The writer André Aciman, in his book Alibis, says that when he travels, arriving in a new city or town, he imagines what it would be like to live in that place. Aciman envisions walking the streets as if they were his streets. When I read this, I felt I’d come home, not to a place but to an idea. That’s what I’ve done, most anywhere I arrive, ever since I can remember, even when I was a child. The more I like the place the more I feel myself living there. In my imagination I go through my days—what would it be like to write sitting at that window every morning, looking out at that view? Were I to walk those hills, who would I be? If this were my café, who might walk in and join me for a coffee? Would I dress the same? Think the same? Love the same?
Last Tuesday morning that’s what happened when along with the writers participating in my writing retreat I toured Georgia O’Keeffe’s home in Abiquiu. It wasn’t only a visit with Georgia but a visit with another me. Here’s the view from O’Keeffe’s Abiquiu house and photos of her home.
O’Keeffe had had her eye on this place for many years before she was able to make it her own. The adobe house was in disrepair and owned by the Catholic Church who didn’t want to sell it. After ten years they relented. It took another three before O’Keeffe could move in. Nowadays the house appears pretty close to how it was when she left—the teas and spices in their kitchen jars are as she left them. Her old Mercedes is still in the garage. But more—the garden is alive with trees, flowers and vegetables. O’Keeffe had wanted to live in Abiquiu because she wanted a garden, to grow her own food, and there wasn’t water enough for one at Ghost Ranch.
Years ago, a writing student of mine went, uninvited, to visit O’Keeffe and was sent away by O’Keeffe’s housekeeper. But before the visitor left she turned back to see the painter lift back a curtain, smile, and wave.
How do you enter a new place? Do you too imagine your life there? Who might you be if your home was faraway and long ago?