My favorite show (er, the one I get the most mind-numbing pleasure out of) is “House Hunters International.” Why, you ask? Well, I enjoy normal “House Hunters,” but lately they’ve been going downhill with this condo business. I mean, who wants to watch a competition between three awful ’80s condominums? Taking it international was a brilliant move on the part of the producers and might have just saved the series. I think I like it so much because you never know what you’re going to get. In one episode a wealthy-looking guy is looking at uber-modern London flats. In another, a bi-national couple considers houseboats in Amsterdam. In yet another, a mother and daughter inspect potential artist lofts in Chile. Talk about variety! I’ve postulated that the reason I am so fascinated with homes is because it’s been a while since I’ve felt at home. Perhaps the last time I can recall feeling like I was in a real, warm and fuzzy home was when I was 5, before my parents divorced. There have since been attempts to recreate a sensation of being at “home” the way Anthropologie does it, attempts involving scented candles and music and using the stove, but never have I been able to successfully repopulate my house with people.
One of the homiest homes I’ve ever been was in the Netherlands, in a town outside of Amsterdam. For a week, I stayed with a girl and her family. During the day, we biked to town in the frigid air. For me, this was akin to training for a marathon. My legs cramped up, my bare hands were frozen to the handlebars, and I could not breathe. But somehow I made it there and back, and oh, how nice it was to roll our bikes up to the side door and enter a warm home. I can see it now: her mom and older sister on the couch, watching television and stroking the cat. Her brother at the table messing around on the Internet. Her dad, a kind and quiet man, slipping in and out of the kitchen. Their house wasn’t very big; the first floor was like a box, each corner a living room, kitchen, dining room or foyer. Furniture was provisioned by Ikea. I can’t recall any candles or music, and sometimes we got back well after the lights had been dimmed on the kitchen. I can’t really say what it was: perhaps the amount of people sharing such a small space? Maybe it was the way they teased and joked with each other? Huh, I thought, so this is what’s it like. Leaving it was bitter. I love my dad, don’t get me wrong, but our house does not possess this warmth. The floorboards seldom creak, because there are only two pairs of feet. If the TV is on, it’s because he’s fallen asleep to it downstairs. The dining room table is a receptacle for our unopened envelopes. I have tried candles; I have tried jazz music. But there are only two of us, and we navigate this hollow condominum like ships passing in the night. You know that scene in “Home Alone” when he puts up the cardboard partygoers? I wish I could do that, with real people. Maybe this is why I am so enamored with “House Hunters International.” It allows me to imagine that perhaps if I travel far enough, I can find for myself a home that feels like a home. Silly, I know, but people who will sign up to be your live-in family members are hard to come by.