I have been living in this suburb for two years, but I must admit I barely know what it looks like. I haven’t had the time to explore the surroundings yet, and I doubt I ever will, as we are moving again in a few months. Basically, I use my apartment as a place to sleep, which is what happens when you work full time at the other end of the town. Weekends are hiking time, which means I’m always away on some day trip. Also, I drive around rather than through the village on my way to work. That’s why I have no clue what’s out there.
I’ve heard this is the part of town where the elite live, but this could as well be a myth, as I’ve never had the chance or will to investigate. Feedback from the locals themselves would be a more reliable source than gossip and cliché, but I never talk to the neighbours, which therefore remain strangers. However, even from my window it’s hard not to notice that the totality of dwellings are detached houses: a clear sign of wealth. All, except the building where we live. It’s new, modern and stylish, looks weel mantained and recently painted, and boasts the sign “residence”, but we know it is really just a fancy word for a block of flats. It actually reads: “We would have liked to buy a villa with a garden and maybe a swimming pool, but we can’t afford it, so we found this compromise so that at least we can still live in the well-to-do part of town and enjoy a sea view”.
I said I don’t talk to the neighbours, but this is not entirely true. I sometimes say hello to the guy next door, and exchange a few phrases about the weather. He’s chatty and smiles all the time, and spends most of his day going back and forth from the condo to his vegetable garden. I can see the steady progress of his zucchinis and aubergines from the window of our study room. Of course he is always in a good mood: his children are married and live in detached houses in the same block, he is retired, in a good health in spite of his age, has plenty of time and nothing serious to worry about. People my generation will never reach that state of self-fulfillment. By the time we get old, pension will not exist any more, or will amount to cents. The sums of money that a pre-crisis bubble enabled our parents to save during a lifetime of work, are science fiction in the present and future state of the economy. We think we’re going through a bad recession, but this is nothing yet. Our present lifestyle is only possible thanks to the support of our families. Let’s wait until our parents’ savings dry out: then the real disaster will happen.
Across the street there’s another guy who is fond of gardening, but more inclined to grow flowers than cabbage. Neighbours compliment him for the beauty and tidiness of his lawn. They ask him what it takes to make it look so gorgeous, and he replies: “Nothing in particular, I just give it water every day”. Well, water is expensive in this part of the world. What you really need in order to obtain a perfect garden is money to pay a huge bill.
A tiny dog runs back and forth in that garden, and it must look huge to it. Luckily, residents have not yielded to the obsessive dog mania that spread through the country in the last few years. There are a few dogs, but they are all either well trained or kept indoors. I’ve never spent a sleepless night because of the barking. Local cats are healthy and clean, and being spoiled and stuffed with all sort of food in the luxurious gardens of their owner’s villas don’t prevent them to wander around in search of lizards, adventures or the occasional cuddle from a stranger. They’re definitely the most friendly guys in the block.
The only time of day when I actually get to see what’s out there, is in the evening when I take out the trash. We don’t have door-to-door collection in this country, and you normally have to walk a few hundred meters up or down the road to reach the nearest garbage bin. By the time one has covered this distance, one would expect to see a certain number of living human specimens: but the thing is, here people don’t walk to places. That’s why there is no pavement anywhere. Moving around in anything less bulky than a high-end SUV would be considered embarrassingly cheap. Expensive professional bicycles are acceptable, but only of the racing, not utility type. Mopeds are tolerated as long as you’re a teen. Almonst every young male has an old automobile and keeps it as second or even third car to be modified for rally races. We have an old Fiat, but it has not been tuned and it’s our main car.
It’s probably a legend, but some say there is a hiking club that has its headquarters in this very block. They don’t advertise their activities very much: could it be that they’re a little ashamed of actually using their feet to deambulate, like in the old times? They have to drive miles to get to a suitable place to walk, or carefully and quickly cross the street and get to the nearby park, unless they want to be ran over by a car.
One night, though, I made a strange encounter: an elderly woman was walking along the street followed by three or four turkeys. The birds were grazing on the sparse, dry grass at the side of the road. She looked like a ghost, with her tousled white hair and a simple dress my granny could have worn. She must remember very well the time when this neighborhood was very different, not only because it was not posh, but because in fact there wasn’t any neighborhood at all: only fields and a couple houses scattered here and there. This is a great lesson for all the parvenus living in this block. Her children or spouse may have made money in the eighties and had a villa built for them, but she has not forgotten where they came from, and she’s not ashamed. She proudly walks around with her turkeys, a reminder of her peasant past. When this old lady and the people her age are dead, who will remind us of our roots and make us realize the late occurrence of our whealthy lifestyle? Nothing will be left between us and the excess of our arrogance.
I suppose this accounts as birdwatching of the urban kind and street photography rolled into one, but unfortunately I never carry a camera on my way to the dumpster.
Inspired by this Weekly Writing Challenge