I am a New York City girl, through and through, but I am awakened daily by a rooster. It has been months since I've eaten a bagel, ridden the No. 6 train, gone to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on a rainy Saturday, or sat in Central Park on a sunny Sunday.
Lately, sunny Sundays are spent driving along the Pacific Ocean, hiking in the mountains, or sitting on the beach. Rainy Saturdays are spent cooking big meals, watching old movies, and talking. We do a lot of talking, my friends and I.
I moved out of my downtown New York apartment 11 months ago and relocated to a town of 60,000 in northeastern Japan. Now I teach English at three local high schools. The most difficult part of my adjustment was not that I had to take off my shoes upon entering any building; it was not learning how to bow or adapting to a fish-based diet. The trickiest part of adapting to life in this mountain town was learning to understand my options.
Lately, I've been weighing the benefits of city life and country life. When I opened my eyes on a free Saturday morning back in New York, I would go through the day's possibilities in my head: Do I want to go to the museum, a show, the movies? Do I want to sit in a cafe and read a book? Or go to the park, Chinatown, Harlem, Little Italy? What do I want to eat? A big slice of pizza from the Lower East Side? Indian food from one of the places on 6th Street with the multicolored lights? Goulash from the Polish restaurant a few blocks north, or a pastrami sandwich from the nearby kosher deli?
I had all these options, and I loved it. I met interesting people who hailed from everywhere from Texas to Indonesia people who worked as artists, computer programmers, mechanics. Everyone and everything, it seemed, was in New York.
I left the city to see if I could be satisfied without all those choices. I wanted to see if I could be happy in the country, too.
It's been nearly a year, and I've finally figured out some things.
Here, when I wake up in the morning, I sort through my options: go on a hike, go to the beach, help my neighbor plant rice, rent a movie, meet a friend. What about breakfast? I could make eggs or go to the local restaurant for some local fare fish, noodles, meat.
There is no pastrami in this town and no Indian food.
This New Yorker is finally beginning to understand the country. In this town, where it's a two-hour drive to the nearest movie theater, people depend on other people for entertainment.
With all my entertainment choices in New York, there was barely time to sit and talk. We used to go to a friend's house for dinner, eat for an hour or two, and then head down the street to a lounge or jazz club. It was nice to sit and talk, but usually there was somewhere else to be.
Here in the Japanese countryside, there are no music venues, no lounges. There are a few karaoke clubs and a few bars, but these are expensive, and then they get old. When they do, the only options left are to read a book, rent a movie, or see if someone else wants to pass some time together. Insert "storytelling and general conversation" here.
The other night, my friend prepared a feast of pasta and chicken. Then, as the sun set over Kuri Koma Mountain, we sat and talked. We sat around talking because dozens of nights like this one have made us want to listen and speak to each other, and because there was no place else to be.
Back in New York, in preparation for the move to Japan, I imagined that the feeling of "having no place else to be" would drive me crazy.
Instead, it has relaxed me.
Here in the country, we sit around and talk, content in the knowledge that everyone in the room will stick around for a while and that we can sit back, get comfortable, and talk about things we never talked about when there was something else to do.
After 10 months of cozy meals and extended conversation, I feel as though I sometimes derive more pleasure from talking with friends than I did by going to any museum or show.
We do get bored sometimes. Two hours is a long drive to see a film.
In weighing the benefits of country life and city life, I've concluded that some city-based companionship is based on how well it fits in with all of the other available options. I've also observed that, in the country, some companionship is based on the fact that there are no other options.
Must we all move to the suburbs?
In the city, we could prolong the dinner party and talk for a while in my friend's West Village apartment. We could let the jazz band down the street play without us. And in the country, I could find cultural stimulation in listening to other people, as well as in books, new music, and occasional trips.
If I could somehow hold on to the cultural stimulations of city life and the human closeness of country life, I think I could be happy wherever I lived. I could combine the best of New York living with the best of country living, Any city could become a small town of human closeness, and any small town a city of colossal entertainments.