Once you get used to having one around, a hammock isn’t so much a design option as a necessity.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, a bit overtaxed from the morning’s pancake making and the previous evening’s socializing, I flopped into my hammock. To and fro I swayed, as if pushed by a beachy breeze.
But I was not at the beach. A light breeze drifted through my bedroom window, and all I could see was a brick wall.
A hammock in a New York City apartment? Yes. Actually, I have three, one in each bedroom. After living for four years in Caracas, Venezuela, I returned this year and swore that I would never have a home without a hammock again.
Venezuela has a long Caribbean coastline, and the closeness of that warm sea permeates the capital, with its eternal summer weather, where hammocks can be found with more or less equal regularity in cinder-block homes, middle-class apartments and the big houses of the rich.
Once you get used to having one around, a hammock isn’t so much a design option as a necessity. It practically imposes a different rhythm on your life. You walk into a room and see it hanging there, and it’s hard not to fall into it, even for just a few minutes. And once you’re there, suspended, swaying, the process is automatic: Cares evaporate.
I read in it. I nap in it. I text in it. I lie in it while talking to my children or they lie in theirs while talking to me. I don’t sleep in it overnight but I do lie in it sometimes during bouts of insomnia.
It helps that I have a well-proportioned apartment. Even so, the quarters can be tight. Rocking in the hammock, I sometimes bump against the bed on one side or the sofa on the other. (The hammock has to be hung properly. I used sturdy rope hooks fastened into the wall studs with 3-inch lag bolts.)
The word “hammock” comes to us through Spanish from the Taino Indians, who lived on several islands in the Caribbean at the time of the first European contact, including Hispaniola, Cuba, Puerto Rico and Jamaica. Hammocks were among the curiosities that Columbus took back to Spain.
Venezuelans mostly use a different word: chinchorro, which can also refer to a kind of fishing net.
“My chinchorro is surrounded by beautiful plants and trees, and I can see the sunset,” says Hélène Alonso, an emigrant from Venezuela who lives in Harlem and has a hammock on her terrace. “Not too much sunset, it’s New York City. I see a square of sky high above. You see colors and clouds, you see airplanes.”
Her hammock is a place for contemplation. “I think a chinchorro is like an embrace,” she says. “Sometimes you get in there and it’s like a micro world, especially if you wrap it around yourself. You close it, and suddenly you are where that swing takes you.”