Ten easy ways to confuse The Spirit Of Place


Every place has a spirit.

The Romans had a name for it: the Genius Loci. I found a spirit of place whilst pottering around the Corinium Museum at Cirencester.

Youthful, curly-haired, this is the spirit of Sheep Street, Cirencester; that is where he was found, at any rate. But they are all over the old Roman empire, these minor spirits: there’s one in the House of the Vettii, Pompeii, a wall frieze in the sacred part of the house, the Lararium. Volcanoes had them, theatres,vineyards, festivals.

These minor Roman deities seem, from this great temporal distance, companionable. They sit on chars or gaze out from colourful friezes in the most benign manner. They are personal to a place, and so they must be deities which are intrinsically homely, mustn’t they? Though crossing one would be deeply inadvisable.

Which makes me a little uneasy, because our Genus Loci must be disoriented and displeased.For five years we have bumbledย along in a house which needed work. And our bumbling wore the house down further. And I began to think, oh, we couldn’t possibly have anyone to stay with our dark red carpets and pine cladding and patchwork assortment of floors.

This year the showers began to go on strike. One by one, each bathroom began to give up the ghost, to pack up its troubles and refuse to play any more.ย It was trying, but even though bits of it were packing up week on week, it was home, and our Genius Loci knew precisely where he was.

But he watched askance as the builders arrived, finally, after much scheming. And these builders, they’re good. They’re great. But they don’t spare the Genus Loci. No offerings to our frazzle-headed, deeply confused deity, and no place for him to go. How shall I count the ways we have confused him?

1.Every bathroom and the kitchen are invaded.

2.The garden is full of stuff: recyclable wood, toilets, basins, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. It is not a verdant sanctuary. Though in honesty it has always had its fair share of clapped-out bikes and overstuffed mildewing sheds.

3. The flooring is up so our poor Genius’s chapped feet must walk on concrete, right the way through the ground floor.

4.A log-burner and chimney have sprouted overnight. Freudian, but the genius is much older than Freud and hasn’t got much time for him.

5. The place-dwellers have alienated the Genius’s cat, the traditional pet of the Spirit of Place, who has opted for another place all together.

The Genius coloured a little as they uncovered the fact that our kitchen was partially built on sand. Not my fault, his demeanour emanated. I can’t help the decisions you humans make about your places.

Still, he wasn’t sure about number 6, the new concrete floor. So final, somehow.

7. Walls have disappeared. Rooms that were are no more.

8. A pet window of the genius’s, blocked up inside a wall, has been discovered, marvelled at and removed for scrap.

9. The drive is filled with recyclable plunder: all belonging to our Genius, and being carried off ย like so many prisoners of war.

10. There is absolutely no way to get a decent cup of tea.

This evening we stood with the bewildered air that is becoming habit now, amongst the boxes of tiles and kitchen cupboard carcasses. And I am sure I glimpsed our Genius Loci at the bottom of the garden, his back turned to our place and his in utter disgruntlement.

And I longed for us all to be friends again.

But how does one mollify a genius loci who has been pestered and remodelled out of his house?


26 thoughts on “Ten easy ways to confuse The Spirit Of Place

  1. It has to be worth it….which is easy to say from a long way away. The encouraging morsel for the genius are your words “These builders, they’re good. They’re great.”. We have moved 17 times in our 40 years of marriage and we haven’t run into that sort of builder yet. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Oh, Kate, I’m sure your genius loci will return, forgiving all for the displacements. Surely, he will.

    Ah, the burdens of remodeling. We did this in our old house; oh, the things we uncovered. Why, we pondered, would a builder put an opened box of starch in the walls? the horseshoe at the door – for wiping boots in the once-upon-a-time swamp? and what about the secret hiding places under the stairs?

  3. We’ve remodeled two houses, and it was an agony each time as the individual Geniuses Locii (?) fled before the builders and hid in dark crannies. But, with completion always came contentment, for us and the Spirits. Hang in! ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Oh, how fabulous would that be, Michael! ๐Ÿ˜€ If I ever make my millions, one of my residences will be a Maher. I shall swank around pouring gin and tonics and affecting to be a tasteful member of the hoi polloi. I shall have cocktail parties….

  4. Renovations (n) Synonyms: Mess, clutter, dust, noise, chaos, misery, discomfort, risk of injury, and – worst of all – exponentially escalating expense …

  5. I relate so closely to this post, Kate. I love the term genius loci–I think I carry a particular sensitivity to “him” when I’m in any space with a bit of age or character. And in our house, I really do. I was friends with the much, much older senior citizen who lived in the house while I was growing up across the street. I feel her love for this house, a wedding present from her husband. On the other hand, there is the interminable “fixing” and remodeling…like bathrooms without foundations, or wiring leading nowhere. We have lived here so long we’re on the second go-round of remodeling ourselves–much less involved then 25 years ago when we added on to the basic framework, but everything we do opens up Pandora’s Box. Keep your eye on the prize! ๐Ÿ™‚ And thank you for a wonderful new term-genius loci. I am enthralled with the opportunity to meet him.

    I see now why perhaps your little guy found a quieter place to reside…we hope. ox

  6. So that’s what was wrong with our old house………we constantly kept the poor genius loci stirred up with projects that were never completed. I will use this as an excuse not to disturb anything, should we ever be homeowners again.

    Much luck with your remodeling. A shower with decent water pressure will go a long way toward banishing the discomfort of getting there. ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. I will have to ask MTM about this. He is designing a cabin in the mountains for us right now, and we need to get off on the right foot with the genius……. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  7. Your resident genius will be back . . . as soon as the dust settles and you can offer him a decent cup of tea.

    Best of luck, Kate. We’ve lived through a few bathroom re-models that held their challenges . . . but doing the kitchen too makes “camping” look like a weekend stay at the Astoria.

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