An Alternate Life ~ House Hunters International and In Urbana, I…

Recently, through the wonder of Twitter, I found myself engaged in a conversation with Carolyn Kellogg, book reviewer from the Los Angeles Times, about the HGTV show House Hunters International. She’d put a call out for folks to be in touch if they watched the program; she was writing an article on it. Of course I had to answer. I am IN LOVE with House Hunters International.

Quick summary for those of you unfamiliar with the show: people who are looking for property in a country other than the U.S. work with a realtor to find said property, taking the viewing audience on virtual tours of three of the home choices. There is a bit of an overview of the area as well, but mostly we get to see inside these homes that are for sale. Silly-in-their-overly-indulgent-opulence condos in the United Arab Emirates; run-down-and-close-to-ruin French farmhouses; beach-front, thatched-roofed cottages in Central America. What is not to love here? And even though Philip and I don’t have television in our home, we do travel a lot and spend a lot of nights in hotels with cable and the occasional evening of House Hunters International marathon programming. I watch until I am bleary-eyed, a little giddy, and exhausted. Sort of like when I eat a significant portion of a chocolate layer cake all by myself.

What attracts me? It has to do with imagining lives, I suppose. A byproduct of being a writer, maybe. But more accurately I think it is about reimagining my own life. What if? When we travel someplace new or visit one of the places we have come to love (Mineral Point, Wisconsin; Interlochen, Michigan; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Tucson, Arizona; Saint Augustine, Florida; Montejaque, Spain; Berlin; Quebec City; Vienna; Krakow; and, and, and,) I’ll stop in front of the pictures at the real estate office on the main street, check out the buildings and their prices. Or I’ll pick up a real estate brochure. Sometimes—either before, during, or after the trip—I go on-line and plug in the postal code and a price range and a few other bits of information and spend entirely too much time surfing through the properties available. (That I put in a price range might suggest that this is not a pastime based entirely on fantasy.)

Is this a grass-is-greener thing? In some cases it surely is. When we knew my mother was in her last months of life and I was planning my wedding with Philip, I imagined running away with him to the UK where he still lived at the time, getting as far away from the sadness and grief I knew were coming headfirst my way. When Chicago life gets filled with traffic and expense and work stress, my bookmarked pages and saved searches get lots of hits from this computer. I know, though, that the reality of such a move is much more complex than the enjoyment of dreaming about it. I mean, hell, we don’t even like to move apartments. And when we recently were faced with the actual opportunity to move across the ocean for a job offer, the prospect of the work it would take and the expense of the transplantation and the uncertainty of it all was more than we were willing to take on.

Perhaps that wasn’t the right move at the right time, and perhaps it wasn’t because I am a coward that we didn’t make that move. Maybe we didn’t do it because opportunity—the right opportunity—is still out there.

So, yesterday we spent the day in Urbana, Illinois. We were there working on a public art project (In Urbana, I…) that Philip got a grant for recently, and we spoke to dozens of locals visiting the Saturday morning Market At The Square. And after an hour or so in the bright sunshine amidst all those early morning shoppers with baskets over their arms and flowers or watermelons or bags of fresh-picked peaches in their hands, I could hear that little voice lifting up inside me. Could we live here? I wondered. Kids ran by and a flotilla of bubbles from a nearby booth wafted by on the breeze. Here? With these nice people in this nice place? A family of three generations—youngish looking grandpa in a flopping cotton hat and sandals, pretty twenty-something mom with dark hair pulled back in a ponytail, and little Jameel with huge brown eyes and an apricot in his grasp—stopped by to have their picture taken for the project. They chatted for a bit, talked about what they would miss when they moved from Urbana to another state, readying themselves to change their lives. They were uncertain of all that was ahead of them, but that uncertainty would not hold them back. I didn’t know this family, and yet I felt excited for them. And a little envious.

We are back in Chicago now, back in the apartment that we love, yes, but that we have lived in for four years. A mile from another one where I lived for thirteen years. Half-a-mile from the hospital where I was born. And in a moment I will finish this post and go back to what I was doing a little while ago. Urbana. Now let’s see those little houses again. Ah yes, this one. Or maybe this. Or this.


Photos courtesy of Philip Hartigan. Thanks, Mr. Hartigan. -PMc←

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