On Going Home

Quick read before you start the visit

If the threshold of a house is to be taken as a psychological, rather than a spatial category–that particular moment when your body instinctively feels at home, despite the final physical effort–then my home appears just behind the ancient beech crowns, an elegant row of Art Deco eight-story buildings, seen from a picturesque hilly park below. When you get to the top of that park and onto a small street exaggeratedly called avenue, you will come across a building with a blue stone base, and two glazed double doors in cast iron frames. Enter through the left one, the right one is reserved for the concierge. Once the heavy door shuts behind you, your eyes will no doubt need a moment to grasp the details around. Mine still do, every time I enter. This is not a grand entrance hall, but one of a restrained décor, a feature I came to associate with the locals, who never impose themselves and rarely speak loud. Not much changed here since the nineteen-thirties when the building was made. Everything is clean, well-kept and precious. The walls and floor are clad in a particular shade of grey-brown marble, door handles are shiny brass, and mailboxes finished in a veneer of some exotic wood, same like the wall clock, with hands stuck at 10.20h ever since I moved in. You will come forward and climb seven steps, and just before you pass beyond the glazed wooden swing door, you are likely to get a glimpse of yourself in the large mirror on your left, a perfect occasion to fix your hair, or check your lipstick, if you wear one. You can take the stairs to climb up – I always take the elevator. Less a sign of laziness, but a sentimental journey, because this is almost exactly the same elevator as the one in my other home, back in Belgrade. Except that one, like many things over there, is out of order, and this one works. It is a cage elevator, with wooden scissors gate, enabling you to see all the floors as you ride. Get off at the third floor. Two steps forward and five to the left, and you are now in front of my apartment.

Technically speaking, you will enter the hallway. But the architect obviously wanted to make the most of the view over the park, and as soon as you enter, you will be absorbed by the rather large room on your right, which stretches the façade length, and merges with the hallway by two entirely glazed double doors, usually left wide open anyways. When I first visited, it was at this very spot that I knew I would place myself here. Over the years, a home became a vague concept for me, one without distinct features and stretched over different places. My typical week–at least until recently–has been split between three cities, and this is my third not-quite-home. An act of evasion, a stubborn belief in cosmopolitanism, and a matter of chance, I guess. That peculiar construct I have built, made of bits and pieces, different languages and food, books and clothes, furniture and plants, memories and souvenirs, and above all, the people I care about – that intimate space of mine is fragmented, keeping me constantly on the move, always going home. As the invisible European borders began to materialise with the pandemic, I watched my world shrink with each country closing off: first Italy, then Switzerland, finally France. Luckily, the view here makes me less claustrophobic. Take a few steps forward, turn right and walk fifteen steps. Open one of the big sliding wooden windows (click here to see the image; upload here what you see in your space). On a bright day, you can see the Atomium, and the trains going to Paris. It is about 9pm now, so you can also wait for the sunset. There is a daybed behind you, four steps back and ten steps right, next to the non-working fireplace. There are not many things in this room, so it feels bigger than it is: two-three fauteuils, bookshelves, a long table at the far end, a couple of lamps and two overgrown plants. And not many things in this apartment are actually mine. I don’t move things, I just leave them where they are. A book I am currently reading, or a blend of tea and a cup I like to drink it from might follow me around. But not more than that. I travel light between my homes. And I tend to be slow in accumulating things. I don’t have instant furniture the same way I don’t have instant friends. Buying any object might be the result of a long quest or an immediate liking, but somehow always meaningful and with an idea of beauty to it. I’ll admit I do attach to things, as they become silent witnesses to an evolution of taste, testifying to different versions and times of my life. I like having my things around, I simply haven’t been living here long enough to accumulate many. Maybe one day I will gather all my things in one place, perhaps in some future home. This would be like making a party to which you invite everybody you’ve ever known, including people who would never have met otherwise.

Now you better see the rest of the apartment. Walk ten steps back to the hallway. You probably overlooked the first door on your left when you entered, leading to a restroom through a small parlour full of shoes. Next to it is the kitchen. Walk another six steps forward and you are in the kitchen now. Miraculously, almost everything remained original in this apartment–all the woodwork, handles, terrazzo and parquet floors, wall tiles and marble windowsills, everything down to bathroom mirrors and fixtures. The kitchen is the only evidence of taste of some previous residents. It is spacious, with conventional kitchen cabinets, appliances which need urgent replacement and walls painted faded yellow. On your left, there is one window and a door to a small terrace, which look onto the inner courtyard. This is the only place from where you can see the neighbours. Cooking dinner here sometimes feels as a collective experience, seeing everybody move around their kitchens simultaneously.

Turn around and walk six steps back to the hallway. There is one more door for you to open, the one opposite the entrance, two steps to your left now. When you get in, you will see three more doors in front of you, but those are just cupboards. Turn left. You are now in a narrow and dark corridor, which feels even narrower because of the high ceiling, and darker, because you entered from a bright space. This is an abrupt spatial twist, unwanted but necessary connection. Walk twenty-five steps straight on. At the opposite end of the corridor is the bedroom. Open the door and you’ll see the daylight again. The bed is on your left. If you walk another nine steps you will find yourself out on the terrace overlooking the back garden with a lawn I am not sure who takes care of. You can turn around now and walk back ten steps to the corridor. There are two more adjacent doors to your right, leading to another smaller bedroom and to the bathroom in between. Walk two steps, turn right and take a few steps to enter the bathroom, because this is my (second) favourite place in the apartment. There is one double window in front of you, a toilet and a bidet, and two sinks on your right. You might guess which one is mine. It’s the kind of sinks I have only seen in England before, with separate faucets for cold and hot water, making it impossible to wash your hands. But the reason I love this bathroom is the bathtub on your left. It became a ritual for me to immediately have a bath almost every time I come back from a trip, something I look forward to as my plane lands, or as I disembark the train. It’s the biggest bathtub I’ve ever had, where I can fully submerge myself. It is clad in some kind of yellowish stone, not used elsewhere in the building. When I lay in there in a cloud of steam, and look into the layers of paint peeling off the ceiling, during those true moments of detachment, I see the narrative shaping itself within a dazed scene, a sense of belonging as elements begin to fit, everything in place, an awareness of order and happiness to have arrived home.

Jelena Pančevac

ALTERNATE VIEWS (images uploaded by visitors)

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