Zhuzh, cont.: scale, light, texture, color

By Caitlin Kelly

A very quick primer on what makes a room really work, and what can kill even the best-laid plans.

One interior designer, the late legendary Albert Hadley, used to talk about skylines — think about a typical urban one; it has high and low points, spots of light and pools of darkness. It offers inherent drama and a bit of mystery.

The most attractive rooms have one as well.

How?

 

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Our dining room: Custom-made curtains. The wall color is Farrow & Ball Peignoir and the framed image is from a British design magazine.

 

Look around your rooms. Is everything the same size and shape? (i.e. all chunky rectangle or squares?) Does your eye stay only on the same level?

Is all your lighting (noooooo!) coming from an overhead source (noooooo!) without a dimmer to alter the mood? The ideal room is lit with at least four or five different sources, preferably for task work, reading, mood — a single glaring central ceiling fixture is harsh, unflattering and inefficient. Our living room has two matching tall lamps (symmetry helps!) that illuminate the sofa; a small lamp in a corner that lights up a photo on a wall and a lamp on a chest by the front door. No bulb offers less than 100 watts.

Scale is tricky — people often choose pieces that are too small for a space or too large. Or there’s just too much stuff in the space so you always feel a bit out of breath and annoyed but don’t know why.

Smaller pieces — like light, moveable side tables and stools — can be much more versatile and useful than the standard sofa/chairs/coffee table.  We ditched two large club chairs and splurged on two square, low, deep green velvet stools, They offer comfortable and stylish seating without consuming nearly as much space.

 

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Since re-arranged, a glimpse of our living room — looking a bit cluttered! Found the antique mirror in a Quebec antique shop and the small wooden table at a Connecticut consignment shop. Wall color is Gervase Yellow by Farrow & Ball.

 

The most interesting rooms have a range of different textures: suede, leather, chenille, velvet, silk, cotton. Smooth glass and rough stone. Gleaming brass or lucite.

Color can be challenging to get right, and I’ve blogged on this many times before.

Learn which colors work best with one another, and why. For example, a room combining red and green doesn’t have to look like a Christmas stocking if the red is a soft rusty-burgundy and the green a pale sage (the colors of our sofa and trim) — and it works because these colors are opposite on the color wheel.

Design magazines, books and websites offer a lot of great tips and inspiration, from Apartment Therapy to Insta accounts belonging to designers.

Making a home beautiful isn’t always quick, easy or cheap. It can take longer to afford and assemble the look you want most, but it’s worth it. I saved up for years to buy my Tizio lamp — it cost $500 in the 1980s — but I still use it today and still love it.

I’ve never regretted investing in the beauty, efficiency and comfort of our home.

Time to zhuzh! Yes, it’s a word

By Caitlin Kelly

Just try saying it!

As someone who studied interior design and spends far too many hours on Instagram and reading shelter magazines for inspiration, I love nothing more than a good zhuzh  — making something more attractive.

As winter’s short, gray cold days descend on those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, here are some of the recent things we’ve done to feather our nest, a kid-free, pet-free one bedroom apartment of about 1,000 square feet. We’re both full-time freelance now, so this is also a place we do a lot of writing and editing work as well.

Sanding, spackling and painting all cracks in the walls

 

So boring! So annoying! So damn necessary. It’s either us and our own sweat equity or shelling out even more money — again — to a company to do it for us. There will still be some bad ceiling cracks and we’ll pay someone to deal with those. For reasons I do not understand, this 60-year-old building still (!?) settles and creates these damn cracks.

A fresh coat of paint on the dingiest spots

 

The cheapest way to clean and brighten your space. I’m a huge Farrow & Ball fan, and one of the many things I love about them is that they will custom make their discontinued colors, like the yellow-green we used in 2008 for the living room and hallway. Our dining room is painted in Peignoir, and our bedroom in Skimming Stone.

 

Steam-clean major upholstered pieces

 

Seriously! We spent $180 recently to have our seven-foot-long velvet-covered sofa and two cream-colored wing chairs professionally cleaned (in home.) It’s well worth it given how much we use these pieces.

