Monday, March 31, 2008

A sense of place

We have lived in many places, The Absolute Gent and I. Poky brick boxes in darkest Adelaide suburbia, a ridiculously large apartment in Malaysia, Penang, a solid yet sweet Lutheran 1860s farmhouse in the Adelaide Hills...and each time we have known that it would not be for long. Soon, TAG's work would need us to relocate and we would be sorting our life into boxes again.

Brin, the writer of my favourite blog My Messy Thrilling Life posted a poignant reflection on what her home means to her recently. The passion and devotion for her home is so overwhelming it's almost painful - even to her. It has become a central theme in her every-day. It is a character in her charming and eventful life.

Last year I found the house pictured above for auction. Idly looking, not even trying, I plucked the picture from the hundreds in the real estate section and thought this I have to see.

I fell in love. Like never before. Have you ever walked into a house and felt that laying your cheek against its wall would bring you comfort? Did you know that seeing woodwork of the curving staircase creeping out of the too-small kitchen would be a constant pleasure, despite late nights or grumpy children? Have you ever looked out of the upstairs windows (paned and sashed) and wondered what secrets are whispering in the garden shadows?

It seemed a far cry from this tiny, sensible, suburban cottage we have held on to in Canberra, deliciously close to Lake Burley Griffin and the marvellous Weston Park. I wanted to break with 1950s Frederick House and take up with my new, romantic, 1850s love: strong, stout and remote.

We came within a whisker. Our bank was ready, we were ready, but someone else wanted it more than The Absolute Gent, and so we rode on by.

I ached for that house, I'm almost ashamed to concede. How ridiculous! A house can not bring definition, joy, hope, stability, friendship, loyalty, security, safety, romance, a sense of place, a sense of belonging...I tell myself these things, and yet I am not quite comforted.

I will not be limited by my domestic need to nest, I think. For too long women have allowed domesticity to tame them. And yet. And yet.

I have never understood men's need for war. For territory, for ownership, for country. But perhaps men find their sense of place in the big picture. Perhaps country means identity, like home means self. A man protects his borders like women guard their nest.

I am sure that there is something to be gained by our peripatetic life. Indeed, there is much to be gained. These tastes of other lives, our several lives, must be enriching. A sense of place is heightened by its transience. For nothing stays the same. Even houses.

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