Continuing my retrospective… In 2001 we decided to move to Europe. At the end of the year we were trying to sell our house. In Boulder people often attach a box containing house brochures to the “For Sale” sign in front of the house. The brochures, which prospective buyers take with them, summarize the house’s vital statistics: square feet, number of rooms, size of the yard, notable features, asking price. We put the house on the market the week after 9/11, and we were getting absolutely no action from househunters. After awhile I got bored, and in November I started writing house brochures that were a little different. I wrote a new one every week until the house sold in February. Here’s the last brochure in the sequence — we received and accepted an offer during the week this one was in the box in front of our house. The lovely and talented Anne Doyle took the photo…
Home is a Woman
“Men look at houses like women look at men. Women look at houses like men look at women.”
Someone – a man, actually – made this observation while touring our home. I thought I knew what he meant. Now I’m not so sure.
In Odysseus’s entrance hall was a tall pillar. Beside the pillar was a polished spear-stand bristling with spears: the spears of Odysseus. As his absence grew longer, other men lost their memories and their fears. They played games with their javelins in the courtyard of Odysseus’s home. They ate his food and drank his wine. They wooed Penelope, wise and faithful wife, lovely and inaccessible. Who would mount the high staircase to her chambers?
In Freud’s dream imagery, home can be either a man or a woman. Then again, for Freud everything is either a man or a woman. The walls are man, but the door is woman. Granite is man; wood, woman. All the rooms are woman. The stairway? Don’t go there. I wonder what Freud’s house was like.
House-shopping is an act of promiscuity. The houses, lined up along the streets, entice you with all the arts of seduction. They tart themselves up for you; they’re clean, pretty, sweet-smelling for you; they wait for you to come in. You are flattered but worldly: you know that their charms come at a price. For the dilettante, the shopping is the best part. After awhile the houses can spot the “lookie-loos” a mile off. But the houses can’t help themselves: they smile, they flirt, they get their hopes up. When the night is over they take off their makeup and turn out the lights. All the houses have hearts of gold.
There are different ways of having a relationship with a home. There is serial monogamy: move on every few years. There is polygamy: a house in Boulder, another in Telluride, a third in the islands. The houses stay put. The houses always hope you’ll stay with them forever. The houses gather in neighborhoods to comfort each other. But they’re jealous of each other: they compare, they imitate, they talk behind each other’s backs.
“Homely”: familiar, inviting, simple, and therefore ugly; desired and therefore despised. Nostalgia is homesickness: the pain of returning home yet never arriving, the longing backward look, the yearning for what you once had and what you can never have again. Whether we want to or not, we all fall in love with our mothers.