 

Invest in a few good rugs

 

Nothing is cheerier than a few great rugs on a clean, shiny hardwood floor, adding color, warmth and texture. So many great choices out there, from flat-weave dhurries (a favorite) to bright, cheerful cotton ones (like these from Dash & Albert, whose stuff I keep buying.) Avoid harsh, bright colors and crazy wild designs as you’ll soon grow sick of them.

 

Throws for bed and living room lead to much happy napping

 

Is there anything nicer than a snooze under a soft, comforting throw? We have several, in cotton and wool, and they’re very well-used. These, in waffle-weave wool, come in gray and cream. Classic,

 

Are your light bulbs/shades clean and bright?

 

Everything gets dusty!

 

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Stock up on flowers, plants and greenery

 

A room without a plant or fresh flowers — especially on gray, cold, rainy days — can feel static and lifeless.

 

Get out the polish!

 

I know, I know — very few people even want to own silver, or silver-plate or brass now, but few things are as lovely as freshly-polished cutlery, (ours is all flea market) or gleaming brass candlesticks.

 

 

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Lots of candles

 

Obviously not a great choice, perhaps, if you have cats or small children, but we have neither. I keep a small votive candle bedside and light it first thing every morning, a softer way to wake up. At dinner we use votives, tapers and a few lanterns; I buy my votives in bulk at Pier One so they’re always handy and within reach. Here’s a candle-maker I follow on Instagram with a great selection.

 

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Treat your home to something pretty, new and useful

 

Could be a score from a consignment shop or thrift store, estate sale or something new. It might be fresh tea towels for the kitchen, a bath sheet for the bathroom, soft new pillowcases, a vase for flowers…Your home should be a welcoming, soothing refuge. Its beauty can and should nurture you.

Two years ago, I splurged on the above-pictured early 19th. century tea set — with cups, saucers, plates, teapot, tea bowl. Every time I use it it makes me happy.

Meeting social media contacts face to face

By Caitlin Kelly

According to WordPress statistics, Broadside has more than 20,000 followers worldwide.

I’ve met only a handful of you face to face, in Paris, New York and in London.

In the past week, I sat down face to face with five men I previously knew only through social media — one from a writers’ listserv and the other four all met only through Twitter.

The meetings, of course, were purely professional for me — and for them — held in daylight in busy public spaces.

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Viv is a super-talented writer, stand-up comedian and new friend — who followed me on Twitter from her home in London and hired me to coach her.

 

Every meeting went well and I learned about a new-to-me person and their world.

One is an African-American man who runs a thriving national program recruiting new professionals into radio work. Reassured by having a mutual NPR connection, we spoke on the phone a few years ago. He was wary, cool. Not unfriendly, but cautious.

We only see one another once a year or so when he comes to New York, but this time — our third — felt like old friends, with hugs and happiness at our chance to spend some time together and catch up.

Another is a man from my hometown, Toronto, who worked for years in my field of journalism, focused on financial news — but who I met through our frequent participation in multiple Twitterchats on travel, like #CultureTrav, #TravelSkills and #TRLT. Retired, he now travels the world, often on someone else’s dime, promoting cruise ships or hotels.

Another, decades younger than I, is a fellow member of a writers’ listserv who divides his time between his native Australia, Latin America and New York. Like me, he’s worked for both a broadsheet newspaper (like The New York Times) and a tabloid (like the New York Daily News.)

 

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This amazing conference, Fireside, came to me through an email from a stranger — one of the best experiences of 2018

 

I met four of them in one day; the final one works in public relations in New York City, a field I hope to find more work in as a strategist.

And the fifth is a Florida man my age working on innovative ways to re-invigorate journalism; we met this week for coffee in my town while he and his wife were visiting.

Many people, I realize, are much happier remaining forever behind the screen, anonymous and safe, already too busy or overworked to add more to their plate.

