My arms were full of purchases from the marché, including a new small radio to replace the large one that was rapidly dying after ten years of sporadic use, a basil plant, a bottle of wine for when Peter and Val come for lunch and a bunch of daffodils.
When I bought the flat 18 years ago, I expected that I would spend most of my time trying to integrate with my Catalan neighbors, but one by one the houses on my street have been sold to Denmark television people, artists, writers and film makers until I think of rue Vermeille as Copenhagen South. As a writer, albeit as an American and wantabe Swiss, we have more in common.
As if to break the trend, a retired Catalan couple bought the house next to mine and renovated it. I own one flat, and a Frenchman named Franck owns two. The first floor flat is tied up with hundred of inheritors as can only happen here and has been vacant for years while they fight about its disposition.
Houses in Argelès fall victim to damp with walls often crumbling from moisture, especially if left empty. My new Catalan neighbors have discussed with Franck the moisture on our shared wall. Last summer Franck replastered much of our hallway and painted all of it. At the moment it is dry.
My neighbor showed me how they’ve renovated the house. Once dark and depressing, it is now bright with a modern kitchen, new stairs that are not a risk to walk up and down, and plenty of cubby holes that my neighbor explains that he designed for maximum storage. One he opens to reveal home canned tomatoes and sausiscon in abundance. There are plaster shelves that hold family photos. He says he hopes now that his place will be heated in winter that the moisture will no longer be a problem. He has had someone look at where our two walls join.
“It is so small,” they say of their place.
“Not as small as mine,” I say.
In turn I invite him to show him our side of the wall as well as my studio, which they agree is small but charming.
Our words have to be repeated many times. His Catalan accent is as thick as my American, but we keep at it. Rather than frustration we laugh at our misunderstandings. We shake hands and wish each other a nice Easter.