Early last year, Dom and I lived in an apartment in Schöneberg owned by Gail Jones and her daughter Kyra Giorgi. As you might expect, the apartment was spacious and elegant and extremely orderly. Gail Jones has great taste. It was the nicest apartment I had ever lived in. I felt like I was too dirty to be in it, that I would spoil it somehow. But I didn’t. The women rented it to us at a generously discounted rate, in support of the concept of supporting younger writers. The neighbourhood was populated largely by older white gay men and their large pure-bred hounds. A few leather bars, as per Berlin custom. A smattering of hetero families, middle-aged white couples in expensive-looking hiking wear with small children on trikes at their sides. And large pure-bred hounds.
It was not … a ‘scene’. It was not particularly cool. If I am honest, I could never get used to the social behaviours of older white Germans I encountered there, who always seemed to me terribly stern and self-righteous. I lived in terror of being shouted at by one of them in the street for, like, not having an umbrella on me, or jaywalking (safely, of course!). Assholes!
Have to admit though, it was genuinely soothing to observe the calm rhythms of bougie life. My time living in that apartment was productive and restful. Bland and German, sure, but in a pretty good way. Where Dom and I learnt how to live and work together. Home cooking. Sex. Book after book in bed. A decent desk set-up. Living cheap. Unintentional weight gain. There was a farmer’s market. A cheese-seller who was kind and funny and un-German, and always sent me home with a free tub of cream cheese. There was a hot chocolate shop. A flea-market. High-quality ice-cream with a queue round the corner on Sundays. And I’m here to tell you: I liked it. I liked the bouge. If we wanted to party, or eat food that tasted like food and not sweet German gravy, Dom and I would take the U-bahn out of there to another neighbourhood, where we had friends (who would never choose to live in a boring neighbourhood), where we could drink and smoke at little tables on the street and eat fried food and go to clubs and take drugs.
When we first lived in Schöneberg, I would say, This is the first place I’ve ever lived where people are not screaming on the street! Which is probably an exaggeration but what it really felt like. You could get though a whole night without hearing screams of obnoxious drunk kids. No hoons in cars. No neighbours fighting. No 2 a.m. surprise trap music.
And now, for my last fortnight in Australia, I’m staying in my second house like this. But more so! Fewer leather bars (no leather bars). Less street life (zero street life). I am housesitting in an area where the only posters on display for the upcoming state election are for Liberal candidates. Establishment middle-class, meaning: no books on the shelves when you peek through the windows. Pure-bred Labs and King Charles Cavaliers. Several oversized linen dress shops round the corner and not a milk bar in sight. Men who look like they are twelve-years-old but are twenty-five, with paunchy bellies and waxed eyebrows and pink gingham shirts and gelled hair who knock on your door and leave their card in case you are thinking of having your property valued.
Dom answered the door to one of these men, shirtless, his hair a tangle of hotness.
We’re house-sitting, he said. Sorry.
I felt like they’d call the cops. Report a home invasion. Hot naked scruffy guy in a house well above his price point! It’s another world out here. But I love it. I luhv it. Some part of it, at least. The part where no one knows I’m here.
For example: I sleep naked (as all people should), right by the window, which looks right out onto the front garden and, well, the street, and when I get out of bed in the morning, I stand facing the street, assessing the morning’s light, in all my buxom glory. There’s no foot-traffic! I am half convinced that nobody even lives in any of the other houses on the street. I haven’t actually seen or heard any neighbours.
I am convinced that freedom from being looked at, or interrupted, is the true value of prime real estate.
I am about to leave Melbourne again, which is home, but which is starting to feel less like home each time I come back. I don’t have a ‘plan’, at least not one that makes sense when I say it out loud. I feel harried and scatter-brained about all the details. I know that in my absence I am going to forfeit some closeness with some people I love, and I don’t love that. But the pleasure, for me, of leaving home, of living in not my own home, is the pleasure of not being looked at. Of not being interrupted. Of standing at the window, ass naked, with no-one looking back.
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