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it is late fall of 1997. i go out for a morning walk with my dog. it has been snowing the whole night. first real snow this year. my dog is exuberant with joy. she is playing with the snow as if it were an old and dear friend. she is jumping around, baring her teeth in what seems like a genuine big smile. her red tongue is hanging out. she is tasting the snow. or is she talking to it? in my family we had a theory on why our dog was always so happy with a first snow. she was born in october and probably taken outside for the first time a few weeks later when the snow was already covering the ground. it was possibly how she saw the outside world that day. we never saw her elevated in quite the same way as during the first few days of the first snow each of the sixteen years that she was a part of our lives.

i don’t remember when i experienced snow for the first time. it must have been at an age too young to have memories from. it has always been there, a regular occurrence. i was skiing from the age of five coached by my dad, an avid and proficient skier. then we moved to a climate where snow fell only occasionally and did not stay for long. i stopped skiing and never picked it up again even after moving back north again at the age of fourteen.

snow is many things to me. it is a vast plain baltic landscape, absolutely white in the winter. it is warm and comfortable clothes, big woolen scarves, and hats, and mittens. it is home-brewed mulled wine with friends on a freezing evening. it is having to clean the car every morning before going to work. it is silence. it is clarity. and it is chaos.

the way i react to snow is very contextual. if am in a cabin or a house in the woods somewhere and it snows heavily day after day, i enjoy it. i imagine being cut off from the rest of the world, sheltered and hidden by all the snow – i’m in a happy place. having lived in a big city for many years, however, i almost came to hate snow. winters last up to seven months. the snow rarely stays nice and magical. it turns into dirty mulch, freezes overnight and makes walking the streets the next morning a strenuous exercise in balancing and maneuvering. going to work every morning is a struggle. i curse and despair and wish for the summer to take over immediately. right then, right there i’m in a miserable place…

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a happy 2013 to everyone! i am very glad to introduce a new element on this blog – INTERVIEWS. i have been entertaining the idea for quite some time now and settled on a simple q&a form with follow-up inquiries. at least for a start. i am certain that it will be evolving as i go.

i want to know how people perceive HOME; what is it to them? is it a stable notion rooted in geography and tradition? a dream world of imagination to refer to for inspiration? a place? a school of sensations and memories?

my first interviewee – IRA – is a friend of mine who has lived an uprooted life for many years now, moving from one place to another, exposed to a whirlpool of sensuous and intellectual stimuli. she runs a blog where she keeps track of the changes she has been going through – a lifelong learning process, as she calls it. the blog is full of surprising insights and beautiful photographs so if you read russian i recommend that you give it a thorough look.

here is what ira had to say on HER sense of home.

hoopoeinanoak: your age and anything else that you think is important to know about you. in a couple of sentences.
IRA: I am 30 years old and, even though I am tired of living a nomadic lifestyle, I can’t seem to stop travelling. As a kid I desperately wanted to explore the world. However, I never precisely defined what I was expecting to find and perhaps that is why I keep moving from country to country.

h: where are you from?
IRA: I come from St. Petersburg, Russia. Growing up, I also stayed in many different places all over Russia when visiting friends and relatives.

h: what place/s do you have an attachment to? why?
IRA: At the moment I don’t have any specific place I have an attachment to.

h: where is home for you? why?
IRA: My home is my husband. I used to have some apartments I called “home” but nowadays I move to a new country almost every year and so the concept of “home” is sort of non-existent to me.

h: how do you relate to the place where you live now? is there an intimate connection?
IRA: At the moment I’m living in Edinburgh, Scotland. I guess we bond. He has a resilient attitude and an old-fashioned style. I appreciate his features and he supports me in my everyday activities. My life is really comfortable thanks to him.

h: what are two or three of your favorite memories from childhood? what makes them special?
IRA: I enjoyed making a trek to the countryside with my friends when I was little. We would make a team of 5-6 kids, take some food and toys and walk to some remote river or hills. We were absolutely convinced that we had arrived at some far-flung undiscovered land ☺. We played, told stories and shared snacks. Those were good times, when children could feel free and adventurous, and parents did not have to panic when letting us out of the house.

I remember my mom taking me abroad when I was 13. This trip to Italy changed my perception of the world: suddenly it became massive and diverse. When we came back I found a private English teacher for myself. I believed that learning English could help me to explore the world. And you know what? It did help ☺

h: what do you think has changed? why is it harder for kids today to “feel free and adventurous”? has the world really become a more dangerous place or is it people’s perceptions that have shifted?
IRA: I am not sure that the world has really become a dangerous place since then, but my perception of it has definitely shifted. I have been conditioned to see certain things as being threats to my safety. Kids are free of such fears. Ignorance is bliss.

h: what would you change in your immediate environment (house, street, neighborhood)?
IRA: I would get rid of all the roadwork related to the trams being returned to Edinburgh’s streets. It takes way too long to install the infrastructure and I am getting tired of waiting.

h: is there something from your past you feel nostalgic about? (how you perceived the world, your surroundings, people, smells, time… anything)
IRA: I feel nostalgic about good family times: travels, activities and meals.

h: your dream house/ living space: where, how big, what colors and shapes, your routine?
IRA: It’s spacious but not big. I value air and unrestricted views. I hate cluttered spaces and threadbare furniture. My dream house has at least one glass wall looking on to a natural site (woodland, field etc.). It is good if the house merges with the landscape from outside. The inner walls should be painted white; décor includes big artistic objects or paintings.

h: painful memories: how do they influence how you see/feel your home/place/environment?
IRA: Painful memories do influence how I see some places. I don’t go back to the places where I felt unhappy even if some friends or family still live there.

h: do you think your background (family, social status, culture, etc.) has a role in how you see ideal vs undesirable when it comes to defining your home? please specify.
IRA: When I was a child I hated the idea of living in a house somewhere outside a big city. I imagined being torn away from everything that was interesting for me. I guess I had to go through several capitals and megalopolises to understand that I don’t really enjoy concrete jungles that much. I can only call a place “home” if it allows me to relax and charge my batteries – something that never happens in a big city.

h: is nature an important element of your sense of home?
IRA: It has become valuable for me in recent years.

h: could you please elaborate on it a little bit? in what way?
IRA: It makes me enjoy life as it is.

h: what is travel to you? how does it change your perception of self, if at all?
IRA: Travel is my life nowadays. Traveling used to give me an opportunity to see myself from outside, compare or analyze things. Now I need to settle down to be able to do all of that because constant travelling distracts me from myself.

h: fill in the blanks ————->>

IRA:
* in my garden/ backyard I would like to have these trees… willow, linden, and spruce.
* I would never want to live … in a Chinese megalopolis.
* I feel comfortable surrounded by … heaters ☺
* a view/ sight of … a river makes me feel at home.
* home is where … my husband is.
* I cringe when I see … rudeness.
* I wish people just stopped … lying.
* I hope more people will … listen to themselves
* this natural sound makes me the happiest: … silence of a desert.
* I think nature should … be respected.

(photographs from ira’s personal archive)

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