Monday, May 26, 2008

Other Men's Staircases

Tu proverai sì come sa di sale
lo pane altrui, e come è duro calle
lo scendere e 'l salir per l'altrui scale.

You will find out how salt is the taste of another man's bread, and how hard it is to climb up and down another man's staircase.

That's Dante, in the Divine Comedy (Paradisio XVII). Climbing down another man's staircase this morning, it occurred to me that I have spent a lot of my life climbing up and down other men's staircases. I'm one up on Dante; I've mostly enjoyed it. But have had an advantage on Dante: Dante was an exile, while I have mostly had a home base. But going back over a 50-year career, I've had, I don't know, maybe 20 temporary residences.

I suppose the best was the apartment they gave me at NYU in 2006 in exchange for teaching the bankruptcy course--tenth floor,Third and MacDougal, straight shot north to the Empire State Building. A close second would be the sabbatical apartment on the second floor of a digniified row house in London, next to the Regents Park Canal in 1976--my daughter and I used to canoe up through the zoo. Third would be another Londoner: the flat on Southampton Row that Mrs. B. wangled as part of her teaching assignment in 2001. And then another New Yorker: David Carlson and Jean Schroeder's apartment on West 10th Street in Greenwich Village, which I occupied while subbing for David at Cardozo Law School in 1996. And then, a pension near the Piazza del Popolo in Rome (1985). And a great sprawling flat near the Campo di Fiori (Rome again) in 1987, made not much less attractive by the neighbor who used to throw her garbage off the balcony into the courtyard. Oh, and the flat we occupied twice in Florence, in a medieval alley just behind Gucci.

Not all have been winners. Back in 1975, I took a tiny apartment with a fold-a-bed, just south of Los Feliz Boulevard in LA I passed it on to a student who told me that the place was full of drug dealers. I was at the office almost all the time, so I never noticed. And I can't say much for the steelcase monstrosity out by the Braddock Road tube station in Alexandria VA (who would name a tube stop after a losing general)? Yes, and Stanford in 1986 gave me an apartment next to the hospital: I used to shortcut through the intern's locker room, and caught the worst case of bronchitis ever.

As I say, this all works because I mostly do it on a long tether from home. Indeed, my longest tenure in residence is my current digs in Palookaville: Mrs.Buce and I bought it together back in 1984, long before we were married. On the other hand, I live 90 miles from my job. So the second longest tenure is the motel near the job site, where I have spent two or three nights a week for nearly 20 years. Now, that one is depressing.

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