"I'm really impressed at the things you do in the name of research."
This remark was made by my first visitor while here in Exotic Research City, and it was in reaction to my living conditions here. So I thought I'd reflect, and maybe see if my experience was typical.
I should preface this by saying that, in Grit City, I live in a fairly nice 500 sq. ft. 1 BR bungalow, which I rent, in a walkable neighborhood about 4 miles from campus. I have wood floors. I have sunlight. I don't share walls. It's nothing fancy, but it's certainly pleasant.
Here in Exotic Research City, I rent an apartment. I say "apartment," but I really think what I have is a 19th c. New York immigrant coldwater flat. It's a 5th-floor walkup, in the rear of the building, so almost no light whatsoever, 150 square feet or so, only cold water in the sink taps. There's a heater for the shower, so if I want to wash my dishes in hot water, I fill a shallow plastic tub from the tap in the shower, then carry it to the sink and mix it with the cold.** Downstairs there is a couple with a three year-old and a baby, living in the same sized space. Next door my single male neighbor, about my age, has a constant, deep, troubling cough that sounds like he's choking and makes me glad of my decision to quit smoking (again) a couple months ago. The apartment comes equipped with a washing machine, but I hang my laundry on the roof (which I'm right under). For this, I pay about $1000 a month. Exotic Research City ain't cheap.
I also walk to all my archives within 15 minutes. My neighborhood is a mix of young, mostly male immigrants, and hipster/hippies. One of the city's major markets is down the stairs and 3 minutes away, so I can get there before the ladies with their shopping trolleys do. The neighborhood is gritty in places, but there is also History – the second-oldest church in the city is around the corner and two minutes away. From my rooftop, I can see the cathedral (and its attendant cranes) in one direction, and a monument of modern architecture in the other, while listening to the sound of kids playing soccer and young tough teenagers giving each other shit in the park below.
It's neither glamorous nor tranquil. But here, it's home.
**This was what prompted my visitor's incredulity.