. She appears to have survived.

There’s a lot to love about shopping here. For instance, New York has cheeses…

…and Jesus (this one by El Greco at the Met)

And here is El Greco’s view of Toledo (the one in Spain, not Ohio)

Me, enjoying an espresso and wearing the sweater I bought in Baku that I wore nearly every day in February…

And one last view of winter in New York

New York is beautiful in its own way even in the dead of winter. And we figure if we can get through January we can get through anything.

Hello again readers. Since we landed in New York City on January 2 we have been pretty quiet on our blog, right? Since that landing ended our 5-year, 8-month travel adventure, we’ve also been debating whether to end the travel blog or turn it into something else.

We’ve decided on “something else.” We love having the blog as a record of our adventures and especially a place to put our favorite pictures. And while the full-time travel adventure has come to an end, other exciting adventures keep unfolding. And we keep taking pictures that would like to have a nice home as well.

So welcome to MarkAndJim.com 2.0. We are going to try to write about our adventures monthly or so and see if that works. But we’ve got some catching up to do, so here is a summary of our first month of readjustment to non-nomadic domestic life. We will try not to include any spoilers!

We spent most of January living in a hotel right on Union Square, where the farmers markets are legendary

Our first home in New York felt a lot like our recent homes elsewhere. We spent 26 nights in a hotel as we tried to figure out how to find something more permanent. We spent all of that time at the W hotel right on buzzy Union Square, arguably right at the edge of lower Manhattan. Union Square is a great location, close to all the downtown neighborhoods where we wanted to look for a place to live.

Truth be told, we had a pretty good sense of EXACTLY where we wanted to live before we even got to New York. We’d been watching property listing in New York for most of the last year, always wishing we could find the perfect thing for us, which would be a large space with good bones in need of a total renovation. Our last home in Cambridge was our own creation, a loft space that we planned and designed ourselves. And it was perfect for us. Thinking about living in New York, we could never imagine ourselves with anything less than a space imagined and designed just for us. And we are willing again to suffer through a year of renovation to get it.

62 Cooper Square

The Carl Fischer Building was built in 1926 and housed a music publishing business for decades. Our 11th floor future home is highlighted.

Back on November 30, in Egypt, Jim saw a new listing on Zillow, which captured both our imaginations right away. It was the full 11th floor of the historic Carl Fisher Building at 62 Cooper Square in NoHo — an unimaginable 6,500 square feet, with 40 windows facing every direction with sweeping open views. And badly in need of a total renovation! NoHo is a great neighborhood surrounded by our other favorite neighborhoods — Greenwich Village to the West, the East Village to the East, Union Square and Flatiron to the north, and SoHo, NoLiTa, and the Lower East Side just to the south. OK, something must be super wrong with this property.

When we arrived in New York on January 2, our agent, Mara, had already set up a grueling couple days of property showings, starting that very afternoon. And the first property on the list was 62 Cooper Square. From the moment we walked into that space, nothing else was ever going to be able to compete. What was the awful thing wrong with it? Absolutely nothing. We could hardly believe someone else hadn’t scooped it up in the month since that listing first appeared.

We were blown away by the vast expanses of raw space at 62 Cooper Square. Now this has potential!

The front of the unit looks out over the historic college called the Cooper Union and the ultra-hip East Village

I know what you are thinking — sounds expensive! And yes, New York’s astronomical real estate prices take some time to get used to. We are lucky to have the budget of people who started and eventually sold a software company. But Cooper Square, with its big, open, unfinished spaces was priced so much lower per square foot than almost everything else we were looking at. You pay a lot more per volume to walk into a beautifully furnished spaces with appliances and finishes somebody else picked out. By our accounts, this property will be a bargain even after investing heavily in the renovation. Plus we know we can turn this into the perfect place for us.

As Mara shepherded us through a grueling schedule of property visits, nothing came close to Cooper Square. Every listing compared unfavorably to its value and potential. We’d barely cross the threshold of the next property before we’d be saying, “But Cooper Square This” and “Cooper Square That.”

So within just a few days we made an offer. And after another two weeks of anxiety, negotiation, excitement, and worry, we signed a contract to purchase the 11th Floor of 62 Cooper Square. We were aware then that we were embarking on a long and difficult process to turn the place into our dream home. Ahead of us lay months of agony to close on the property, make renovation plans, get permits to build, hire a contractor, and complete the construction. But by the end of January we had a signed contract and a newly hired architect.

We traipsed through many beautiful properties with Mara (in the white hat), but everything compared poorly to 62 Cooper Square

This was the rooftop of an apartment that belonged to the playwright Edward Albee. It was an interesting but quirky place that needed major renovation, but would still be quirky

196 Orchard Street

Until we had that contract in hand, we were afraid to make any other commitments in New York or anywhere else. We constantly feared the deal would fall through and it could take many months to find something else we could be so excited about. Would we stay in New York all that time? Or run away to somewhere else to sulk?

But now it was time to find an apartment for the year or so it would take to renovate Cooper Square. We felt little enthusiasm about finding an apartment, feeling like we’d be living in temporary squalor for a year. After looking at lots of dreadful listings and visiting a few dreadful apartments, we discovered a sparkling new apartment building in the Lower East Side and fell in love.

Because everything about real estate in New York is hellish and complicated, it took us well over a week to apply and get approvals to move in. On January 25 we got our keys to the new apartment and embarked on a mad three-day shopping binge to acquire the things we’d need to move in. After all, we’d been living out of suitcases for nearly six years. We had NOTHING required to live in an apartment. No furniture, no dishes, no sheets or towels or silverware or toilet paper or cookware. Finally, on January 28 a whole set of rented furniture was delivered, and we moved out of the W Hotel and into our new home at 196 Orchard Street. It felt really weird to have a place to call “home” again.

Our new apartment before the rental furniture got delivered. Here is Jim taking a break from our 3-day shopping marathon.

One of the best things about living in New York is that we have a surprising number of old friends here. That includes my college friend Mary Beth, here with her youngest daughter Fiona at one of several wonderful dinner parties they’ve hosted for us.

Dinner parties are Mary Beth and Sven’s house are pretty serious gastronomic affairs. This is the stunning fish dish that Sven put together.

Plus everybody loves to visit the Big Apple! Bart and Ann came down from Boston for a super fun weekend.

New urban planning strategies and new construction technologies have led to a new generation of super tall and skinny skyscrapers called “pencil towers,” here rising above Central Park

Cool modern shapes at the World Trade Center

New York is a very international town, as witnessed by signs for the construction workers in our apartment building in English, Albanian, Russian, and Spanish. Over 37% of New Yorkers were born in another country.

That’s Peter Stuyvesant, Director General of the New Netherlands from 1647-1664

We were anxious to get to New York so Jim could see a doctor here after his health scare in Brazil. They filled all those little tubes with his blood and eventually concluded that he’s in pretty good shape.