Moving Homes

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.

IMG_6800.jpg

Place des Ternes on the day I was leaving it, the heart of my old neighbourhood in Paris

Continue reading

Chapter I: Finland

The question I get almost every time I list the countries I lived in is whether it was for work or study. A close favorite one is whether my parents are diplomats (for a check, my parents are scientists). I then say that, in fact, behind most countries on my list there is a school or a job but it is misleading. In reality, my thirst for places has always been much stronger than my thirst for knowledge. I fall in love with cities, cultures, experiences much more than I do with educational institutions. Every time I plunge into a different culture, it expands my reach, I learn something about myself, some new little way of being, and I am constantly amazed by it (even now, after almost a decade of plunging). I believe that travelling – with your heart, absorbing culture and values as well as monuments and food – is the best thing that can happen to anyone. After love.

My story with geography starts in Finland. From the places I lived in, about some I think as cities, and of some as countries. My experience in Finland has always been about the country, even though all the five years I stayed in Helsinki (with some occasional enchanting trips to Porvoo and some job trips, if a 20 something min commute can be called a trip, to Espoo). Staying for five years is an exaggeration, but facts first.

Continue reading