Places in a coma

Abandoned buildings. Missing homes.  There are plenty of those in this city. Sometimes you just bump into traces of a house that was, like a fence or the concrete floor of a garage, or the stairs that used to lead to the entrance. The hurricanes and the economy have forced people to leave.

Missing House on Broadway

There is a group of houses at the intersection between Winnie and 28th. Michelangelo and I spotted them a few months ago, while driving around town. That day we didn’t stop, but the image of those constructions left such a strong trace in my mind that I decided to walk back there a few days later. Except for the old corner shop that is falling apart, the other five buildings – apparently called “cottages” – seem to be in a coma. Their walls and roofs are consumed by the weather, but their foundations and chimneys are clearly new. To prevent possible floods, the cottages have been raised almost three feet from the ground. The simple fact that they are not completed, that there are no doors, no windows, no ornaments of any sort, no floors, but just the wooden boards covering the structures, gives them a strange power. Before starting to investigate, I could not tell whether they were about to be demolished or had just been built.
Their cover necessarily marks a border between the inside and the outside, to guarantee a minimum protection to and from the ghost of the house, not a total exposure that is. There are no fences, nor a “private property” sign, so stepping inside is easy as it is running away. There’s nothing to steal there and, except from the corner shop, there are no traces of previous residents, previous layers of paint on the walls, previous electric circuits. Looking down on the ground from the beams that would support the floor one can spot some oyster shells (over here oyster shells are recycled as concrete), beer cans, clothes… one thing is clear: they are not abandoned. In fact homeless people are using them as shelters at night and in the last few months both Michelangelo and I have been going there quite often.
I’ve used the word “ghost” a few times, when in fact I’m quite a skeptic myself. The fact that I’m currently living in what is considered one of the most haunted cities in the US is another interesting note, since a creepy house that looks like the Norman Bates‘ mansion or a ruined building don’t make me think of ghosts, and over here there are a lot those. I don’t believe that whoever has been killed there is still wandering around, rather it is the story being told that appears to me as the ghost itself. It resonates from its walls to the storytellers to the newspapers and books and back again to the overpriced ghost tours leading guillible tourists to the sites. They look around the rooms, staring at those walls, those doors and windows, envisioning the atrocities. I could say the same about the house where that famous painter lived, now turned into a museum.
Everyplace is haunted. Places have histories, not just Stonehenge and the Twin Towers but also the ones where you live. Some of them will survive us and will undergo many other tenants. Others are protected and closed to the public like the Lascaux Caves, others survive through books or just word-of-mouth.
Sometimes I can’t help myself from thinking at how many people climbed those stairs, looked through those windows, stared at those walls. Hair, cracks, a forgotten coin, dust and mould…and some traces remain, like stains on the floor that seem impossible to clean. I would say that this usually happens to me when I enter a new space or when I leave it, but I can’t say exactly why that is. I’m trying right now to trace some of my memories, but I can’t find a starting point. Maybe there isn’t one.
The cottages had a previous life, they did host people and they’ve now been cleaned. We met the owner and he told us his own version. There’s a plan for them, but it has been on hold for a long time. To me and to the people who sleep there, they’ve got a purpose already.
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