It has been a while since my last story about Pavilnys, the place where I live. There is one more, which I have been keeping to myself for a long time – actually, since the summer. I open it, do some little writing and save it for later. It is so warm, friendly and summery that it is hard to let it go. And of course just like the previous ones in these series, this one is special and close to my heart.
I met Gabija and Antanas a couple of weeks before their daughter Saule was born. They stopped by to check our house, and then later showed us theirs. Now, a bit over a year later I am watching Mark and Saule kinda grow up together (although at the moment mostly taking toy cars, buckets or chestnuts away from each other). I also lost count to the number of teas and coffees we have drunk with Gabija over this time, and the number of topics we have discussed.
And when she says (spoiler alert!) that she would like to grow old here in Pavilnys, I feel something warm inside me, imagining for probably the first time our old age as a blessing and not as a punishment. Teas and talks and exchanging seeds and baby-plants. Well-rooted and well-neighboured.
Just a usual reminder, although you probably all know it. All the photographs, taken in Pavilnys are taken by the local Pavilnys photographer Ramunas Petkevicius. If you ever find yourself in need of a local photo session, you know where to go!
And I pass the word to Antanas and Gabija.
Life before Pavilnys
We used to live in a suburb of Vilnius called Jeruzale (like Jerusalem) in a flat on the ninth floor in the house on the hill. In the evening we could see all the lights of Vilnius from our window and it was total jazz. That life was very different from the one here.
We started to think about getting a home of our own and thought about this straw house idea. How it is all planned very smart, so it is cool in the summer and warm in the winter. We did some research and found a builder, who specialised in straw houses. Couple of years ago there were not many of them here in Lithuania, and he was probably the most popular one.
Finding a place to live
Antanas was regularly checking land advertisements, looking for our home. His dad used to travel a lot around Vilnius, and he recommended the direction of Pavilnys to us.
Gabija: We found the advertisement for this plot of land some time in spring and decided to just jump in the car and go to see it. Only ourselves, without informing anyone. When we arrived, we saw that the whole plot was covered in a field of blooming tulips. There was nothing planted, nothing growing, just a sea of flowers. I was convinced at once that this will be our home.
The tulips are still growing by the way, even though we tried to dig them out. Many of the bulbs are so deep in the ground that we could not find them, and each spring they would still bloom.
But we did not buy this land at once. We looked at the ad for a very long time, almost a year. And when we bought it, we did not start building. First summer we made it a kind of vegetable garden. We planted radishes, herbs and felt so grown up and responsible, having to come each weekend to water and weed. I also planted way too much parsley, and for two years after that we still had some left in the freezer.
Until that moment we did not really know about Pavilnys. Although we both are from Vilnius, we used to think it was really far out of the city, some forsaken corner. I used to pass it by bus sometimes. I would listen to the strange names of the bus stops and think: “Who could possibly live here?” Well, now it is us, and it does not seem far at all. But our friends, who come here by bus, still claim it is far from everything.
Gabija: The thing about Pavilnys I like is that it is like a little village in the city. I miss the village of my childhood and I need it to feel at home. There is definitely enough of this countryside feeling here in Pavilnys. We have a post office, which is even older than the one in my village. There is a library in a hut. I really miss having a bakery, where I could go in the morning to buy some fresh bread. I miss a place to drink a nice cup of coffee. I would also like to have a nice cosy pharmacy closer to the house. And of course I miss paved roads.
I spent a lot of time exploring Pavilnys when our daughter Saule was very little and would sleep long in her stroller. I would walk around, past the church and the post.
Building a house
The whole process of building took us around one year. We started with the foundation of course and left it to dry over the winter. We started building the house itself in spring. Well, not us, but the team of builders. But we also got involved in some of the works ourselves.
When the building process was close to the end, our builder suddenly announced that he cannot continue the work on the house. Of course we were frightened that now the whole process will stop. But luckily his team finished the building perfectly.
