Kitchens

In college I only learned that it's dreadful for a stranger to live in your kitchen. And this only at the very end. I was never much concerned with kitchens. I had no need to be. Like the socks my parents always gifted me for Christmas, most of the necessary implements and space were just always around. When landlords rent to summer vacationers and students, the kitchens are never quite empty. In houses in small towns, kitchens are rarely cramped.

It took moving to an apartment (a word that became more ghastly with every week I lived in one) to realize how lovely the kitchen of my childhood and current home is. Not because it has the latest doodads, but because cooking there doesn't feel like a perversion.

Between a house on a hill and a shoebox of a converted hotel room, I became an aesthete of kitchens. Oddly, the top and bottom of this relief were built in the same year, 1905. But where the house's kitchen has always been the kitchen, the apartment's kitchen was added in 2003 in a slobbery effort to turn a dilapidated building into rent revenue.

If the windows are eyes, the apartment's kitchen is hidden in the dark. The fact that it's as far away as it can be from the windows, and only connected by a narrow doorway, gives the hot air it generates the longest, most arduous escape. There's a fan, but it doesn't do much. To cook there is to steam in my own cooking.

The excreta of cooking is all close enough to touch. I must be vigilant in cleaning, and prepare ingredients in just the right sequence, because there's only enough counter for one cutting board.

For all of its visual obscurity, the sounds of cooking can be heard by all. If I can hear my neighbors watching a movie, or the incomprehensible mumble of their conversations, they must be able to hear me whipping cream in a metal bowl at one in the morning. That's the thing about an apartment--it's apartness is shouted for all to hear. Tolerance belies antagonism, and an apartment is specified amidst intimacy.

Everything in the pantry I bought for myself. While at home I grumble about having to put up with other's neuroses, in an apartment all to myself there is nothing but my own neuroses. It's nice not to encounter someone else's dessicated oatmeal or molding bread, but it's needful to find ingredients I didn't think I wanted. Despite and because I hate excess, I take pleasure in making something out of my father's neglected, nearly-rotten vegetables.

At home, the kitchen is porous. Light comes in the windows, air flows. The counters are usually a mess, but they can be cleaned if I need more room. With space and food going to waste, I'm not intensely aware of time passing. It's not a pod in which to carry out the necessary task of making something to eat, but a place to do whatever.

By aesthete I really mean I admire and am jealous of kitchens. Like yards, they seem of a better life. Not every kitchen, of course. But sometimes my eyes grow wide and I say "what wonderful light." And then they tell me about their plumbing problems, their mice, or how the height of their sink has given them chronic spinal pain.

8 June 2013