As someone wholly self-employed, such enhanced and deeper connections can also lead me to paid work and new opportunities — a good personal meeting builds trust. My goal with social media is to connect intellectually, emotionally and professionally.

For me, social media is social, not just a place to scream and shout and rave.

I enjoy putting a face and character to a name, even if the person isn’t quite what I expected or would later consider as a close friend.

It does require a spirit of adventure and an open-ness to disappointment/delight. But working alone at home since 2006 can leave me lonely and isolated otherwise.

 

Have you met anyone face to face that you only first knew through social media?

How did it turn out?

Simple pleasures

By Caitlin Kelly

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 Georgetown, D.C., November 2017

 

Late afternoon sunlight

 

Fireflies (aka lightning bugs) twinkling in the darkness

 

A pot of hot loose-leaf tea

 

Freshly laundered pillowcases

 

A hummingbird hovering in our garden

 

Snoozing under a throw

 

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Reading for hours and hours, disappearing into another world

 

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Exploring rural antique stores and flea markets

 

Watching a movie, in the cinema, eating popcorn

 

Vanilla ice cream

 

A single espresso

 

Walking barefoot through wet grass

 

A calm and quiet place to sit and think for a while

 

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A long phone chat with a friend living far away

 

Walking through a lovely landscape

 

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A vase filled with tulips

 

A crisp apple (possibly with a sharp cheddar)

 

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What are some of your simple pleasures?

Six favorite activities

By Caitlin Kelly

 

Listening to the radio

 

It’s a rare day I don’t have my trusty little black transistor radio on beside me. I listen to BBC World News when I have time, (it’s an hour), and many NPR shows, from All Things Considered, Fresh Air and The Takeaway, (now hosted by old friend Tanzina Vega, who worked with Jose at The New York Times) to fun weekend shows like The Moth, This American Life and even silly ones like Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.

I’ve been working alone at home since 1996 so the radio is a steady companion. We’ve even sent a gift to Jeff Spurgeon, host of the morning show on WQXR, New York’s classical music station — a tiny plastic T. Rex — an in-joke he appreciated after he once joked about dinosaurs in the Hudson River; (probably historically accurate!)

Our new car has Sirius XM so I love listening to CBC as well.

 

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Reading the Weekend Financial Times

 

The FT is a very specific read, as one wit dubbed it: “the hometown paper of the global cosmopolitan elite.”

Its real estate pages — larded with country estates in every corner of the world and enormous penthouses in Paris and New York — can leave you somehow concluding that five million euros/pounds/dollars is actually a bargain, considering. Its glossy magazine, with classic fuck-you British snottiness, is called How to Spend It, and typically features a watch at $300,000 or a $20,000 gown.

But the paper itself, and its arts section, is a delight. Its columnists include a few thoughtful sparky women (albeit an Oxbridge-y crowd) and so many book reviews of books you’ll never seen mentioned in the American press. I appreciate a non-American perspective on business, politics, art, design…everything.

 

 

 

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Trying out a new recipe

 

I have a whole shelf of cookbooks and endless binders filled with recipes I’ve clipped on paper from magazines and newspapers over the years. Few things are as fun as leafing through them and searching out an old favorite, (leek-tomato quiche from the Vegetarian Epicure Part Two), or trying something new. I always mark down the date I first tried a recipe and whether we liked it.

Entertaining gives us a chance to try even more!

 

Introducing people who’d be a good fit

 

This is the best. I recently connected two of my favorite younger friends — one in London and one in St. Louis, as one grappled with an issue I thought the other might have some wisdom on. They have other things in common as well; my connections aren’t random!

Another friend was visiting Shanghai and one of my freelance colleagues was teaching there, so I made the introduction from my home in suburban New York — even though, normally, they both live in New York City. Done!

 

 

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Seeking treasure at flea markets, consignment shops, thrift shops and antique stores

 

As someone both frugal and design-obsessed, this is a consistent pleasure. People are so eager to ditch possessions that there are wonderful finds waiting — early glass and silver and silver plate, rugs, furniture, linens and tableware. I recently read a fantastic book on the topic and highly recommend it, and here’s a used copy for $7.95!

