early experiences with a sense of energy in physical places
I didn’t like visiting my New England grandparents’ old house in Connecticut filled with antiques. I found the house and land there creepy. I could never sleep well in the house because it just didn’t feel right, and even walking in the “back-40” during broad daylight, I felt nervous and jumpy] not my usual traits; I have traipsed in the dark in parts unknown fearlessly for as long as I can remember]. I didn’t have a vocabulary to define the Connecticut house as haunted at the time, but the place always felt “restless”. And once as a young child supposedly napping at nap time in the library, I swear to this day I saw my grandparents’ small Middle Eastern wooden sculpture of a hand with a pointing finger move and point that finger towards me. To make matters worse, my best friend in life, our Newfoundland dog who had been my protector, companion and play partner since I was an infant, hobbled off one day from that house when he was an arthritic 12 years old and never came back. Newfies are known to go into solitude to die, but to think of him drifting off somewhere in those creepy woods as his final resting place made me sad since I imagined he would never be able to find any rest there.
On the other hand, I loved going to my Hungarian grandparents’ place on Long Island in New York. In contrast to the dark and heavy house in Connecticut with unexplainable sounds, the house on Long Island was light and airy with clean lines, modern furniture, not a speck of dust and windows, windows everywhere. I loved that house. The exterior was white brick and glass. It sat on a broad green carpet of immaculate grass that bordered on a salt-water creek leading out to Great South Bay and was surrounded by spectacular gardens and beautiful trees. I used to love lying in the center of a triangle of linden trees at the front corner of the house, imagining that within that triangle was my own magic impenetrable world surrounded by a force field that could only be entered if I granted permission. The wind always sounded louder when I was inside my linden triangle. The trio of white birches in the back of the house was almost as magical, and while I was still small enough to get under it, a beautifully trimmed Japanese red maple was like another universe. And an indoor patio of blue slate, a humid sunken garden, bamboo furniture and wind chimes was an instant escape to tropical southern climes.
That house was designed by a well-known Hungarian émigré architect named Archie Rado. He had spent time in Japan, and I came to learn later that my grandparents’ house was heavy influenced by Japanese design. I especially loved that in the front entrance, the exterior white brick had been brought inside as one wall panel in the middle of which startlingly appeared one broken red brick. That one chunk of broken brick was all that remained of the privileged and cultured life my grandparents had lived back in Bratislava [Hungarians absorbed into Slovakia when the borders were redrawn after World War I]. It was all they had been able to bring with them when they escaped across Europe on foot from the brutality that was arising all over that continent starting in the 1930s. My love for their Long Island house is one of the trail markers I can look back on now with hindsight as a preview of my study and appreciation of the elegant wisdom and magic of the East. To this day, I have still not yet encountered such a beautiful, elegant, balanced, refined and yet non-fussy or pretentious constructed space as that house, which was sadly sold and torn down to make room for a McMansion.
Next Installment: Early Stirrings + Signs…