Undressing Mannequins, Dead Towns and Piggy-back Rides for Sleepy Warriors

By | August 16, 2011

I am walking down a dusty road with Laura, my niece. It’s only 9am but the sun heat stings like crazy. A black T-shirt is a questionable choice but laundry day is a merciless one. We walk and chat. The road puffs dust at us as we make our way downtown. We talk about school, about people we both know and her plans for the future. We walk by beer gardens that buzz with voices. Whiffs of yeast are bumping into our nostrils like tiny flies. It’s a beer garden alright.

There’s a thrift store with a ruffled wedding gown in the window. It looks sad-glamorous in a way that makes me think of a bride taking off before the actual wedding and holding that ruffled dress up high so she can fly over fields of daisies and purple thistle. We walk in and the lady says “Please look around, everything is half price.” So we look and laugh at strange looking outfits, some tired looking, some so pompous you’d think one must be of royal blood to wear them. We find some nice looking stuff, one of them still on a window mannequin bust. Laura takes the whole thing to the counter like that, not knowing if she’s supposed to take it off the plastic half-lady or not. The clerk invites her with a smile to do just that. Next we spot a nice looking shirt on a guy mannequin. Let’s get that too, it might fit Laura’s dad. Knowing that the store has a liberal mannequin undressing policy we take the shirt off careful enough not to dismantle the plastic fellow. Neither of us keeps a straight face. Perfect.
We stop to buy fruit and some more groceries and then walk home. My arms are draped in liquid heat. We talk about the simplicity of living in the moment, the richness of being present in your own life every step of the way. I can almost hear the tall grass on the side of the road sizzling. This is what they call blazing heat. It tingles.

Later on, Laura and I take the boys out for a walk. It’s 7pm but the sun is still stomping its hot heels all over the fields around. The boys hold long spears made of green twigs. They pretend to be training like ninjas. They run ahead and jump and laugh, challenging the dogs that bark like mad behind fences and locked gates. Oh well, I’m sure our evening walk is an exciting event when you’re a dog with no real occupation other than hiding from the heat.
We get to a neighborhood that is so far the strangest I’ve ever seen. It’s bothering me in a way I can’t really explain. It’s perfect, you see. All houses are brand new, they are either orange or yellow, seriously, just two colours, an uniformity that is hurting the eye. There are perfect white awnings, straight angled and intimidating. Houses and all the infrastructure were build just a couple of years ago for a reason that I’ll explain in a bit. The roads are perfect, so are the crossings and the cobblestone sidewalks. It makes me think of that perfect fake world in the movie “The Truman Show” except that the sidewalks have weeds growing in between the stones, a sure sign that very few people walking there and very rarely. The place looks deserted. Kind of dead, even though I know it’s not. It’s like when you walk around with shoes put on the wrong way. The boys laugh and scream while running downhill. Their loudness pierces the soft limp air that is still, just like the whole place. Most of the people living here if not all of them used to live in a mountain town that sits on gold deposits. Yes, lots of gold. And that hidden glitter caught this rich guy’s attention. The now half-deserted mountain town is called Rosia Montana. Gold can make people very ambitious and greedy, it’s history repeating itself in all corners of the world. Some get rich and some suffer. And the mountain that holds the gold dies an ugly and untimely death, in this case cyanide poisoning seems to be l’objet du crime. Gold rush is a ruthless insatiable worm that gnaws at people’s brains making them blind to all that’s good and decent.
The guy who’s drooling over that hidden gold pot is no exception. He has a lot of money and a lot of relations and a business background that can help him make more money and with that buy even more relations. Corruption is a tough reality, isn’t it? A reality nonetheless. A few years ago the gold-loving fellow bought a lot of the properties up in Rosia Montana so that he’ll clear it of people and start mining for gold. An environmental disaster waiting to happen, opponents say. The social disaster is already happening and that’s sad. Some people were allured by the money offered and the promise of a decent lifestyle in a brand new neighborhood. They left their roots and now live here. Settling is not the word to describe their relocation policy. Exile seems more appropriate. They have swings made of fake branches in their yards and brand new cars in the driveway. They are the ones I can’t see behind those perfect orange and yellow walls.

There’s still people up in Rosia Montana that refuse to be uprooted. The incredulous say everyone has their price, it’s just a matter of time. For now they’ve put up signs that say “This property is not for sale!” and with that they had the last word. For now.

We walk down a street and there’s soft wailing music fluttering its sad wings at us from a yard half a block away. This house on the corner – an orange one – has a glass-covered porch and there is an old record player right there that no one is attending to. There’s old photographs on the walls, mostly of mountain dwellings. Most are old black and white photos with weather-yellowed edges. Some postcards too, in colours already faded by the elements and time. We stop for a bit and the music, old folk music, sticks to my thoughts like wet leaves stick to the pavement. I could sit down right there and listen for a while but I feel so intrusive. Someone’s life and sorrow are all exposed, listening any longer would be the equivalent of staring. I keep walking and the music trails behind like a stray dog. If I don’t turn back to look it’ll stop following me. The boys run and jump and every now and then Sasha reminds me that his legs are tired and would like a piggy back ride. Soon, I tell him, when we hit the uphill.
The air is heavy with warmness and I’m grateful there’s cobblestone sidewalks and not asphalt otherwise we’d walk on black goo that behaves like quick sand. Not entirely unpleasant, as I remember from my childhood, but scary at times when the feet were sinking a bit too deep in the hot blackness.

As we walk towards home the three ninja warriors are getting tired. They are thirsty and I forgot to bring water. I tell them this is going to make them stronger, thirst that we can’t pacify right away. Soon though. With some leftover energy Tony and his cousin take off running. The steep uphill makes a tired 3 feet tall warrior wrap around my leg like ivy. The promised piggy back ride. He holds onto my neck with both arms and his body is getting limp and sleepy with each step. I feel him sliding down a bit and his head is now resting on my back, ninja twig hanging down already dozing off.

Home. Suddenly refreshed voices clamber on top of each other after the kids had quenched their thirst. Bedtime is soon and that is good. The crickets’ chirps are already rolling through the warm night air and I crave a bit of writing time at my desk with the window open like an eye staring at the dark hills. Later, as I sit down to write I realized that the soft wailing music that I heard today is still with me. And that’s OK, I always had a soft spot for stray dogs that look like they’ve given up but not quite…This one has followed me home. I wonder if the record player is still flavoring the night air with its sad music. I’ll find out tomorrow on another evening walk…

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