My life as a cliché
Fabiana Vilsan, Division 3, College sophomore #ws16e-s2d3

The phrase “there’s no place like home” seems just cliché enough to describe the feeling in the pit of my stomach when our cab pulls up in front of my grandmother’s home in Bucharest, Romania. Nothing can ruin my childlike glee at this moment; not even the cab driver’s aggressive conversation with his “cheating, lying” girlfriend on the phone the entire cab ride home from the airport, or the neighbour’s cat’s decision to leave a dead mouse on our doorstep as a welcome-home gift. All I can think is: the moment I step into that house, the smell of grandma’s freshly baked pastries and the sight of my worn-out teddy bears and disastrous attempts at various colouring books will bring me back 10 years, to when my biggest concern was whether I’d had enough fun that day. My grandmother’s house is not spacious or beautiful – it was built during the communist era, and most of the décor consists of three-legged chairs and furniture ruined by yours truly when I fancied myself the expressionist artist at age seven. There’s no reason behind my infatuation with this place. Trying to explain my feeling of absolute comfort among this house’s many flaws is an impossible task most days. The only phrase that comes to mind, however painfully cliché: “there’s no place like home”.

At a young age, my father’s job moved our family of three to his company headquarters in glamorous Paris. The only reasonable reaction one could expect from a young girl who had never left Eastern Europe was absolute joy at the thought of living in the centre of the world’s most romantic city, especially given my lifelong love of pastries. Yet, the day before the biggest adventure of my life yet, I sat in my grandmother’s living room couch, clutching the lumpy pillows as though they could somehow keep me in my home. The feeling didn’t fade once I arrived in Paris – the pastries tasted stale in comparison to my grandmother’s fluffy masterpieces. The streets were beautiful, the architecture flawless, but I missed the cracks in the wallpaper in my grandmother’s kitchen.

Standing with a huddled mass at the top of the Eiffel Tower, my first impulse is not to marvel at the city beneath my feet, or even pant heavily from the exhaustion of climbing the hundreds of stairs to get there. Instead, the first thought that comes to mind is the day, back when I was five or six years old, when I braved climbing the stairs into my grandmother’s attic. It was a treacherous journey – the wooden stairs were old and creaked even at the weight of a scrawny child. But I was determined to discover the hidden treasures buried in the attic, knowing that over the years she had stored photo albums, clothes, books and toys. I climbed into the tiny room, filled with labelled cardboard boxes and miscellaneous objects scattered about at random. Perhaps I should have been disgusted by the spider webs in the corner of the attic, or completely uninterested at the thought of sifting through countless boxes of junk, or terrified at the thought of climbing back down once I was done. Instead, I made myself comfortable and happily took to my task of unboxing and discovering. I found both my grandmother’s and my mother’s wedding dresses, photo albums from my childhood and theirs, an old typewriter, some tattered books, my old crib, and so many more. If it doesn’t sound appealing, or even remotely interesting, I don’t blame you. But to me, everything from the climb up to the attic to the rummaging through boxes somehow beat looking down at beautiful Paris.

“Why?” I thought to myself. “Why am I the only one so completely in love with that little home? Is there something wrong with me? Why can’t I appreciate a beautiful landscape or a quaint apartment in the centre of Paris and just forget about that little home? What’s so special about it?”

My grandmother’s home is my favourite place in the world. I can’t explain why in a way that will make sense to anybody but myself. I love that the front door doesn’t open until you lean up against it and push with your entire body, and once it flings open you’re sent flying across the front entrance. I love that I have bruises on my left arm from the times I’ve crashed straight into the desk. I love that the kitchen always smells like a home-cooked meal, and the fridge is always fully stocked with delicious treats. I love that my grandmother’s cat (an old, greying cat that is two months my senior) always sits in the same spot on the couch, leaving a small but noticeable permanent dent in the pillows. I love that the neighbour’s tree bends into our back yards so that we can pick cherries in the summer just by sticking our head out of the window. I love that the attic is filled with generations of memory – an archive I intend to keep adding to. I love that my childhood room is exactly the way I left it – my teddy bears lined by the door awaiting my arrival, colouring books stacked on the desk awaiting completion, and the first short story I ever wrote safely tucked into my night table drawer. I love that the water either runs too hot or too cold, and that I’ve mastered the art of drawing the perfect bath, switching from boiling to freezing water at two minute intervals. I love that the wall has little markings tracking my height from age three to age twelve.

When I think of a home, I don’t think stylish leather couches and fragile vintage furniture. I don’t want crystal chandeliers and eccentric art. I want a house that can be lived in – I want a flawed house. A house with personality. My grandmother’s home is always going to be my favourite place. Versailles doesn’t hold a candle to the cozy, two-story house in Bucharest. It doesn’t make sense. But clichés were thought of for a reason. I’ve walked up Champs-Élysées , I’ve toured Montmartre, I’ve eaten croissants atop the Eiffel Tower, and I’ve stood inches away from the Mona Lisa. Nothing compares to coming home.
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