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Posts tagged sense of home

just like with mastering a language, it takes years of hard work and passionate learning to grow a garden..

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how many people have their idea of a perfect view from the windows of their homes? what IS a perfect view?

“wild and green!”, i would let out immediately. a forest of pines, birches, maples, oaks, aspens… caressing the one-level house i’d own on one or even two sides. you would sit by the huge north window and peer directly through the tree trunks, spotting all kinds of birds and animals. there would be a garden looking in through the south window, full of wild flowers, fruit trees, and berry shrubs. behind it, there would be a natural meadow with tall grass, teeming with life.

the west window would look at a lake or the sea. your eye would float through an open space, to the granite rocks and a patch of sand at the edge of the water, and on across its surface… that’s where the sun would set. in the winter, the water would freeze and the whole area would be a vast white plain.

the whole landscape would change with seasons, highlighting the raw intensity of each of them. no manicured lawns (those green-colored dead zones), no loud people or establishments around. catching a glimpse of a couple of neighbors’ houses some distance away would probably be nice, but only if the neighbors were nice, and aesthetically and environmentally like-minded… of course, the reality is that i have never had a view and an environment even remotely similar to my ideal. and, with the population growing uncontrollably, actually achieving it is becoming harder and harder, if not impossible.

over the past ten years i have moved a number of times, from apartment to apartment in different cities and countries. i have photographs documenting almost each view with the exception of my oslo dwelling that really just claustrophobically looked directly at another building. the curious trend is that many of them are just quick, absent-minded shots that i took without putting much or any effort into, at all. they are not ‘beautiful’ views but they all mean something to me and i am glad i had captured them, even if carelessly.

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it was a day one could rightfully call tranquil. in the nordic sense of it. a fine september day of warm, humid air that somehow always reminds me of milk. barely any wind. barely any mosquitoes. quietness. there is no direct sunlight; instead it comes through a greyish layer of clouds that form a blanket. it hangs low and makes you feel comfortable. the smells pull your nose closer to the ground where you can take a better whiff. they are warm and casually intense. the ground is the olfactory treasury of autumn as opposed to summer when the smells seem to come at you from above.

i hadn’t seen my parents in a few months as i lived in a different city. we went to our dacha not far from the ladoga lake. dacha is a russian word for a summer house/ cabin, the distinction being that in russian it is strongly associated with garden labor as people usually grow all kinds of vegetables, berries, and fruits on the attached parcel of land, however small. my family is no exception. over the years, however, produce was to a solid extent replaced by grasses and flowering flora as my mother’s interest in the plant world and her knowledge of botany, sustainable practices, and landscape design grew. she now even receives commissions to create small-scale landscapes. it is quite ironic because, according to her own words, when she was younger the concept of “digging in the ground for pleasure” was wholly foreign to her.

my dad is a retired military man. he is really good with his hands. he built the cabin all by himself and he helps my mom with gardening and landscaping work. they are a power tandem. they of course still grow tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, pumpkins, and various squashes. berries are a BIG thing, too, as for most people in northern europe. honeysuckle, gooseberry, barberry, red and black currant, wild and garden strawberry, raspberry, juneberry, physalis are all there…

we spent most of the day outside. we did nothing extraordinary and yet i often go back to that day in my memory. there is something archetypal in it for me that i cannot clearly explain. the place, the weather, the family. everything as it should be when you are home.

is there a day like that for you?

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“but even the two rough days found her on deck, reveling like a released bird in her returned feeling of happiness and freedom, that blessed sense of belonging to herself alone and not to a race.”

nella larsen, quicksand (1928)

i don’t belong anywhere. i’m an outcast. a mongrel by choice never willing to fully blend in. always a minority; even within a minority. i don’t have a home but i long for one. to have a home is to be accepted. but how can it happen when i refuse to be defined by my background. is it pride? stupidity? survival instinct? people think they know you if they know what passport you hold. or because they know someone else with the same passport. they expect you to be a certain way. ‘where are you from?’ is a question people expect a simple, clear-cut answer to. no thinking involved – it should come as fast as a lightning. right there, you are sloppily scooped in a mental sack and from then on whatever you do you are an X from Y. you’re figured out. if your answer is complicated though, you risk coming off as a weirdo, a freak. after all, we only asked out of politeness. we didn’t want any of your politics. because in the end, it is about politics.

we are taught to be patriotic. we are taught to want to belong and fit in. those are positive values per se, no doubt. people do need stability to be able to stay sane. a sense of attachment helps; it can be beautiful. but only when it’s genuine. alas, those values often leave no space for maneuvering. in fact, the biggest pressure on identity frequently comes from within the community you are supposed to belong to. you’re butchered into aligning your feelings and senses with the mainstream. if you don’t, you’re a traitor. a show-off. an abject mutt. scum even. someone not to be trusted. a caricature of a person to be despised and ridiculed. that’s what national identity politics routinely translates into at the grass-roots level. or sometimes that’s what it is officially.

the very idea of identifying with others based on nationality, race, or anything else you are born into and have no initial control over, leaves me gasping for air. i want to be ME above everything else. i want my set of values to be the signifier of my identity – not my passport. i am a dignified, evolving unity of multiple ideas and attitudes about life. i decide what to feel and what is good for me. i don’t deny my background. i don’t want to forget or relinquish it. it is part of me but it shouldn’t hold absolute power over me. i am a cultural hybrid. i am not torn; i am not a victim. i am to be reckoned with.

so where are YOU from?