There are people who don’t really care about where they live. I mean, they might care about the actual city, location, flights of stairs, driving distance from the office (or from the airport). But the actual home? Comes second, at best. I am not one of them.
At least, at this stage of my life. After I was born, I spent first several years in a concrete mini skyscraper next to the Gulf of Finland (that’s an area in St Petersburg, though the geo tags might be confusing), in the home that I barely remember. Actually, my only memory of that place is my own bed, inhabited by a maximum number of some adorable (or I so thought back then) stuffed animals. Some of them very big. We then moved to the first place that we owned as a family, in the city’s historical center, on Repina street.
This one I remember very well (I spent around ten years there, after all). First we had a room there (well, a room of 33 square meters with 4+ meters ceilings, but anyway) and were sharing the other facilities, like bathroom and kitchen, with other 3 families. Facing an option like that now would send me to a state of deep shock, but back then it was absolutely awesome. Our Tatar neighbors had a boy in my class (and his sister a few classes elder), he was secretly (or not so secretly) in love with my best friend, and soon the entire class was playing hide-and-seek in our long and not-always-so-well-lite hallways. Then we had one more room, which became my own. Russia at that time just emerged from the Soviet Union, and no one was clear how to go about the real estate. The property that belonged to the state for almost a century became private overnight, but who was to own it? And how to acquire more? In Soviet time, owning anything was not an option (even good books very rare and property of a library, or an item of a proud family collection, like in our case. We might not had much, but we had our books). One could only get an apartment (or a room) after some work history to support one’s claim: 20+ years working above the Polar Circle (my grandma), a few Doctorate degrees (my dad). And then suddenly everything became for sale, except that no one had any real cash to pay (and there was no credit system to sustain the alternative financing options yet). I lived across the street from my best childhood friend. It was the narrowest street in town. We were besties since six. And yet, we were economic worlds apart. My friends’ family were as bourgeois as one could possibly be during the post Soviet times. We were, well, my parents and their friends were a bunch of people believing in science. My bestie did not care. We were always together, on this or that side of the economic dividing line.
I could never understand it about my Dad when I was growing up. Why, oh why would you say no to so many commercial offers, when you could gain ten times your research salary? Why not to let go of science for the sake of dollars, and new import clothes, and a Barbie doll? (The latter is just a figure of speech. I never liked dolls, Barbie or not. I loved cars, which boys in the kindergarden used to give me as a gift. Red sport car, I still remember you. Not so much the guy who gave it to me. Once I finally got my (fitness) Barbie doll, I barely played with it.)
I do get his point now, though. It is important to follow your passion. If you love what you do and you are good in it, you don’t need to worry about money. Money will come. Money follow passion and hard job. It always does. Thank you for the lesson, Dad.
I got my first room when I was eleven. Boy, how much I loved having my own space. I was willing to clean it once a week and to keep it tidy in between. I invited my bestie for sleepovers and hot cheese sandwiches. I was also willing to share it with the Siberian cat, a cute kitten which turned in a few years into 14 kg half-wild thing, capable of jumping for a 2+ meters from a sleeping position.
We bought our first home when I was around sixteen, on Gavanskaya street. I remember my mom’s excitement of finally, after decades of renting and sharing the communal premises, living her dream and owning a full apartment to ourselves. My parents undertook great work in this new place. They moved a bathroom where once the kitchen was, and then completely renovated the kitchen. They made two big rooms out of four. At least, that was their intention. And then they left for South Korea, to come back to Russia only once, after six years, get disappointed, and leave again.
I had few feelings for that place. Sure, I was happy, mostly for my mom. Seeing her happy gave me then and gives me now the greatest joy in life.
But otherwise, in my early 20s I did not care that much about having a home. I wanted to explore the world, to travel to every country on the world’s map, to live in Latin America for a while and to settle in Paris.
I wanted a life full of adventures, not a comfortable sofa with a perfect TV view. I came to home only to sleep, change and to feed my beloved fluffy monster.
And then I moved to Finland.
Vicky was helping me find a perfect place in the Finnish capital. I wanted something central, something in the old building and I did not care how small it was. That’s how I got my apartment on Vironkatu, 11. It was 16 square meters, with 4+ m ceilings and what can be called a sleeping bench for one person above the kitchen area. I absolutely loved this place. It was the first time I was looking for the furniture (I chose everything black, a combination of IKEA and the expensive brands’ sales). Even the 2 square meters of a combined bathroom and toilet did not push me away. It was my first home, and I was its princess. I also brought some things from our family home (including the Siberian tiger). The tiger was the reason I eventually changed this apartment to a bigger one on Castreninkatu 3B, in Kallio, on the shore of Töölönlahti.