In the beginning you have to build a carcass of the future house. Then you need to fill it with blocks of straw. It is the most usual straw from the field, but it is important that you harvest it on time and it stays dry. It is a good idea to have an agreement with the farmers in advance. If they know that you are buying their straw for building, they tie the ropes on the blocks tighter than they normally would. You then start adding those blocks to the carcass and press them with a lifting jack. Then add more blocks and press again. And your house grows.
We did the inside walls ourselves. It is the same system, you put the straw blocks and then press them together.
The finishing inside and outside the house is clay.
Gabija: What I miss most in the house is the feeling that it is finished. We still have some walls we need to paint, some cables to hide, some lamps to hang. Sometimes it is very hard to live in a space, which is your home for almost two years, but still feels unfinished. On the other hand I also understand that a house is in a way always a work in progress.
When you are starting to build, you feel so energized. You imagine how it will look after you are done, how cosy it will feel. But later you slow down, because you realise that some things can be like puzzles which you have to solve. For example, we still have not chosen the lights for the main room. We cannot have any lights attached directly to the ceiling itself, as they would overheat the straw in the roof. So we are thinking and planning and imagining.
In the old days they used to say that the house becomes a home when it gets its heart – the stove. So when the kitchen was built, I really felt that now I live here.
Antanas built some furniture himself, some things here, and others he brought over from the previous flat. We have also built our bed and this was such a great process. There is a Lithuanian folk song. It tells about the whole life of a couple. We will cut a tree, build a bed and a cradle and rock our baby in it. Antantas measured and prepared the wood. I was painting the wood, and while doing this, the song was all the time playing in my head.
Homes of the past
Gabija: When I was a little girl, my parents would often bring me to stay with my grandmother. She used to live on a rather isolated farmstead, surrounded by fields and forests. I spent most of my childhood there. In the house it would be just the three of us – my grandparents and I – and no one else for many kilometers around. This was a place where my heart felt at home. Of course I could not live on a farm or even in a small village, but I feel that I am building my current home out of that childhood experience.
A round table in the kitchen, my grandmother’s woven bed-cover on the bed. My grandmother’s tablecloths. I collected the elements of home from that home and transferred them into this one. Luckily, Antanas is fine with that.
There is one element he is not okay with though. My grandmother used to have a huge apple geranium plant, so I feel the need to have the same plant here in my house. Antanas really does not like it, so we will have to solve it somehow.
House to a home
I could not name the exact point when this house became a home. Probably this feeling came slowly, gradually. We started adopting this place with our first vegetable garden, dill and parsley. Planning the best way to drive here, planning our way home. The neighbours were curious about our garden and wanted to talk to us. This also helped to feel at home.
Gabija: It became a home when it became possible to live here. When this building was just a project on paper, I could not feel that it is going to be our home. It was hard to imagine, where to put the windows, the doors. After the foundation was built, I could still not imagine that we are actually going to live here. And when the roof was covered and it suddenly became possible to spend a night in this house – it was probably then it felt like home.
Favourite spots in the house
Gabija: There are some spots in our house which I particularly like. One is here on the sofa. In the evening you can open a book, and when you lift your eyes for a second, you will see just the trees and the sky through the kitchen window. A green-blue patch in the wall.
I also like to catch a glimpse of the view through the little window on the front door with a corner of my eye. There you can only see the greens and lake water. I just catch this view briefly in passing, without even looking at it, and carry on with my tasks, but it makes me happy.
Antanas: For me this would definitely be the table by the window, where I usually work.
There are plants which simply must grow in our garden. For example, a lily of the valley. One day we will go to my grandmother’s house to bring some here. On that farm there is a whole field of them growing. There also has to be some peony flowers and berry bushes.
Antanas is responsible for the trees. He is more practical, and I in my enthusiasm will not know, which size and types they should be. We will also have a vegetable garden of course.
Sometimes Antanas mentions that we will do this and that differently, when we will be building our next house. But I find it hard to imagine living anywhere else now. Thinking about it, I would not like to live anywhere else but in Pavilnys. We have built our home, and I would like to spend all my life here.