At Home(s) with Paavo

It has been said of Paavo Laami that he had at one time six residences in the same city. None of them very large, admittedly, which suited his needs perfectly. He intended, after all, to use each space for one purpose alone. In one flat he slept, in another he wrote, in a third he read, in a fourth he ate, in a fifth he made love, and in the last he entertained. Every now and again the function of the residences would shift: the house in which we ate become the house in which he made love, the apartment in which he wrote became the apartment in which he read, and the studio in which he entertained became the studio in which slept.

When the primary function wasn’t changing, the decor was. He was always repainting, buying and selling artworks, moving around furniture, creating partitions, installing cupboards, reshaping windows and removing carpets. Hardly anything stayed long enough to consider itself settled.

These six residences, I should add, were not close to each other. They were, instead, scattered across the city. He engineered it in this way so that he never belonged in any particular part of the city. He was, he maintained, Viennese; he refused to be claimed by any one neighbourhood.

At this point I must remind the reader that I began this post with the lines ‘it has been said’. When I asked Johannes Speyer, a close friend of Laami’s, whether the above was true, he was, at best, skeptical. He added, nonetheless, that after his first successes as a novelist (his novel, The Phoenicians, was something of a runaway hit) Laami went through a phase in which such projects (or indulgences, if you will) were ‘by no means untypical’. As Speyer put it: ‘He put all his money back into his art, which was a wonderful idea, were it not for the fact that he produced no art at all. No art on paper, that is’.

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