 

 

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Discovered this fab 1940s diner on Long Island on a road trip

Road trip!

I’ve done many over the years — across Canada with my Dad at 15 and with him driving all around Ireland; from Montreal to Charleston, S.C. with my first husband and, most recently, from our home 25 miles north of New York City to north of Bancroft, Ontario — solo. I did it in four four-hour legs, which helped! I’ve done solo road trips through Arizona, and through some of Texas while researching my first book.

This combines multiple sources of happiness: travel, new sights, seeing old friends, listening to the radio, getting out of town. And, when we have a nice new car as we do right now, the sheer pleasure of a quiet, well-designed automobile.

 

What are some of yours?

Who’s your rock? And gravel…

By Caitlin Kelly

If you’re going to somehow get through a frightening time in your life — whether it’s health, work, family, marriage, kids’ issues — you need a rock, someone you can turn to who’s as firm and solid as a boulder, something steady and calm to lean against and take shelter behind, a fixed point you know will be there the next day and the next and the next, no matter what happens.

As I got my breast cancer diagnosis — ironically, sitting on rocks at the edge of the Hudson River in the New York town where we live — my husband Jose had just left for work in the city on the commuter train. I sat in the June sunshine alone absorbing this news, delivered by phone by my gynecologist.

 

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Those vows include, for better and for worse, in sickness and in health…Sept. 2011

 

Since then, as he has been throughout our 18 years together, Jose has been my rock. For which I’m so damn grateful and so damn fortunate. He came with me to every meeting with every doctor, (and there have been five MDs), listening and taking notes as a second set of eyes and ears. I’m not a person who cries easily or often — maybe a few times a year — but in the past five months, have done a lot of that. He’s stayed steady.

There’s an old-fashioned word I really like — character. Jose has it. I’d seen it on multiple occasions as we were dating. I wanted it in my second husband, that’s for damn sure.

 

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So lucky to have had the kindness of this fantastic team!

 

Then there’s gravel, a poor metaphor perhaps, for the pals and acquaintances whose love and sweet gestures have also proven hugely supportive, through letters, cards, calls, texts, flowers and even gifts. None of which I really expected.

Some live in distant countries. Some are editors I’ve worked with for years and have still never met. Some are women I went to school with decades ago. All of whom stepped up.

There were several putatively close friends I assumed would check in — and who proved wholly absent. That hurt. But it happens, and you have to know, especially with this disease, some people will flee and totally abandon you.

The most depressing thing I heard this summer — and it truly shocked me — is that some cancer patients have no one at all to turn to. No family. No friends. I can’t imagine facing the fears, pain, anxiety and many tests and treatments without someone who loves you sitting in the waiting room with you, driving you to appointments, holding your hand.

I recently got a call from a younger friend facing her own crisis, and was so honored and touched that she called me. I try to be a rock for the people I love. Sometimes I’ll fail them, I know.

But that’s what we’re all here for.

Be the rock.

 

Or be gravel.

 

But be there!

20 days later…done!

By Caitlin Kelly

 

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With their permission — the team whose kindness and skill got me through; Left to right; manager of clinic, Katrina; tech Yadi; Dr. Andrews; nurse practitioner Amara; receptionist/scheduler Khaleila and tech Susan.

 

I got to ring the gong today!

It’s the lovely ritual — some hospitals use a bell — with which patients mark the end of treatment. Jose, as he has for so much of this summer, came along to keep my company, to and celebrate.

It was a day of teary good-byes as well. Who would cry leaving a hospital clinic? If the team was as kind and fun and funny as mine was…you would, too!

 

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I had been  heading to our local hospital every morning for 20 days, the time prescribed for radiation for my left breast after surgery. I had a lumpectomy on July 6 removing all cancer, but this was considered a standard course of treatment to make sure nothing minuscule remained.

It began with a simulation, which was uncomfortable and disorienting, and also included weekly X-rays and a weekly meeting with the radiation doctor, a woman I liked a lot.

