23.6.08

Home from Home

For the past two weeks, all I've been doing is looking for a new place to live, my 7th in London. Looking is an understatement: you've gotta get all geared up and go to war for that, because apparently every Londoner favourite pastime is to scour the city for a suitable dwelling. And boy, these people are ruthless. Properties with simple requirements such as normal-sized windows (so you can have a tiny bit of rare daylight coming in and not spend all your ages in electricity bills) and rooms slightly bigger than shoeboxes (so you can actually move around without tripping on your already sparse furniture) are snapped up faster than Louboutins on sale. In one of the hottest, most thriving property markets in the world there's a a horrible shortage of decent accommodation, and worst of all (and probably because it is what it is), what you will pay for a bedsit in a hot area would probably get you a mansion with sea views anywhere else in the world.
(except in Balneário Camboriú, the city I come from in Brazil, where the property speculation is as ridiculous as in London).

But one zillion phone calls and dozens frustrated viewings later, I've finally managed to find the perfect place to move all the piles of shoes, books, and magazines I've accumulated in almost 5 years of living in London. And this time, unbeliavably for the first time in this city, it's just me, my junk, and him. And my two fur balls, Nick and Quincas.

I can't barely remember the last time it was just us. The two of us. I remember back in Brazil, when we were in the height of passion and barely out of our teens. We were 19, and we had these beautiful and spacious 2 bedroom wonder at the chicest neighbourhood in town, a brand new car, and all our lives in front of us. But I wasn't happy. I was small and spoilt and scared, and I wanted to know what other surprises life had under her sleeve. It didn't matter that I would have to leave all the glitter behind and start from scratch in a dirty, obscure corner of New York City - the unknown seemed so much more exciting.

It was - and it wasn't. There's no amount of warning that can prepare you for life in the big city, even less if this is a foreign city. I remember my first day in NYC, without knowing a single soul, feeling all the despair slowly creeping up inside me after being literally dumped with two enormous suitcases by the taxi driver in a smelly, grubby street of the Spanish Harlem, under a 38ºC sun. The room I misguidedly took for a "vibrant accomodation with views to the Central Park", found via a "findaroomate.com" sort of website, was on the 3rd floor of a disintegrating building with no elevators (and no views to the Park, except maybe from the firescape) and my new roomie, a Chinese-American woman who supposedly had a job at Morgan Stanley in Wall Street, wasn't coming down to help me. It took me 25 minutes and two buckets of my own sweat to negotiate those horrible stairs, and it didn't get any better once I was in my new flat. My room, that cost $500 a month, was no bigger than a broom cupboard and as "vibrant" as only the inside of a pre-heated oven could be. On top of that, the Chinese woman seemed not to have a single cleaning gene in her DNA, for the whole place was covered in dust, and she had a charming habit of hanging her washed granny panties in the middle of the living room. Aparently, they dried faster when in full view of street passer-bys.

I, being the good Brazilian middle-class child of the 90s I was, comfortably wrapped-up most of my life in a cozy blanket of daily cleaners, meals cooked from stratch and airy, bright, spacious apartments, was appalled. Horrified. Shocked, dismayed. So much that when, right after I arrived, I decided to go out to find a payphone to call home (and plead to go back), I ended up walking from the 111th to the 32nd street - 79 blocks in aproximatelly 5 hours, almost non-stop. I don't really know why I did that, but what happened during that walk changed me forever. It wasn't that I was stalked by a black guy for 5 blocks, or that I cried uncontrollably for another five when I couldn't get the calling cards to work, or even that magic moment when I turned on 42nd street and found the bright lights of Times Square for the first time, followed by the amazing Public Library later in the day. It was simply that in my exhausted, overwhelmed mind, I knew I could never go back to my old life, because it would never be the same again.

I lasted exactly 45 days in that fetid Harlem flat, and moved to several other over-priced, decaying, hideous other flats in Boston, Cambridge and then London, most of them populated by normal looking people that almost always revealed themselves to be mischevous, wacky creatures with several unhygienic habits and a penchant for self-deception.

But two countries, eleven homes and countless obscure neighbourhoods later, I look back and I don't recongnize that young girl that dreamt of leading a sitcom life in the big city. She was anxious, worried, and self-conscious in way that I aknowledge, but find it impossible to identify with. I had all the stability in the world and was never comfortable in my own skin. Today, 6 years later, my world is much more vulnerable than it ever was, full of risks and unpredictability, but I never felt more confident, more assured that now I am leading the life I was wanted to lead. Better still, in a place, a possible home, that reflects exactly who I always wanted to be and didn't know.

It's a life not as similar as in those American sitcoms I used to dream about, but the feel-good factor is pretty close.


(more about the new home in the next post).


1 comment:

Carol said...

hey, forasteira.
me identifiquei muito com este post.
me apresento: carol, amiga da nani. ex-amsterdammer, ex-londoner, ahora barcelonesa.
estou em uma revista (em espanhol e em inglês) de arte, moda e musica. estou sondando redatores q escrevam em inglês... so far, tô gostando do que leio de ti.
estamos em contato; seja pra isso ou pra fazer outras coisas legais no futuro. what do you reckon?
x