Monday, June 15, 2015

French Architecture Edition: Tomato

Spending the summer in France, where I'm pretending to know buildings. Seen in Toulouse, June 11th, 2015

If the city were a tomato, Véra's apartment would be the ugly green nub at the top that everyone is quick to discard. Next to all the stately red brick architecture, her building appeared sickly. She hated living there, but it was the cheapest place she could find in the center of town--and she would accept nothing less than the center of town. Véra didn't get an engineering degree only to live in some 1970's, concrete, metal-shutters monstrosity across the river. She didn't get a job at CNES to have to take the bus.

That's why, the morning that her boss let her go--false words of sympathy dripping from below his mustache and pooling on his fat stomach along with a few mustard stains--she didn't blame her performance, or sexism, or her education, or her upbringing. She blamed her building. She should have tried harder, looked online for more listings, borrowed money to afford rustic rooms in a medieval house with flowers in the window boxes.

When she got home, she bought tomatoes from a nearby produce stand and pelted the walls. The juice and seeds were paler than she'd hoped, but beneath the light of the setting sun, the wet plaster was almost the right color.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

French Architecture Edition: A Request Fulfilled

Spending the summer in France, where I'm pretending to know buildings. Seen in Toulouse, June 10th, 2015

When she said, "I don't want to see you anymore," he immediately set about fulfilling her request, as he had always fulfilled her requests, regardless of their prudence, impetuousness, or frivolity. He had no experience in construction, so he did what he could: dredging up stones from the shallows of the river, scooping up gravel from the paths of public gardens. He turned the stones this way and that, searching for angles that nearly matched. For adhesive, he used up what little was left in his kitchen; he concocted a simple dough of flour and water, and he added honey and sugar for good measure. The mixture was surprisingly strong. His wall grew in jagged rows, eventually rising to the top of the rosy brick arch.

When the wall was halfway built, she began pleading for him to stop, recanting her previous request. But he could not bear to leave this monument to his devotion incomplete. Whenever she came by, he hid behind the unfinished barrier, pressing himself flat against the wall. By the time she left, his face was marked with an irregular red geometry. He continued construction at night, cheered on by the drunkards wobbling home.

As he stuck the final row together, fingers white with his impromptu paste, he regretted the lack of ceremony--but only for a moment. Only she needed to know that this was a testament to his loyalty--no one else. Through the cracks, he could hear her weeping. That was enough.

She returned for three, maybe four evenings, to beg at the wall--no one can remember for sure. After not having received a payment for many months, the landlord wanted to lease the rooms to another tenant. He hired a crew of men. They came with saws and power tools. They sliced a thin, rectangular doorway into the wall with sharp, straight lines. They knocked over the slab they had removed, and it shattered on the street, clumps of its stones kicked away by children.