Friday, June 22, 2007

Welcoming Homes in Chacala

I walked around Chacala early this morning. The sun comes up at my place at 7am right now. What time the sun comes up in Chacala depends mostly on what your house is, in relation to the small hills to the east of town.

Anyway. It's light around 6:30am, and that’s a nice time to walk. Much later and it’s too hot and humid to do much walking. About 5:30pm is starts to be walking weather again. And time to swim too.There’s a remodeling job going at what used to be the orange house where Pati and her kids lived. On the road between the paved road and the beach road, and between Socorro’s and Avalos Realty closed office. And across from Concha’s.A few days ago some big changes started at that house. I spoke with the man in charge, who told me he is from Guadalajara and is leasing the place. He said he was planning to plant a “natural” Mexican garden in the big front yard. He mentioned Hibiscus, Bougainvillea, etc. He didn’t seem to know about the eradication project for the disease that’s infesting the Hibiscus plants around here.But the house looks cool. What used to be an open covered area is now screened in, there is a patio with planters on what seems to be a new wooden roof deck. With an ocean view. And the large front area is now enclosed by a wall of boulders, and a high wood-framed reed fence. I don’t know how tall the stone wall will be, but it looks like it will be tall.I like how the remodel looks so far, but something about it bothers me. And I think it's that the house is now closed off from the neighborhood. That house used to be very open to the road. You could talk between the houses above, behind, and across the street. Kids ran around, in and out. There was a strong neighborhood feeling to that little section of the road.I think that will be gone now. My guess the remodel is based on values about personal privacy and protecting your possessions. And I think that unfortunately sometimes it’s those values that helps to destroy the neighborliness that many poorer neighborhoods seem to have here.

Now that I am thinking about it, there are a number of houses around Chacala that seem to have no social presence toward the street. People who live in house that aren't open toward the street probably won’t be sitting out near the road, talking to the neighbors as they walk by. Most of the houses built in this style are vacation homes built by people from Guadalajara, and gringos. At least that's my impression at the moment. No easy interaction with the neighbors and the passer-byes certainly changes the quality of interactions among neighbors.

I don’t think the intent of any of these places is to be separate and private. It’s just the style middle class people are used to. In Mexico, the houses of people who can afford it show almost nothing to the street. The patio is private and in the middle of the house. In U.S. suburbs people can drive into their garages and walk into their houses without ever seeing a neighbor. And there are no sidewalks for the kids to play together on. Each house is a island, alone.I like poorer neighbors, where the kids can play in the street, between the houses, and everyone can see what’s going on. There’s much more social interaction. People talk to each other, and have to work out their differences.

In Las Varas most of the houses in the middle of town present a blank wall to the street. Maybe a window, and a gated parking space. And the door. But I have noticed the older folks who live in some of those houses get around limitations of their homes by moving chairs and benches outside onto the sidewalk, and visiting, and even cooking there. Or hanging out in the parking area, which usually has a big grilled gate to protect it from the street.

A friend of mine told me about meeint some folks who have a home in the “development” north of Chacalae. I guess they are some of the few gringos who have bought vacations homes there. Anyway, the people explained their home was in a gated development (a small complex of homes) within the larger gated development.It sounded so sad to me. To build a home behind two sets of walls and gates seems pathetic. It seems as though there is not much chance of meeting your neighbors or making friends in that kind of setting. Of course, your stuff is safe, maybe, and you won’t have to spend anytime getting to know people in the area. I guess that’s nice for some people. It doesn’t appeal very much to me.

I live upstairs, on the paved road in Chacala. My kitchen and eating and hanging out space is on the covered patio and I spend most of my time out there. I can look over the edge and see everything that’s going on. Even down on the beach road, and the beach. People can call up to me, or me down to them. We all watch out for each other and help each other out and borrow things and share things.Obviously, how open your house is to the neighborhood and your neighbors is a personal choice. But so far I like being where I can hear and see what’ s going on around me. I'm kind of noisy, obviously.

Even at Gordon’s house, where I lived for three 6-months summers, there was a lot of interaction with neighbors. The house was kind of isolated, but it was built to be very open to visitors. The front patio was very welcoming, with furniture and plants. And the big shady terrace was open to the neighborhood. It’s was easy to see what was happening and to talk to people going to and fro.

It’s interesting to see how choices about door placement, patios, walkways and landscaping can turn people away or invite them in. And how having outdoor living space that opens to the street can impact neighborhood interactions. It’s not something I consciously thought about before, but I am starting to pay attention.

For example, the beach entrance to one of the mini-resorts at the south end of the beach has a “Keep Out, Guests Only” sign at it’s beach entrance. And the other resort welcomes people with flowers in a vase and a shady place to sit. Pretty big difference.

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