Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Making Myself, At Home

"The house is a metaphor for the self.”
- Frances Mayes

Poet and essayist Frances Mayes’ wildly popular book, Under the Tuscan Sun, reminded me what it was to love a place and to put a part of yourself into a place. It is a romance of sorts, documenting how putting love and care into your home can create a warm and welcoming space in which to live. To be honest, she loses me a bit toward the end when she leaves Bramasole (her home in Tuscany) and documents time spent traveling in Italy. While I was originally drawn to Under the Tuscan Sun because of my fascination with Italy (my paternal grandfather was from Italy), I loved the book because I understood having a passion for a place and the care that goes into that. It’s about the character of the house, the work required to revive the house, learning to understand the history of a place, and appreciating the people, community and culture that surround the house.

Guilty secret - I also love the film adaptation. The clever, warm, very underrated and only just barely related to the book film. Mayes approved everything that was done with the script and honestly, the changes were necessary to adapt the book to the screen. Under the Tuscan Sun isn’t really a story. It is an account of life, of finding and loving a house and a town and another country. But it has no actual tale to tell. In the script, a story was created for this fictionalized version of Mayes that mirrors the growth and change of the house. Because the thing that the film does retain is the love story between Mayes and Italy and her home there, Bramasole. In the film, the character’s life has fallen apart and her own rebirth mirrors the changes taking place in the house as it is restored to it’s former glory. It is also full of lush images of Italy; the countryside, the food, the people.

The film is vastly underrated. In fact, I’m not sure anyone else thought as much of it as I did. Instead of the chick flick one expects from the previews, it is full of nuanced performances, the subtle beauty of human interaction and an unmistakable lack of willingness to have this woman be saved by anyone but herself (in fact, throughout the film, saviors seem to almost be on offer and each time they are pulled away as if to say, "No, they can't do this for her."). It does have some chick flick elements but it makes her recovery a gradual and organic process, filled with people who impact her in unexpected ways. In spite of the presence of certain cliches , there are a lot of beautiful details that I think critics overlooked. I am particularly in love with the performance of Sasa Vulicevic as one of the Polish men working on her home. He only says a few words in the film and none of them in English, but there is clearly this unspoken adoration he has for Frances that has nothing to do with the story but which adds brilliantly to the richness of the film. His sadness when saying goodbye after the house has been finished just kills me. It’s the little things that make this film great.

I have just moved to a new home (thus my intermittent blogging of late). I am renting. I do want to buy my own home, long for the chance to make a place truly mine by knocking out walls and installing new fixtures and generally imprinting myself. But I am not yet ready for a purchase, still reeling from the changes that have taken place in my life in the past few months. All the same, I want to bring warmth and good food and laughing people into my house and hopefully, in the course of building a life there, also rebuild myself.

I think of it as making my home my “happy place” - a phrase oft used by Sheila (to denote her brilliantly chosen photographs of much loved images that she wishess to share). Instead of having it just be functional or impressively decorated or arranged so as to be most attractive to visitors, what if I made sure everything in it and everything I surround myself with is something I love and that resonates with warmth? I think that decorating one’s own home should be like arranging one’s wardrobe. Get rid of the things that aren’t really “you” or never quite fit. Get rid of the things you never use or that remind you of anything unpleasant. And ignore fashion or whatever is “of the moment”. Making choices that are instead based on what really suits you and what makes you feel good.

I have been wearing the same faux leopard fur coat with hot pink lining for years and years. It is never really in fashion but not out of fashion either. It is odd, it is loud and it suits me to a T. I get more compliments on that bizarre coat than anything else I own. I want my house to be like that (not hot pink and leopard print, mind). Exactly what suits me from top to bottom. Filled with things I love and things that make me happy (which probably means that 50% off all matter inside the house will be books) or remind me of places and people that are important to me. I want to walk in the door and feel centered because everything about my home is warm and welcoming.

The new beginning of a move is largely metaphorical and has little to do with the reality of everyday life. Somehow, however, the cleansing mental image of having a fresh start is tremendously reasurring and imbues each choice with a great sense of possibility. And so I am rebuilding. In every possible way.

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