Looking at the neighbors

Picturesque but non-sticking snow floated in the air this morning. From the sidewalk, I could see that whoever lives directly below me has decorated their picture window with cut paper snowflakes. It’s a fitting bit of winter for a day on which I’ve agreed to go along with some of my new coworkers to see the “Holiday Open Houses” sponsored by the Junior League, an outing they apparently take each year, more for the opportunity it affords to see how people are decorating more generally than the specifically Christmas gegaws.

The first house is in a neighborhood that Bob first pinpointed as one of interest for our move. From the street and living room, it appears to be a traditional bowfronted place, probably about 100 years old. But then the dining room and kitchen and a back parlor addition all share a great space with minimal walling. The bookcases in the back parlor have nothing on them but Christmas stuff and I find it depressing.

The second place, near Point Pleasant Park, isn’t memorable (for me; there are dozens of women trooping through and I am sure it struck some pleasure centers). The third, however, is breath-taking:

Situated on the Northwest Arm, right up on the water and with its own little dock and boathouse, it has great Georgian rooms and lots and lots of stuffed bookcases. Yes, I know this is supposed to be a holiday decoration tour, but that’s always been a hard sell for me. There are books lining walls of the entry and across the lintel leading to the living room, where there is another wall of books—and a window looking out onto the water. There’s a robin’s egg blue sitting room just off that and the dining room beyond that is a true room, not a once-this-was-a-room-but-now-the-walls-are-gone. The fact that the Christmas stuff here seems to have been designed for those not in the spirit delights me: it runs to black feathers and some black and blue sequins. Outside, there’s a gazebo, a small pond, decks at various levels. My companions remark that it has all the comfiness of a waterfront cottage, expanded several-fold and with track lighting.

The immediate neighborhood reminds me a bit of Pacific Grove, along Lighthouse, as one heads into Monterey. There’s the juxtaposition of solid old houses and 1960’s daring. Both the scale—no large lots here on the street side—and the proximity of the water add to the dejá vu.

I’m relieved to get back to the South End, which is only a five-minute drive away. Here the houses are crowded up to the sidewalk and rise in the air like well-leavened loaves baked in deep, narrow pans. To step out the front door here is to be in public immediately. There is a generous sprinkling throughout of true high-rises, as well as a couple of fine but funky apartment hotels built just after balloon architecture was invented in the 19th century. A few triple deckers, and businesses that harken back many decades keep the timeline variegated. The South End Diner and the Olympic Confectionary are straight out of the Twenties or Thirties, ground floor tenants in big multifamily houses. Each one sports a hand-lettered menu in the window and through the doors of each I can see stools on which customers sit to eat their fish cakes and beans, bologna, or scrambled eggs and ham. I’m guessing holiday decorations may appear in these places, too, but that will be next month and they will never make the Junior League’s hit list.

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One Response to “Looking at the neighbors”

  1. carole Says:

    “Here the houses are crowded up to the sidewalk and rise in the air like well-leavened loaves baked in deep, narrow pans.”

    Such a good sentence. We spent Thanksgiving in Sacramento with the McCuloughs, made and ate dinner, watched Abbie (oldest girl) ride a horse 30 or so miles south of Sacramento on Friday, watched sand hill cranes and other birds on the way back, and finished off the evening at a little tea at joan’s. Got to see susan in jeans and sneakers.

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