by Joan Harvey
At night you’d think
my house abandoned.
Come closer. You
can see and hear
lines of light
and the voices of
Jerónimo’s House, Elizabeth Bishop
Don Quixote, and with him, of course, faithful Sancho Panza, inhabit my kitchen; primarily the space between the sink and the kitchen island. I listen to the tale of The Knight of the Sorrowful Face when I do the dishes and clean the counters and, as it is a very long book and I only spend around twenty minutes at a time doing these tasks, these two adventurers have been getting frightfully bashed up in my kitchen for months. While in other times I might have also listened on long car trips, I’m now programmed, when walking into that space, to immediately think of donkeys and basins and chivalry. At the moment I have only 17 hours 27 minutes and 56 seconds in the book left to go, but I suspect it will be even longer before my kitchen is free of knights errant and their faithful squires.
My Pavlovian response brings to mind that mnemomic device, the Memory Palace, in which you mentally put something you want to remember into a room in your house. To be honest I haven’t really tried this method, because I can never remember to use it when I need to remember something.
This is all to say that our houses are home not just to our bodies. Bodies are the condition of architecture, but the way in which our dwellings hold us, keep us warm, give us space and light (or lack thereof), also plays on our minds. Houses haunt us as much as we haunt them. And because during this virus most of us are home, most of the time, our relationship with our homes, with our houses (in French to be at home is to be at the house), comes to the forefront. Whether we’re alone in a tiny studio apartment, or with our three charming daughters and two charming dogs in a large house in the suburbs, or in a queer communal house in a small city, this place where we live and now rarely leave has come to have much more weight. We are aware of the homeless and hope that they are finding shelter as we do. And we might also grow aware that, with our heavy mortgages and loss of income, this shelter we’ve taken for granted is a somewhat precarious thing. Read more »