This is the view from my apartment. It isn't a view over Parisian zinc rooftops, and it certainly doesn't frame the Eiffel Tower. At night you can, however, see the beam of the searchlight from the Eiffel Tower swing out from either side of the imposing concrete apartment building across the street. That apartment building and mine are engaged in a sort of a hostile staring match across a garden, a low office building, and a quiet street. High-rise cranes sprout up briefly on the periphery of this view, and their lights wink at me at night. I can see one church steeple and the dormered windows of Haussmanian buildings. Our apartment is calm, remarkably so for an urban environment, and there's hardly any traffic noise. When it's quiet inside and the windows are open, I can hear trains passing over a far-off bridge on the Seine.
When my husband first walked into our apartment back when we moved in in 2003, he thought, "Oh no, I cannot live with that view." He took the apartment anyway -- we were renting; it was practical; what were the chances we'd stay long? The price was right, the layout was nice, the location was almost perfect. Almost ten years later, we bought it, and we're still here.
I took this picture yesterday evening, at the end of a gray winter day, and with my BlackBerry telephone, so it is particularly ugly. I took it and then noticed that even on the small telephone screen it looked far worse than reality, and that made me laugh. We started showing the apartment to prospective buyers a little over a week ago, and most of the negative feedback we've gotten has been about the view. I'm a little bit house-proud and sensitive, shall we say, so I was steeling myself for the deprecating comments I might overhear about the wear and tear, the small surface area, the unfortunate choice of kitchen floor tile. Mostly none of that seems to phase anyone, or if it does, they don't mention it to the real estate agents. But the view came back over and over and I laugh to myself since after all it is what struck us at first, too. Now it is the one thing we almost never notice.
When you're in a space and that space is home, your perspective changes, you focus in. It becomes a place you love in large part because the people you love happen to live there, too. That doesn't keep you from hating some things about it, often irrationally. I complained for years about the small size of our apartment before recently I began to (mostly) enjoy the organisational challenge of fitting in the things I love and letting go of the ones I don't, like life-sized game of Tetris. I hate that there's no decent place to store the vacuum cleaner. I love my kitchen, but hate the impossible-to-clean floor. The whole became home and I learned to love it because of that, and then appreciate its qualities: the calm, the quiet, the strong morning light that streams in on clear days, the intelligent layout that keeps a family of four from tripping over each other. In order to love it I had to change and grow into it, leaving behind very American ideas about what life and home and success were supposed to look like.
I visited our new apartment first on my own, during a lunch break. I took a bus across the suburbs from my office and hopped off on a busy boulevard on the outskirts of Versailles. I went through the portal of the building to a calm inner garden, and from there to another entryway, up two floors, to a place that will soon be home. I walked in with the realtor wearing my best poker face. The owners were out of town, so the place was perfectly neat and clean, and more than that, it felt somehow like it was loved by those owners. I don't know why, but I could just tell.
I was trying to look indifferent as I visited, but it turned out I was indifferent: I inspected the rooms coolly, talked in generalities about buildings from the era, discussed the price, all without a trace of emotion. The apartment appealed to me from the beginning but in a detached way. I made a mental list of its qualities and it made sense. Now I almost feel guilty, as if I'd acted like a jerk on a first date. It's been over a month since I visited and I spend my time virtually moving-in in my head, rearranging furniture, dreaming of new things to buy some day: planning the romance.
I am wondering which, if any, of the poker-faced visitors we have right now will choose our place. I hope they end up loving it, and it hope it takes them less time than it took me. In the meantime, I'm thinking a lot about the emotional and illogical side of home, about which part is imagined and which part is real, which part is fixed and which part you carry with you when you move on.