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Moving from City Island to Manhattan


Buying a house while swimming round City Island
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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There’s the special fact that I love islands, I’ve always loved islands. And, of course, the book is about two islands and island life. John himself is an island lover. He tried to stay in Toronto, he tried to live in metropolis. He had to move to islands. Well, England is an island. I lived for 20 years on City Island which is part of New York, part of the Bronx but it is an island with a narrow bridge connecting it to the mainland. I liked the... the compactness and the self-sufficiency. When I…


[Q] How did you move to City Island?


I... I discovered City Island, or I find... found my house in City Island in an unusual way. I... I love swimming and at that time I would often go to Orchard Beach in the Bronx and go for long swims. And sometimes extra long swims in which I would swim round City Island. This would be an eight-hour swim.


One time I was swimming round City Island. I... I’d been at sea for about four hours when I spotted a charming gazebo. Incidentally gazebo is a word I love because it reminds me equally of gazelle and placebo. Anyhow, so I landed and I walked up the street and I saw a little red house for sale. In fact it had been occupied by a neurologist from the [Albert Einstein] College of Medicine but he was leaving it. He showed me round the house and then I walked up City Island Avenue in my swim trunks, I went to a realtor and I bought the house. I should say the realtor had seen me before because earlier that year, in a more conventional way, I’d looked at one or two houses and had expressed my interest in living in City Island. But this time, almost naked, I walked in, I bought the house, she conducted me to her house on the other side of City Island and I continued my swim, having acquired a house in mid-swim.

Oliver Sacks (1933-2015) was born in England. Having obtained his medical degree at Oxford University, he moved to the USA. There he worked as a consultant neurologist at Beth Abraham Hospital where in 1966, he encountered a group of survivors of the global sleepy sickness of 1916-1927. Sacks treated these patients with the then-experimental drug L-Dopa producing astounding results which he described in his book Awakenings. Further cases of neurological disorders were described by Sacks with exceptional sympathy in another major book entitled The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat which became an instant best seller on its publication in 1985. His other books drew on his rich experiences as a neurologist gleaned over almost five decades of professional practice. Sacks's work was recognized by prestigious institutions which awarded him numerous honours and prizes. These included the Lewis Thomas Prize given by Rockefeller University, which recognizes the scientist as poet. He was an honorary fellow of both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and held honorary degrees from many universities, including Oxford, the Karolinska Institute, Georgetown, Bard, Gallaudet, Tufts, and the Catholic University of Peru.

Listeners: Kate Edgar

Kate Edgar, previously Managing Editor at the Summit Books division of Simon and Schuster, began working with Oliver Sacks in 1983. She has served as editor and researcher on all of his books, and has been closely involved with various films and adaptations based on his work. As friend, assistant, and collaborator, she has accompanied Dr Sacks on many adventures around the world, clinical and otherwise.

Tags: City Island, New York, Bronx, Orchard Beach, John Steele

Duration: 2 minutes, 41 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012