I moved to Venice at the end of 2003, into what was, by Venetian standards, a modern apartment, dating circa 1930s. There were four of us divided evenly between two rooms, but the common area was unusually large, open in plan between the small kitchen area at one end, a living room on the other, and a table with four chairs in the middle. Occupying this table was a daily dance of tolerance and care, a quality one always finds in cultures with small homes: dinners, homework, friends and drinks rotated and intersected, usually amicably. At exam time some we made space for exams, around exam time we made space for boys and bottles of wine.
It was my first home away, my first adult home, and I felt it very much like a home. Italians are homely people, certainly compared to the student houses I came to know in Australia this was a place of comfort and permanence, of care. It also compared favourably to the home I had come from, which by then was run down, worn out by multiple children’s predilection for writing on walls and the neglect brought about by divorce. That apartment got sold in the course of that year, announcing the beginning of the long period in which my family would be scattered around guest rooms and semi-built houses, one parent here, the other there, my sister and I never able to be in the same place because two children were too many to host at once. If I had to draw a mental map of my life at that time, Croatia would have registered as stormy waters, as shifting ground.
That year, I developed a habit of being the last one to go to sleep. One by one everyone would retire to bed, the table would get cleaned and the dishes would gradually get washed, and there would arrive the moment when the house was tidy, the light had shrunk to shine only above the stove, above the table, the night was silent, the world was black outside, and I would sit at the table and breathe in deeply the quiet immovability of the home that I had made for myself. It was as if it was only once the day stopped moving that I could really feel the permanence of things, and I wanted to stay in that permanence for as long as possible.
Banana Yoshimoto wrote a book about kitchens, and Bonnie Pink a song. In my mind, neo-realist films and Truffaut’s films are full of small kitchens in which people feel safe, although I have a sense that that’s not entirely correspondent with reality. Kitchens are different from the rest of the house, because they rarely stand still. A still kitchen is a dead kitchen; a house with a still kitchen is never quite a home. The 19th-century English habit of a kitchen separated from the house is a strange aberration in the universal understanding of home as something grown around the hearth. There is little difference between a bedroom in the middle of the day and a bedroom at midnight; but a kitchen slows down to breathe only at night. Its shape only then becomes truly discernible.
To this day, I like to do the dishes late at night, and do my work on the kitchen table after the world has gone to sleep. Going to bed often feels like missing an event, the baring of things. (Darko Rundek sings about things with a certain amount of doubt, of suspicion even.) I know that some of us don’t believe in things at night or, rather, find them less credible, less reassuring, once the people around them have gone to sleep. There is a vulnerability to the world at night. But I would say that I find in that vulnerability the only real proof of there being any strength to the world at all. The blurry buzz of the day is made out of hope and good wishes and, whatever permanence there is to the world, it is visible only at night.