I loved this place as well. I still remember how victorious I felt after having accomplished numerous back-and-forth car rides, with cat and boxes, finally stretching across my 2m bed (with dark red sheets, seemed an amazing idea back then). I bought curtains for this place in St Petersburg, semi-transparent grey with the shapes of Italian famous cathedrals. I had them tailor made. I was looking at them every morning, when doing my fitness session with a hula hoop, and every night, going to bed after an attack on economics to get ready for Hanken classes.
Then I fell in love and moved to Tehtaankatu 1a, probably the most prestigious address in Helsinki. I was happy, yet for some reason was super emotional about letting go of my place. I remember looking at the curtains and focusing on the Roman domes not to burst out crying. “You are sad about leaving your home? Oh, I guess I am far not as sentimental as you are. Come on, that’s just a place, why are you sad, grow up”, – urged someone I was looking up to at the time (and for some six years afterwards). And I thought, yeah, it’s time to be cool and adult and savvy, that’s just a place. I was invited to move into this new posh rented place, but when it came to providing my temporary (I was going to London to study at LSE in a month) address to the Finnish post, my host suddenly became very uneasy. Then I understood why I was so sad to give up my modest home in an uncool (relatively, I still enjoyed it a lot) area of Helsinki. It was mine, I was always welcomed there, with no questions and no conditions. It was home.
I was working hard on my immunity to homes, thinking about them just as to places to sleep, change and have a morning coffee, for the next five years. As long as I stayed in these relationships, none of the places I had under my name (or kept my stuff at) felt like home. Portobello Road in London, some small posh street close to Boğaziçi University on top of Bebek in Istanbul, rue Grande and rue Fleury in Fontainebleau, Theo-Prosel-Weg and Francestrasse in Munich, Toldbodgade in Copenhagen, even 40 rue de Laborde in Paris felt like a temporary destination. The only home items there were my black Braun teapot and red Nespresso machine, which I was bringing with me everywhere. Nothing else.
Then I left behind Munich and the relationships with lots of promise and no future. With that, I also walked away from the notion of home as a place to sleep, change and have a morning coffee. I could finally come back to Paris, and I was determined to create the best home I possibly could have. In a way, that was an alternative to the life I believed in for so long and could not have, decided not to have. So I came back, settled in the 7th with Elena and her magnificent one-eyed cat and found a perfect place in one week (in Paris, the city notorious for its shortage of sensible real estate, be it rent or buy). I rented this place somewhere on my way to Kazakhstan for work, when I got stuck for 10 hours in Frankfurt. Since that day, I stopped flying Lufthansa and had a permanent address in Paris, at 32 rue des Renaudes. I had about the half of the documents required by the landlord. Elena, the owner of the magnificent one-eye cat, volunteered to be my warrant. For some reason, the agency let us have this place. I remember waking up from the shallow jet lag sleep in Almaty from the text message of the apartment agent, Madame Ho, saying that the apartment was mine.
I don’t think I ever loved a place as much as I loved my home at rue des Renaudes. There, I made all my house dreams come true. First thing, I ordered the largest canvas of Banksy’s “A Girl with Ballon” I could find on the Internet. For years, I was carrying a small printed version with me, together with my black teapot and my red coffee machine. I then bought the best white-grey-and-light-wood furniture from a combination of Bo Concept and Les Maisons du Monde. Every single decision I took about this home was mine, and I absolutely loved it. This, together with me coming back to Paris, made my break up from more than six years relationship one of the most inspiring periods of my life. I was finally free to live the life I have always wanted to live. I was in Paris. And I had a home.
I thought I would never move out from 32, rue des Renaudes. I even told that to my French ex boyfriend, who volunteered to come and live with me, on multiple occasions. Despite its name (renaudes in French means something close to “grumpy ones”), it was the house of light, sunshine and laughter. And friends. When my French relationship was over, 32 rue des Renaudes soothed me and gave me the strength to carry on, to live my life and to believe that the best things are yet to come.
And now I am on the move again, but that’s a subject of another chapter and this one has been way too long already.