Saturday, 7 September 2013

Not My Beeswax

Paddy & Dogs in front of the Beehive House: 2011

The Beehive house stood facing onto Calle Ontanon. It wasn´t much to look at, but it was the last of its kind, old-fashioned adobe, its front door opened right onto the street. It had no foundation or electricity or plumbing. It was not built to house people, so no one bothered with extras -- it was a dry barn, meant for storing seed corn and animal feed. Pilar´s old aunt managed to live in it anyway, right up til she died. It´s stood empty for the last 25 years or so, collecting junk inside and slowly melting back to earth outside. Two sets of "for sale" signs went up and faded away in the last five years. Nobody was interested.

Nobody but me. In the spring of 2011 I had a bit of extra money, so I got a bee in my bonnet. I started looking around at empty places in the neighborhood.
I looked at the Beehive House. I walked around it, I peered in the keyholes. Pilar finally showed it to me. There were almost no windows, so it was always dark inside. The ceilings were low, the rooms long and cool, the stairs narrow and steep. The little pocket-patio out back had a well. And set into the wall of the tractor-barn, up high, was a wicker basket that hummed and dripped with a hive of honey bees. The wall beneath it was streaked dark with generations of pollen and honey and bee poo.

I love bees. I loved that little house. It spoke to me. I dreamed of what it could become, given a great dose of design and respect and labor. A little apartment, a studio, a place where friends could stay, a rental house, a long-term experiment in organic building materials. I imagined an expanse of glass out back, the great cottonwood trees roaring overhead. Skylights to bring the sun inside, pavement on the patio, the existing stone floors indoors cleaned and preserved.  Keep the timbers holding up the second floor, raise the roof a few feet, electrify, but keep it very simple, keep it consistent with what´s always faced the street, make it modern inside, but keep the rough simplicity and charm. 

A shower-stall, a woodstove for heating, a galley kitchen, tiny and efficient, with a window out over the patio. A patio with lots of flowers, maybe a greenhouse, comfy chairs, an awning in the summer, a view out over the fields to the west. Keep the naíf painting of the sun and stars on the ceiling of the main room, keep the hooks in the timbers where years ago flowers and herbs and hams were hung to dry. Keep the bees, somehow. Ask them, please, to stay. 

But then and there it was a derelict mess. A money pit.

The house I have now is too big for just two people, what would I do with two houses? I already rebuilt one semi-abandoned house in Moratinos, and know well the horrors of rehabbing an agricutural structure made of mud and straw into a functional dwelling for humans. I do not have the skills or energy to do the work myself.

New plumbing and wiring, sewer lines and roofing, windows, paving, carpentry... all the digging and shoring-up required would drive the price through the ceiling and out the roof. And the months of wrangling and waiting and running to the builders´ merchant, I have not forgotten that awfulness. I promised myself to never do that again!  

I had enough money to buy it the place, and probably enough to do a basic rehab. I could get it enclosed and "onto the grid," but I´d have to do the finishing work myself, I would have to furnish it over time. It would empty out my savings.

I do not have earned income any more. It would be foolish to use my "nest egg," my "rainy day" money, on something I don´t need.

I could have a Beehive House, or I could have Security. I chose.

Moratinos is enjoying a building boom, at least among a couple of the resident extended families. Grandchildren are now putting up holiday dwellings on the little slices of land left to them. They don´t want to live here year-round, but they want a stake in the future of their pueblo. Three new little flats went up last winter alongside the plaza mayor, hidden from view inside a former barnyard. This summer their cousins from the Canary Islands spent July erecting a prefab wooden "chalet" on the empty lot next to the albergue.

And somebody, another faraway cousin, bought the Beehive House.

Someone said the cousin planned to restore the place. But when the heavy machines arrived and the adjacent barn was pulled down, I started to wonder. It was too easy.
A day later the space where the Beehive House stood is flat and empty, pristine.

It is cheaper this way. Sensible, really. No hassle with lintels and un-plumb floors, no wires or pipes to run through crumbling adobe. No bees, no pigeons, no woodworm-raddled beams. Smash it down and start from scratch, with everything new and shiny and modern.

It was not my house, not my decision. It´s none of my business. (Or none of my bees-wax?) 

Calle Ontanon´s raggedy jaw just lost another tooth.

If I´d had the courage and the cash, I could have made it smile.  


Sylvie said...

I always enjoyed looking into that building and wondering who lived there, what type of lives they had, what went on behind those walls...

I understand the reasoning, but I too thought about the possibilities albeit not as elaborated as you did. Given I often sat in the albergue garden and made up my "fictitious scenarios" of the past, I lost myself in that little abode... Thanks for sharing your dreams for it, and I agree - had you taken it for yours, it would have made Ontanon smile.

Jim King said...

Anyone living in an older community has a story like this.

One hopes that the building replacing this house is still there three or four hundred years from now.

EileenHamer said...

Having fallen into that kind of trap no less than five times I sympathize. And congratulate you on your escape. OOps, just remembered. Make that six times. The rehab gene can be treacherous. Careful there . . .

Perry said...

Gazing at the building in the 2009 Street View, I can see why you were tempted, but it was not a small property & the gaping hole to the rear of the side wall looked horrendous.

I note with interest, the overgrown bed of the "winterbourne" in front of the building with a bridge to the front door. Was the single storey building with shrubs growing
through the missing roof, also part of the property? With the building demolished, it would seem there is one fewer street light in Calle Ontanon, Moratinos.

Sad to see it go though.



Anonymous said...

Your words have strong magic. Everytime someone reads the story of the Beehive House, it will be conjured from the ether and live again.

Thank you for your thoughtful glimpses into the lives of one tiny pueblo. I look forward to hearing more.

Sheri G. from Minnesota