By Jane Bauer
“House-watching is an art. You have to develop a way of seeing how a building sits in its landscape or streetscape. You have to discover how much room it takes up in the world, how much of the world it displaces.” ― Edmund de Waal
Happy New Year and welcome to our first issue of 2016! This month our writers explored building; from sustainable materials and methods, to how to decorate your home once you’re done.
I am in the midst of my fourth building project since living in this country. I didn’t know when I moved here that learning a new language would teach me a new way of seeing things. When you start to design a space it is much different from just walking into a space and thinking ‘Yes, I like this’. When you are building your own, you have to ask why. What do I like? I have learned that I like lots of walls over windows. I have learned I prefer mountain view to ocean view. I have learned that I like the sound of rain on a cheap tin roof and the feel of concrete floors under my feet.
There is also an entire vocabulary of building terms that I know in Spanish, but I do not have the faintest idea what they are called in English. I have found poetry in the sound of cement being mixed with a shovel… trust me, it is glorious. There is so much elbow grease that goes into building here. A few guys can build an entire house without a cement mixer or power tools. It is this tradition of self-sufficiency that has always impressed me so much about the people of Oaxaca.
For my latest project, I opted to have tabicon (cinder block) made on-site rather than buy it already made. This involved lots of sand, cement, shovels, water and a simple mold to shape the tabicon. Two men from the village where I am building mixed, filled and laid it out. This is tough back-breaking work in the heat of the day! I am so grateful! When I saw the blocks all lined up, I got tears in my eyes. They represented not only the hard work of the men who made them, but my own self-sufficiency.
My ability to connect and communicate with people and follow this project through. A lot had to occur for me to arrive at the place where I was standing around with my mason, talking about sand quality and the amount of rebar we would need.
It is that journey that makes a house a home.