Personal Essays

An Expatriate Goes to the Museum

Truth usually comes when you least expect it. Mine showed up in Harvard Square shortly after college. Cities like Boston are almost entirely filled with imported citizens – transplants, foreigners, nomads – and at first, it was a flip response to a common question. “I’m an expatriate New Yorker,” I said and went on about something else. But the words, once out of my mouth, seemed to stick with me. And I began to think more about them.

I saw that the farther New York was in my past, the more space it occupied in my mind. Even after ten years in Boston, the Boston Symphony was never quite as good as the Philharmonic, the T was never as convenient as the Lexington Avenue 6 train, and the people never walked fast enough or were the right kind of rude. New York City became Oz to me, a magical place where everything was Technicolor and the roads were golden brick.

I had gone back a few times over the years for friends’ birthdays or special events. I’d even made one trip to visit the neighborhood my father grew up in, up on 131st Street. I wound up seeing more of the city in those years than I ever did when I was younger – brunches in Park Slope, loft parties on Canal Street, crashing on couches in the West 70s – but all it ever did was take the edge off for a while. New York still loomed large in my imagination.

Naturally, an obsession with imaginary places isn’t the route to happiness, so I decided to see if I couldn't shed this fixation once and for all.