|Lila as a slice of veggie lover's pizza: Halloween 2012|
Six years ago, V beat me to the graduate school finish line by a few months and got dibs on choosing the next place we would move to. He found this job that he really really wanted to take in St. Louis. He had job offers in Seattle and Chicago too, and I was appalled that he wanted to move to St. Louis. I knew nothing about the place. Most of our New York City friends has a low opinion of the Midwest in general. A cousin of mine had attended a year of college and St. Louis and told me, "Oh, it's a wonderful sports town- great baseball". "But I hate sports", I bawled. In the end, I agreed to move to St. Louis knowing that it would only be for a few years. I made up my mind to tolerate it and get out of there as soon as possible. All this was before I had even set foot in the place.
My very first connection to St. Louis was Alanna of A Veggie Venture. Back then, there were not as many food bloggers and we all seemed to know each other quite well. I reached out tentatively to Alanna and mentioned that I was moving to her town. From then on, things started looking up rapidly. When we flew to St. Louis for a weekend to look for a rental apartment, Alanna invited us home to dinner. This is fairly typical among food bloggers and other close virtual communities. You've never met this person before, but they invite you into their home and feed you. Then it is like you've known them all your life. That same visit, V's future boss and his family took us out for dinner too. Sensing the genuine warmth of those connections was an auspicious start. I suddenly got a feeling that everything was going to be just fine and of course, it was more than fine.
The first time we met, Alanna told me these words of wisdom that she heard from her friends who've lived in a dozen different places: When you move to a new town, invest in the place as if you're only going to be there for 6 months but invest in the people as if you'll be there for a lifetime.
We definitely tried to follow this advice. Over the years we built ourselves such a vibrant community in St. Louis; I'll have to tell you about my interesting friends in another post. And we went out and did lots of fun stuff- saw all sights and attended all the events we could.
I have absolutely and without a doubt loved my years living in the megacities of Mumbai and New York City but there are many not-so-great things about living in a big city. Often, the cost of living is so expensive that you have to work ridiculous hours and have little time to relax. The traffic and distances can keep you from going places within the city. The congestion and the noise can be mind-numbing. I would say that St. Louis is a "Goldilocks" city: not too big, not too small; just right. Big enough that you have plenty of things to do, restaurants to try but small enough that you can actually find time to do these things. Small enough that you can afford to live near work and not have to battle traffic on a daily basis. Big enough to support useful businesses like a cloth diaper service. Small enough that you can barely enter a grocery store without running into someone you know.
When the time came to leave and move to yet another unknown town, I can assure you that I did so with a more optimistic and happy heart. We have to build a community from scratch but I think we'll manage. Well, we don't even really have to start from scratch. When V was being recruited for this job, we were blown away by the warmth and generosity of his future colleagues. They became our first local friends. Then a friend in St. Louis introduced us to his good friends who live here, and now this couple and their two little girls have become our friends. One of my best friends from high school lives only 45 minutes away and I'll get to see her on occasional weekends. And V's niece lives an hour away- she's in her early twenties and Lila adores her just as we do. That's a solid community already.
Yesterday was Halloween- a day when it is socially sanctioned to visit the neighbors, at least, the ones who welcome trick or treaters by keeping their porch lights on. So we took Lila (in her costume as you can see at the start of this post) and went over and met a couple of our neighbors, who warmly welcomed us to the neighborhood and told us they love it here. And so the community hopefully grows.
here. There will be a new post on One Hot Stove every day this month. Leave a comment if you have a post topic to suggest.