When Downtown becomes home

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May 26, 2003 // UPDATED 10:50 am - April 30, 2007
By: Julie Landsman
Julie Landsman

Watching a Swedish graveyard cements the bond with North Loop

Across the street from the attic apartment in Uppsala, Sweden, where I am living for four months is a graveyard. I watch people come and go from my study window. There is one gravestone that has had visitors almost every day. I see one woman who comes to sit, her baby carriage next to her.

In a morbid moment, I decide that the place where I plan to be buried will be the place I claim home. In one year, I have lived at four addresses. Last April I was in a house in a neighborhood in South Minneapolis, near the bridge. I had called this place home for 25 years. Then, until my new home was ready on Washington Avenue, I lived for three months in a house in Falcon Heights. It was there I recovered from cancer surgery, amidst unfamiliar surroundings but with lots of time to rest, walk and eat at a great bakery.

Finally, I came to my permanent address. As I began to unpack my things -the yellow teapot, my CD collection with Miles Davis and John Coltrane, my favorite shirt for chilly evenings, the purple mug, furniture and pictures - I decided that things must create a home. Not just any things, but those literally worn down by the hands of loved ones.

Surrounded by the colors of old rugs, the photograph of my parents years before they died, the water color of a rose one of my students gave me a long time ago, I was sure it was those objects that made it home for me.

Yet still, the streets were new and the parking ramp a little imposing at night. I had not yet begun to know my neighbors, and it was complicated for friends to get into the building with its security. My dog Louis was not happy, and the river we walked along seemed to be a different river than the one we had walked those years from our house on 43rd Avenue.

Gradually, though, early mornings waking to see the highway where cars sped by at 6 a.m. became familiar. Our walks, our meals at the new table, felt consistent. In February, after two weeks in New York, I felt I was coming home. I am not sure what happened between September and February. There were some pathways, some turnings and smells in the hallways, some echoes of music, that reverberated for me.

And then we came here, so Maury could teach. I have found rituals here too - the sun on the table, a view of rooftops, the smile of the young man who is always carrying his baby on Wednesday afternoons as he comes up to the apartment near ours. I have learned how to use the laundry and can find the office where I can check e-mail.

Yet I am aware that this is not my home. I do find pleasure in being in Sweden. In an ironic twist, I feel closer to many Swedes politically than I do to Americans. I admire their comprehensive health- and day-care systems and am concerned about what the U.S. is doing in the Middle East.

Yet the language all around me is strange - on signs, on menus, in train stations and at the airport. Conversations behind me as I walk to Maury\'s office are incomprehensible. While most people here do speak perfect English, it is not their language of intimacy. So intense conversations with women about home life, politics, writing or raising children seem stilted.

I want to call my friend Ruth to wish her a Happy Passover. I want to walk out to the river on a Saturday morning to look at the skyline: new enough to admire and old enough to feel familiar. I want to go to my writing group off Plymouth Avenue and hear Debra Stone read one of her stories. I miss cars rocking rap at the stoplights, and this surprises me.

So home may be in the things around us. Yet, more importantly I think it is in the landscape, the music, the everyday language we swim in. Now, at that gravesite, instead of the young woman with the baby, there is a gray-haired man, placing flowers near the stone. He turns to go, yet cannot leave and comes back again. Perhaps, being at home is as simple as being near the earth we plan to rest in.

Julie Landsman (jlandsman@goldengate.net) owns a North Loop condo with her husband, Maury.