Tuesday, March 21, 2006

bricks

Adobe: A sun-dried, unburned brick of clay and straw.
This wall is only a few blocks up the street from my house, and it stretches on for a few blocks in either direction. I never pass up an chance to run my hand lightly over the rough, irregular bricks, so different than the selection at Home Depot that they almost seem like a different item. Usually I stop for a minute or two and pick out some little thing in the bricks; a walnut-sized rock, a shell, a twig the size of my thumb. The stones seem a bit sad to me because I know they were made by poor, hungry Chumash indian laborers. I marvel over the fact that irregular, hand-crafted bricks have withstood the rigors of time, construction, remodels, zoning and rocking earthquakes without even being fired in a kiln. Where the two sides of the wall intersect, there's a prayer for peace set in brightly-colored tile.


The irony of that prayer never fails to hit me - despite the buccolic image projected in the history books, Mission life was often tainted with cruelty and violence. Missions, haciendas and homes for the rich were mostly built by generations of despairingly poor people who lived crammed in amongst each other, competing for a few scraps of food and grinding their corn into meal for tortillas. Meanwhile, a few padres lived on their spraling, extensive properties.





These days, houses like this are generally occupied by a family of four or five at most. Many of the beautiful old Victorian homes have been sub-divided into apartments or pricey offices. (Editors' note: Actually, the light coral one is a graduate research institute. I'm sure it was a private villa at one time.)

You only need to look at them to see that for each one, a small army of household staff (gardeners, cleaners, chef/nutritionist, au pair/tutor) are Required. Most of these people don't "live in" (much to pretentious! - plus ....identity theft) so each night the well-tended little group settles in for a sleep. I don't pretend to say that they don't have their problems (St. Barts or four-star Costa Rican eco-friendly resort for spring break? Botox or fruit-acid peel?).

I just think the problems are a bit different at times. It can be positively bewildering to go for a walk with all the one-way streets. Fortunately, there are extra street signs posted ON THE GROUND. Heaven forbid mum turns the baby jogger down the wrong street and end up in the wrong neighborhood!Back to the problems, though. You know, Real Problems such as: What to do with the antique water tower in the back yard? (City Planning Comission generally disallows tearing them down) Solution: These funky towers can be tastefully transformed into home offices with a view, posh guest-bedrooms (good for guests who snore) kids' playhouses, and art studios - great for plein-aire or photography. Or another pressing dilemma: What to plant in the city parkway so as to subtly discourage children from playing, skating or walking on your side of the street? Answers below.















You can see all these sights on the tour (Red Trolley, runs every couple of hours, relatively cheap and informative) if you come to town. I admit, I pass by them often without a second thought all the time. Sometimes it can be hard to live amongst such plenty and be grateful for what you have. I admit to having regular twinges of yard/house envy. Until I get to the adobe walls - and then I thank goodness that we're here and its now - and I'm not standing over a wooden brick form, mixing up straw and rocks for the Padre.





5 comments:

Lynn said...

Those bricks are beautiful; the story behind them, sad.

Meepers said...

They really are cool - you should see the stone walls around here- same deal, bigger chunks. Whatchagonnado?

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