A Home Inhabited by Memories
00.00.20: The caregiver brings Alice her breakfast
00.00.24: Lighting a cigarette
00.00.30: Chit-chat with the caregiver
00.00.52: Drinking coffee
In the audio piece you hear how Alice is concerned that her children will not remember her birthday. She is about to turn eighty. About two years ago she lost her legs when a severe case of enlarged varicose veins cut off the blood supply, making amputation necessary. When Alice lost her mobility, her home was remodeled. The bed was moved to a corner of the living room; a commode chair was placed in her old bedroom, now a toilet; and an entire section of the house was turned into storage. Her sewing room and the spare room that once belonged to her children are now stuffed with old belongings, projecting echoes of a life only Alice can hear.
More than once Alice tells the story of when she moved in with her family. Her two children ran from one end of the house to another, thrilled with the size of the house and the space they could occupy. The memory carries both visual and sonic components. The rapid footsteps and joyful outbursts of her kids seem to resonate in the room as Alice recalls them, indicating how she lives within multiple times. Her home houses not only the present moment; times that have passed reside within the walls, too.
Steven Feld emphasizes a relationship between memories and place by citing the philosopher Edward Casey: “Moving in or through a given place, the body imports its own emplaced past into its present experience” (Feld in Pink 2015: 44). Casey argues how “lived bodies belong to places and help to constitute them,” and “places belong to lived bodies and depend on them” (Casey in Pink 2015: 34, original italics). Memories are an important part of what connects Alice to her home and vice versa. Through her well-known sensory environment and embodied experiences, memory processes are nourished, which allow her to travel back and forth in time.
More than forty years ago, Alice and her husband left a small apartment in a working-class area of Copenhagen. Like many others at that time, they wanted fresh air and more square meters. It was in the early sixties, and the capital was expanding to the west. Almost overnight, suburban areas branched out on fields. The area where Alice lives consists of dense uniform low-rise terraced houses. She tells of how people used to barbeque in the courtyards with their neighbors and how they looked after each other’s kids.
The sounds of playing kids have vanished. Her courtyard is now overgrown; the neighbors have moved out; and the building is worn down and will soon undergo renovation. As I visit Alice on this grey February day, it is as if the decline has not only inhabited her body but also the physical environment surrounding her.