By Richard Pérez-Feria
When I was 13, I somehow convinced my parents and three siblings to go to a Saturday afternoon showing of the latest Woody Allen movie, Annie Hall. To say this selection was an unusual one for my family would be the single biggest understatement I can make. My dad loved The Three Stooges and Wonder Woman (Lynda Carter, oh my!); my mom was into romance and epic tales (Doctor Zhivago, Love Story); my brother was all about Star Wars, Star Trek, “Star” anything, really, and my sisters were impressed by The Goodbye Girl, an early rom-com with terrific turns by Richard Dreyfuss and Marsha Mason. Woody Allen didn’t even enter the realm of the plausible in my Cuban-American suburban household. But by allowing me to choose the film, I think my mom was respecting my latest intellectual pursuit: reading the epic novels One Hundred Years Of Solitude (Gabriel García Márquez) and On The Road (Jack Kerouac). Not exactly Spider-Man territory. Annie Hall makes a bit more sense in that context. So, off we went.
To say the Pérez-Ferias were aggressively unimpressed and, importantly, incredibly unamused by this movie would again be underselling a point. My family didn’t utter a sound throughout the entire movie even as I could hardly stay in my seat from my guffaws and howls of laughter. I mean, is anyone funnier than Woody Allen in his groove? It was that afternoon riveted by Annie Hall that convinced me of an even bigger truth: Miami was too small for me. I had to go—and conquer—Manhattan. And that’s where my love of megalopolises began. The bigger the city, the quicker I fell. New York City was calling, and I was ready. So ready.
As luck (fate?) would have it, my aunt invited my brother and me to spend the rest of that very summer with her and my cousins in NYC (they lived in Washington Heights at the top of Manhattan). I couldn’t believe my good fortune. I’ll never forget the first time I saw the mythic skyline from my plane window. I mean, can anyone ever forget that moment? It was incomprehensibly exciting and that feeling, that wonderment still hits me now after literally hundreds of times bearing witness to that same bird’s-eye view of Gotham. Once there, the greatest city on Earth lived up to its billing: Bergdorf Goodman! Rockefeller Center! The Plaza! Central Park! My goodness, I was irrevocably and unquestionably in love with New York.
After graduating from Tulane University in New Orleans, I did indeed move to NYC for decades before finding my way to Los Angeles after years of visiting and, yes, falling in love with that global metropolis as well. And, with every opportunity I had to visit the world’s biggest, greatest cities that would present itself, I was first to say “yes.” London, Sydney, Madrid, Paris, México City, Toronto, Rome…yes! yes! yes! The bigger the city, the happier I was.
Then, I went on a different path and moved from Las Vegas (don’t ask) to Long Island’s bucolic East End; specifically Southampton, NY. After a spell, and a solid year of house hunting, I bought a home deep in the heart of the Empire State’s Hudson Valley in the biggish/smallish city of Poughkeepsie not far from either the Hudson River or Vassar College. My home in the Queen City’s south side was lovely, yes, but the very idea of living permanently in a place with so few people, services, restaurants, activity was out of the question. Then, COVID-19 slapped me—and the planet—across the face. Hard.
Since 2020, Poughkeepsie has been my fulltime residence and I’ve not only learned to embrace the circumstances but see the genuine pluses living Upstate provides. Cheap parking! Brunch reservations! Bigger homes! And Poughkeepsie, in addition to the abundance of beautiful trees, stunning vistas and salt-of-the-earth residents, is also the first and last stop on Metro-North’s Hudson Line so the hour-and-a-half commute to Manhattan remains in play. It all works for me. Truly.
I was thinking about my addiction to large cities in relation to Kevin Sessums’ terrific cover story on Alan Cumming and how Cumming, too, has conquered the planet’s biggest stages in London, Hollywood and NYC and, like me, chose this region as his respite from the intensity and relentless cacophony Manhattan serves up. Anytime I can compare myself to one of our greatest actors is an opportunity I’ll happily take.
OK, Poughkeepsie isn’t, perhaps, on any person I know well must-live-in-that-city list, but better rethink that now. As Simon Murray’s reporting details inside, this former capital city is making a legit run at modernizing and relevance once again. If only Woody Allen wasn’t so decidedly cringe and creepy, he would’ve already made a classic movie about Poughkeepsie. But mark my words, someone will. And soon.