...some personal research-related writing
I wonder about the word “habitat”, still in love with the undercurrents of words, and the whole idea of human languages, basically more or less similar sounds we make, combine, and try to make some sense of. This morning my waking up mind was mixing three languages in random combinations, and finally stopped at something familiar and sweet. Habitat. While waiting for coffee in a moca, I decided to translate it into all the languages I have a feeling of, testing their undercurrents. In English it is very connected with something natural, landscape-y. Hiding and sleeping animals, migrating and homing. German, clean and precise - living space, but already closer to what I’m looking for. I write it on my mirror, to let it sink in my - still new - place. It makes me think of settling, living between houses and cities. I read a lot about children who frequently move between split families and create settling playgrounds out of their bedrooms. With my relocations, I got used to tape small things on the walls - claimed! - and write words on erasing-friendly surfaces. Last thing I would do, is unpack. First, the markings. Then, my perfume and scented oils - Italian, the ambiance. Much, much closer. Russian, in 2 words, feels clumsy, scientific, from an atlas with small animal pictures on continents. Funny enough, today is Wednesday - sreda, which matches in sound with the first word. Of course, it is “the middle”. The second word - if turned into an action, obitat’, surprisingly, sounds like “habitat”, while I’m trying to disconnect the sound from a meaning and find its roots. It translates like “dwell”. Are they indeed connected? But I’m fascinated by the “middle” I found. This word feels like an experiment forgotten in a petri dish, some living culture, a combination of chances and conditions, to let something happen. My moca boils and I leave the language game at this point.
I passed that house every other day, on my way to the grocery stores. Not the neighbourhood I like, neither the house. I guess it used to be a school, it had some hostile, stiff air around it, with broken wooden birds or animals, hard to say, in a yard, and soapy square windows. It had some strange life within, obviously not abandoned, but it was a place you don’t want to come closer. Entrances, even not signified, can be read and interpreted: something we can instinctively note as we pass by. The absence of dust on the bottom stairs, tiny smoke of hot liquid from a cup left on a table, the scent - hint of cleaning products. Something like reading the traces of animals in the wild, and finding directions by location of mosses, broken twigs, pressed grass, or sudden silences. With doorways, missing pieces in the fences, road blockages, it takes a second of a thought, whether it is possible to enter. Whether the other’s presence is not interrupted, and you can join the crowds of temporary inhabitants, a ghost party, or be on your own with a place for a while. That house was a half-alive nest, it felt sick, an animal you shouldn’t touch because it is hurting, and any interaction will be met with aggressive self-protection.
One of the windows was layered with plant imprints, yellow-brown paper, looking like faded foliage itself, adding to the sense of demolition. Probably, someone’s studio. With my curiosity and desire to constantly build bridges with local creatives and their grounds, sometimes I push myself to enter and talk, like the time I was lured to someone’s recording place, by sounds of a band rehearsing. Hi, I was just downstairs… - come in! What’s your name? This one was the opposite, unapproachable, and sullen.
I wasn’t visiting that area for a long time, during the second lockdown, but about a month before I was leaving that neighbourhood the place started to change. I think the first thing I noticed were the windows, they were wide open. After quite a moment I realized that I was looking at the sky. Another day, I heard some noises. Broken glass, then laughter, there were children who sneaked in and were playing with things they were not supposed to, running freely on the bones.
Damn limbo, I thought, this is when it made me stop and look at it. It attracted me, as it started to attract other lives, it was no longer protecting itself from plants growing through, stray cats, or kids exploring its staircases, rooms and cabinets. It was a place with no rules to follow, inviting those who have a difficulty following the rules, a big playing field, in its strange but curious inbetweenness, it could become anything for a moment, and be reshaped by another visitor in a glance. It surrendered itself to anything possible.
Another day when I passed it, it was sliced open, one wall completely gone, a dissection to fully reveal the inner picture. There was broken glass, a lot of elevators, no trace of the studio with brown-colored paper. Then, another day, bricks and debris. Then, sand. That was when I managed to like it, at the same time secretly enjoying its disappearance.
My latest relocation took me to a neighbourhood in which I first lived in the Hague, a street crossing a street with a house number 181.
I used to see moving as some inner shift, replacing yourself. Resetting, getting yourself together, lifting rugs and checking all forgotten corners. I like to think that each new house lets you play with possibilites and adopt a new personality. Who will I be this time?
This one, a strange anniversary, looped me back to my fisrt hello to the city, the heart and a place that felt closer to home. Instead of becoming someone new, I was overpowered by familiar scents, views from high staricases, fine paint dust from the walls. Something that could have happened if we had a possibility to have an intimate and silent dilogue with ourselves from the past.
Passing house number 181 made me recall all the spontaneity and irrationality of relocating to the city I have never seen, as usual, guided by some secret navigation, fascination by the unknown, a wish to lose and find myself on the way, following the lines I used to draw across a paper map of the world, connecting locations. House 181, which happened to be a former printhouse, had a fascinating story, an unexpected crossing of timelines of one place. As if its past has decided to have a silent dialogue with me, at that time.
Maybe, strange navigation and flirting with chances is not such a bad way of moving.
Someone else’s words desribe it better than I could do.
“Strange things happen sometimes. Last week we received the last unsold copies of the book 'Slide Projection. History of the Projected Image' (from 1981), to be given to the interested. We already had the book in our collection, but it was still a good reason to look at it again. Our eye was caught by a short text on the last page: 'This publication can be ordered by depositing f 15.95 giro ... from L. Raemakers, Van Bylandtstraat 181, The Hague.' One of our employees lived on the same street for years. A well-known street name for us. An hour later a (non-Dutch) student came to borrow a book, and when she scanned her academy card, her address appeared on our monitor: Van Bylandtstraat 181! We pointed out the coincidence, and she suspiciously asked why her address was in that booklet. We explained, and in amazement she took a copy. Later she came back for a second copy. For a roommate, perhaps.”