On Winter and a Kitchen

Vasteras, Sweden, 2014 (a photo by Olga Kovalenko)

A kettle is gurgling and sending clouds of vapor toward the ceiling, steaming up the window glass. I put the tip of my finger to its cold, moist surface and draw a clear line through which I can see houses and the yard in front of the apartment block where I live in Kiev. Outside, snow is falling and heaping up on cars and tree branches. Cats trod hastily, moving toward shelter of the basement. I have found my own cozy spot already – in the kitchen.

I sit cuddled by the warm radiator, my legs drawn up to my chin, my head turned toward the steamed up window. In a minute, I will be sipping my morning cup of coffee and leafing through a newspaper on my Kindle. For half an hour, my perch by the window of the warm kitchenette is my little paradise.

Either because of a common Soviet habit or a habit born in my own family, but I love hanging out in a kitchen. A kitchen is a place of power for me, the warmest and friendliest spot in a house. I love spending my mornings here: eating breakfast, drinking coffee, reading, chatting, building up inspiration for the day ahead. Kitchens can change but my morning rituals remain the same in any of them.

I remember spending a month in Bologna, Italy, where a group of young Italians hospitably invited me to stay in their two-floor apartment equipped with a fireplace, a piano and a malicious cat named after Lars von Trier. It rained lazily day after day in the city, while I enjoyed my time perched on the stool by the kitchen radiator with the cat by my side.

I even managed to find and occupy a kitchen in a Lao guesthouse, where I chatted with other travelers and drank liters of free Nescafe. In a similar fashion in Vietnam, at a Hanoi kitchen there was spontaneously organized a morning club, where a group of us, travelers, would gather every morning for a free breakfast. We would chat and read and make up plans for the day there for hours, every day, for two weeks almost, until the stuff started hating us and we finally dispersed toward our travel destinations. I don’t remember any sights of Hanoi, but I still remember that kitchen and every time I remember it, my heart gets warm with happiness.

Back in Ukraine, I was drawn toward our kitchen every winter evening, when my mother came back home from work and started bustling by the stove, cooking dinner. I would sit by the kitchen window and look into a dark cold night punctuated by rows of street lights and be happy to be here, in a warm room, surrounded with love and smells of good food.

Kitchen was a place where I spent winter evenings with my friends. We would cook a meal and then talk long talks over mugs of strong black tea, spooning out strawberries out of home-made jam. The kettle would whistle again and again and we would be reluctant to go out into a cold street.

In Sweden I was rooted to a kitchen stool for two cozy months, typing on my laptop in candlelight and watching snowflakes whirl behind the window.

Here in Kiev, as I sit on my perch by the kitchen window, I see the locals struggle through snow toward the road. Parents walk their babies that gape at falling snowflakes and point with their tiny red fingers until they get bored and cold and demand to be brought back home and maybe into a cozy kitchen filled with warm smells of a home-made meal.

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