For the sim, I lay on the long narrow table while the team decided how to position my body and practiced it.

At the sim, they also gave me eight minuscule black tattoos — barely the size of a freckle — three on my front, five on my back — so the techs could align my body into position each time using laser beams. (It’s all stunningly space age.)

 

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The entire machine pivots around you. The blue rubber ring is where I placed both my hands, my face in the cradle.

The actual daily treatment was painless and quick , once the two technicians shimmied me into precise position on the table. I lay face down, with my left breast dangling, to minimize radiation to my heart and lungs — about 24 seconds per side.

Here’s a link to the website for the machine, a Varian Trilogy.

The machine is enormous, and you get used to hearing it whirring into position, with a sound sort of like running water, as it pivoted to one side, then overhead, and down to the other side of my body.

With my face in a cradle, and my arms in a sort of V-shape above my head, I saw only peripheral flashes of light, heard a buzzing noise, and felt nothing.

The hardest part, initially, was the strain on my tight left shoulder staying immobile in that position.

The techs were always extremely kind and upbeat — apologizing every time they had to move my body into position and (gently!) move my other breast out of the way. They always placed a heated blanket over my bare back, put a scented strip beneath the cradle for my head and played a variety of music during the procedure.

Sort of a spa, I joked!

 

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It’s enormous!

 

The clinic staff did everything possible to make it less frightening. There’s a huge fish tank in the waiting room and free coffee and tea and snacks and piles of new magazines and a television you can mute.

You can sit as long as you like before and after treatment, and there are never more than two or three people waiting.

I’m lucky that ours is a small suburban hospital and not some enormous, bustling big-city facility.

I never felt like a number, but a human being.

Of all the tests and treatments my body experienced this summer, this was in some ways the easiest since at least it was non-invasive — and, luckily, I don’t need chemo.

 

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I have no idea what these numbers mean. It’s all quite mysterious.

 

But, by the end, I was done; I was really tired and my skin sore, itchy and irritated.

I got to know several other patients, as we all came at the same times every day. There’s a powerful sort of intimacy in a space like this. We don’t need to say much or ask probing questions. We can share a hug or an eye-roll.

We all arrive unwillingly, alone or with a loved one.

And we all pray for the best possible outcome.

Exposing oneself to millions

By Caitlin Kelly

Thanks to a reader here, I decided to pitch one of my earlier blog posts as a larger, reported story about medical touch — and my own experience of it — to The New York Times, and it ran today, prompting many enthusiastic and grateful tweets.

Here’s the link, and an excerpt:

It started, as it does for thousands of women every year, with a routine mammogram, and its routine process of having my breasts — like a lump of dough — manipulated by another woman’s hands and placed, albeit gently, into tight compression. It’s never comfortable, but you get used to it because you have to.

Unlike previous years, though, my next step was a biopsy, for which I lay face down, my left breast dangling through a hole in the table. Several hands reached for what’s normally a private and hidden body part and moved it with practiced ease, compressing it again into position for the radiologist’s needles, first a local anesthetic and then the probes needed to withdraw tissue for sampling.

I was fearful of the procedure and of its result and, to my embarrassment, wept quietly during the hour. A nurse gently patted my right shoulder and the male radiologist, seated to my left and working below me, stroked my left wrist to comfort me. I was deeply grateful for their compassion, even as they performed what were for them routine procedures.

 

It is decidedly weird to out one’s health status — let alone discuss your breast! — in a global publication like the Times — but it also offered me, as a journalist and a current patient undergoing treatment,  a tremendous platform to share a message I think really important.

 

I hope you’ll share it widely!

 

 

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Every patient needs to be touched kindly and gently

You don’t forget trauma. Ask Ford.

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By Caitlin Kelly

Maybe you — as I did — spent hours last week watching the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh to the Senate Judicial Committee, to determine Kavanaugh’s fitness to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, a lifetime appointment granting him tremendous power.

As you may know, she accuses him of assaulting her sexually when she was 15 and he was 17.

