Feeling at Home in Both Places — Montse Zamorano
NAME Montse Zamorano
ROLE Architect, Photographer, Strategist
BIRTH CITY Madrid
CITIES LIVED IN Madrid, New York, Chicago, Shanghai
Why did you decide to move to New York?
I wanted to study more to get a deeper understanding in my field, something complementary to architecture. All the big things were in New York and for me, New York is the capital of the world, where the change occurred. There were courses in Chicago but my mind was set on New York. Also, probably after living in Shanghai, I was under the mindset that I have met one part of the world, now I wanted to go to another capital of the world. I wanted to be surrounded by people who are excellent in their field. I wanted to do more. In the past few years, I’ve lived in Chicago, Shanghai, New York, and I am currently based in Madrid.
How were your first days in New York? And why did you decide to move back to Spain?
After living in China, living in New York was like nothing. For me, living in China, getting used to the Chinese culture and Chinese roommates, where I didn’t know the language and I had fewer references, was a real challenge. After that, I felt like I can do anything.
I was lucky when I moved to New York as my professor I knew from architectural school hosted me in the first weeks. She let me stay at her place for three weeks and then I moved to a new apartment. Post that, I had a temporary apartment and then for a brief time I lived with a roommate who shouted at me for every small thing. She shouted at me if I was late, she kicked my friends out of the house when she was uncomfortable.
That was not home to me. Not feeling relaxed in your own house is a horrible feeling. That’s when I decided I needed to live with someone I liked.
She kicked me out when summer came. I left and rented another apartment, the rent was high but I was happy. But that was a part of it: If you want to be comfortable, you don’t go to New York. If you want to live in a place that is good in terms of quality of life, you’re not going to New York. The loud ambulance noises never stop, but so far the city had given me a bigger reward than the pain I was going through on moving to a new city. I was happy.
The first few months were so exciting that I didn't have time to think of what was missing. Everything was new and exciting. Also, the feeling of being far away didn’t occur to me — New York was home. One transition I observed was that my mindset when I arrived in New York was to meet people from all over the world. But when I was working harder and everyone got busier, though I made new friends from all over the world, I got along with Spaniards more.
What gave you a feeling of home in New York?
Talking to friends, sharing my fears and worries with them made me happy. I was lucky to find people who understood me.
So many nights, my roommate, Sergio, and I would open up a bottle of wine, have some cheese and talk for hours. I remember us going to bed happy and relieved. My house in New York was my home. It was like a perfect dream. It was cute and people made it special. It made me super happy.
It comes down to the sense of community. When we were buying furniture for our home from IKEA, I wanted the longest possible table because I knew I would be inviting people home. I didn't want a regular table. In fact, we bought a kitchen counter that we used as a table as it was longer.
To have a social life at home, and to host people at home was similar to what happens in Spain and I wanted to recreate it in New York.
It comes from my culture at home and the culture in Spain. My mom sometimes creates lunch for thirty people and that’s normal! Spain is soon going to become the country with the longest longevity of life and one of the reasons for that is the social life. People have a sense of community. They all hang out together — it gives energy and is beautiful.
But also, after work in the evenings, sometimes, I would like to be by myself at home at my apartment in New York. My five minutes of silence. I enjoyed the living room during sunset the most. You have the light coming in forming shadows, and the curtains filtered the light and the plants turned colorful. Something that I did when I was younger that I wanted to start doing again was sitting in the afternoon and reading a book in my living room — not a novel but some fun book. A book with pictures and diagrams, and learn more about the random things.
My stress in New York wasn't about finding a home but it was around finding a job. I had the best of everything until my third year — scholarships, roommates, masters, but I struggled with finding a job I liked. I thought if I worked hard I would get this too. But no matter how hard I tried nothing was working. I felt useless. That’s when I considered moving to Spain as I got a job here, which was exactly what I was looking for. My moving to Spain became more evident when at the same time, Fran, my boyfriend who lived in Spain, got a job transfer to New York and I wasn't excited about hearing this. I felt my time in New York was expiring and I had to move back. Also, I wanted to be a part of my parents’ lives. Be there for them.
What objects did you own that reminded you of home?
I have a coffee machine that I love, an Italian coffee machine. I like it better than the filter one because it’s stronger and because when I was a kid, we always made coffee with a coffee machine just like it. I remember my grandmum making coffee with a similar one too. The moment you hear the sound — ‘khaaaaakarrkkaaaakkaakak…’ the sound it makes — it made me so happy, and the smell was great. One day our flask melted but Sneha and I still kept using it. Most of the time I would have a toast with tomato along with the coffee. This used to be my breakfast most of the days.
Do you have a place in New York that reminds you of Spain?
Funny thing, there’s a place called Spain that comes to my mind. A guy from Spain found it. I think it’s on the 13th street. He came to New York 50 years ago and started it when he was around 18 years old and still runs the place. He dresses up in an old-fashioned way, in a bow tie and white shirt. You order a beer and you get free tapas. The atmosphere, the people, and the food make it so Spanish. It’s not a super fancy place but the guy and ambiance are for what I took my friends there. It makes me sad to think that when he dies, this whole legacy will go away.
What’s the difference between your New York home and your current home in Spain?
My family home in Spain is my home no matter what. The smell is the smell of my house. The moment I arrive, it smells like my family. It’s amazing. And then, the first home I’ve created I feel was my New York home, my apartment in Hell’s Kitchen. When I came to New York somehow, though I knew I would be there for a few years, it felt like home to me.
We bought the furniture, we created it. It was an empty canvas and we painted it the way we wanted it. Also, when I was in Madrid my home was my family home. When I was in New York, I didn’t have a backup home. It had to be the home.
Well, what does home really mean? For me, it’s a place where I feel relieved from work, where I feel comfortable in bed, and where I know all the noises, how the steps sound, the feeling of familiarity.
And that happened to me in both my New York home and my family home. They are different but the feeling of home is in both of the places.
Do you have any memories of your childhood home?
I have memories of my childhood home. It’s also a house my family still owns and the house my grandmum lived in before she passed away. Sometimes I go there to take pictures to rent the house out. I still have memories of living there with my parents, and the things I would do when I was a kid — staying in bed with my parents, sneaking in and sleeping with them. My father would take me and hold me by the hands and hold my belly into his feet and make me fly like Superman and it made me super happy. I still remember those few moments. The first computer we bought there and working on it, the family dinners, feeling scared of shadows and running to sleep with my grandmum.
We had a big area with big windows, so in the winter it was like a warm space with a lot of sunlight and lots of plants that my grandmum planted. We also had a patio where my granddad filtered honey and put it in jars. We did this in summer, so that the honey would be fluid and melted. He also salted hams and dried them here. My brother was born here and I remember doing a photo shoot in that patio. In the summer we would even have dinners in our courtyard, outside. My granddad used to get crabs from the river and my grandmum used to cook them. I remember playing around this space. My relatives and friends used to visit us and we used to have a beautiful time together.
I have a plant in my current apartment that is from my grandmum’s courtyard. She loved her plants and when she died I took one of them and planted it, and it grew. When I had to travel, I gave it to my boyfriend and told him that it was my grandmum’s plant and asked him to take care of it. It’s only a plant but for me, it’s one of the babies from my grandmum’s plants. My grandmum who I loved a lot.