The dubious think this memory is impossible.

Here’s a story from NPR addressing how and why one tends to remember traumatic events for decades after they occur:

A question on many people’s minds is, how well can anyone recall something that happened over 35 years ago?

Pretty well, say scientists, if the memory is of a traumatic event. That’s because of the key role emotions play in making and storing memories.

On any given day, our brains store or “encode” only some of the things we experience. “What we pay attention to is what’s more likely to get encoded,” says Jim Hopper, a teaching associate in psychology at Harvard University and a consultant on sexual assault and trauma….

“The stress hormones, cortisol, norepinephrine, that are released during a terrifying trauma tend to render the experience vivid and memorable, especially the central aspect, the most meaningful aspects of the experience for the victim,” says Richard McNally, a psychologist at Harvard University and the author of the book Remembering Trauma.

That’s because a high-stress state “alters the function of the hippocampus and puts it into a super-encoding mode,” says Hopper, especially early on during an event. And “the central details [of the event] get burned into their memory and they may never forget them.”

Whether it’s sexual assault victims or soldiers in combat or survivors of an earthquake, people who have experienced traumatic events tend to remember the most essential and frightening elements of the events in vivid detail for life, says McNally.

I find this dismissal of another’s memories appalling — and of course, politically expedient for Republicans.

As someone whose life changed forever at 14, thanks to a traumatic event (thankfully, not assault or abuse), I think those who  challenge early, brutal memories, even if they’re fragmented, both arrogant and unscathed.

I won’t get into every detail, but my mother had a manic episode on Christmas Eve when  I was 14. We were living in Mexico, far from friends or relatives, not that any relatives ever cared that I was an only child in the care of a mentally ill mother.

We had no phone. We’d been there maybe four months, so even schoolmates were still acquaintances.

It was basically terrifying.

That evening, driving recklessly down Mexican highways, she endangered my life and that of two other people with us before driving into a ditch at midnight on the edge of an industrial city I had never been to.

I ended up taking care of another girl my age, alone, for two weeks, before returning to Canada to live with my father — for the first time in seven years.

 

 

 

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Image used with permission from its creator Aaron Reynolds; a card from his deck Effin’ Birds

 

Some moments of that evening, and what came next, are etched into my memory.

But some others?

Not at all.

I never lived with my mother again.

Nor would I ever again allow her, or anyone, to endanger me like that.

 

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If you’ve suffered trauma, let no one try to dismiss what you already know.

 

If you haven’t, don’t inflict further pain on anyone by disbelieving or questioning them.

Shhhhhhhh! (the quest for silence)

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

Next to attention, it’s becoming a rare and precious resource.

Complete silence.

No phones.

No airplanes or helicopters.

No drones.

No one yelling.

No motorized boats or snowmobiles.

No cars or trucks.

The irony?

I bet people in previous centuries had similar complaints — the clattering of horses’ hooves on cobblestones! The clamor of crowds in narrow urban alleys!

Here’s an interesting piece from The New York Times about one man’s quest for blessed silence in New Hampshire:

Connoisseurs of quiet say it is increasingly difficult, even in the wilderness, to escape the sounds of vehicles, industries, voices. A study published last year in the academic journal Science found that noise pollution was doubling sound levels in much of the nation’s conserved land, like national parks and areas preserved by the federal Bureau of Land Management.

Noise that humans create can be annoying but also dangerous to animals who rely on hearing to seek their prey and avoid predators. “We’re really starting to understand the consequences of noise and the importance of natural sound,” said Rachel Buxton, a conservation biologist at Colorado State University who worked on the study.

I’ve been lucky enough to experience total silence — and it is profound and oddly disorienting. I once stood in a place so totally quiet — a friend’s enormous ranch in New Mexico — that I could hear myself digesting.

 

Ironically, there really are some spots in the city of Manhattan where you can enjoy near-silence, while my suburban street echoes almost constantly with birdsong, night-time coyotes (!), leaf-blowers and construction work.

What’s the quietest place you’ve ever been?