A ROOF OVER YOUR HEAD OR GROUND UNDER YOUR FEET
The Adventures of Maggie Mee
The higher your structure is to be, the deeper must be its foundation.
To me hair dressing means shape. It’s very important that the foundations should be right.
Something is dripping over Maggie Mee. One, two, three drops. Maggie Mee counts them, half asleep. She hopes they are some of the 4D effects of the dream in which she is venturing. The drops become four, then five and then they are so many that it is impossible to keep counting. With extreme difficulty, Maggie Mee opens her eyes and in the pitch black room she notices two gaps shining in the ceiling, from which she can clearly see the rainy sky.
– Oh, man! – she mumbles, waking up with a furred tongue – Can’t believe it’s raining on my head! – For laziness, she moves to the other side of the bed, as far as she can from the gaps in the ceiling, hoping the rain will stop and that she won’t be forced to spend the rest of night looking for buckets and mopping the floor. She goes back to sleep, trusting that Saint Squat will protect her once again.
When she wakes up, now rested, the sun is shining and rain leaking from the roof is nothing but some confused memory. She happily goes outside, excited to enjoy the morning sun for a walk. She decides to indulge in one of her favourite pastimes : house-spotting or, as they say in French : “lèche-maison”. – Yes, in fact, – she says to herself – one must never forget to make daily offerings to the Holy Patron of shelters and makeshift beds!
One tends to think that the worshipping of Saint Squat is inversely proportional to the human primitive and instinctive need for a roof over the head. In other words, generally we imagine that one is more tempted to cover with donations and invoke the blessing of deity when one lacks a shelter and is forced to live in the streets. It is very diffused the preconception that the need to worship this specific Saint is due to the wish to jump from shelter to shelter, enjoying the homelessness and the parasitism from those who have a house. Maggie Mee does not believe in hearsay and she ventures off to unveil the legendary “secret of the house”. It is intriguing that a human need such as housing is part of a context that is continuously manipulated and used against you.
– Do you want a house, darling? Follow me, I’ll give you the perfect house. How many shaky ratholes do you want? You’ll see that the more squeezed you’ll be, the more you’ll like it and, if you can hear the neighbours farting, you’ll have better human relations. It will do you good, you will improve your tolerance level. Are you one of those who like to have some green around? Then perfect! Just go and get some tropical green paint or a couple of plants for the flat. Get some plastic ones, will you? They last longer and no need of much maintenance. Or else – You don’t have a house, honey? Are you one of those 1st category losers who wear a long beard and always carry trash stench wherever they go? Or, are you the umpteenth victim of one of those strong winds known as typhoons? Ok then, I’ll send you a dollar to buy the reconstruction kit, but please don’t come to my place.
Maggie Mee goes around the corner and there she sees an old lady sitting on a bench, woebegone behind her thousand wrinkles and her hunched back. Behind her there is a building site in full action: saws cutting and hammers hammering; walls come up and the cement is poured over the house path. In front of her there is the skeleton of an old wooden house, the one that was moved to make room for the new one. The old lady looks at her. “There is no more wood like this one, you know?” Maggie Mee looks at her silently, she observes her while the old lady sighs and looks at the hut where she probably spent most of her life fixing the roof and releasing babies. The old lady emits a sigh of nostalgia, probably forgetting that she had always wanted to live in a terraced house with integrated parking lot, smooth concrete walls, shiny slippery tiles on the floor and, mostly, dreamt of not having to make shift for the only bed.
Maggie Mee resumes her stroll and decides to follow a young girl who, walking unstably on high heels, invites her to the showroom displaying the latest news of the neighbourhood: two-room flats in a residential condominium under construction.
“You see,” the saleswoman says spreading a corny smile under litres of face foundation and thick layers of lipstick “we almost sold out everything already. It is a great success: the most prestigious condo of the city.”
She adds, cracking a laugh that reveals yellow and neglected teeth. Astounded and intrigued by this figure, Maggie Mee follows her without uttering a word and she leaves her talk freely about investments and property, market shares and real estate market. At first, Maggie Mee listens to her, but soon she gets lost in the triple digits and she prefers to remain silent while they visit the now mythic showroom. When Maggie Mee enters in the small box, it takes her a nanosecond to have a look around. Probably using the same logic as a shape sorter, this tiny room manages to fit a bed, a drawing room and a living room in the few square metres that they share with the kitchen. “Excuse-me, wasn’t this a two-room flat?” She asks shyly. “In fact, so you see the point! I noticed immediately that you were a smart girl! This is exactly the concept: enjoying the comfort of a two-room flat without the price of the additional square metres which, as this showroom shows very well, are actually useless. Everything can be enjoyed occupying less room! Isn’t this a stroke of genius? Oh! You have to meet the interior designer, unfortunately at the moment he is touring the world giving conferences…you know, considering all the small and crowded places that there are in the world, this project is going to hit the big time! I told you, it is a great investment!” Maggie Mee smiles, but she does not say a word. The girl looks at her with attention and changes strategy. “If you are interested, you can pay by installments; you can take out a mortgage, maybe with your fiancé.” She adds and winks at her. “A love nest just for the two of you. Thirty years of mortgage and it’s paid. Not bad, isn’t it?”
Maggie Mee thanks her politely and smoothly slips out of the steel and glass monster to enjoy the rest of her day of exploration. She feels lucky, two remarkable catches and she has not even left the neighbourhood.
What is a house? Or, better, what is your house? When you pay taxes? When you are the one who chose furniture and curtains? Where you put down your luggage between one trip and the next one or when you cook in your special mess and sleep in your clean sheets?
Maggie Mee is not sure this is the point. She is not even convinced of the fact that if you crave for a house you are automatically “a residence addict” and that you will end up by being a victim of the first real estate agent that offers you a hole to live in. I mean, maybe a house is not just a box and consumer’s good. Or maybe it is? Maggie Mee is restless, she cannot answer to any of these questions. Therefore, she continues her scouting, hoping to find cues that will approach her to the meaning of the word “house”: four letters only, but dense of practical and symbolic facets.
This is not about shapes, let’s make it clear. This is not a tourist tour aimed at highlighting architectural peculiarities or indicating social trends with a pinch of an amateur’s anthropological conclusions. Maggie Mee is looking for something deeper, she is trying to explain that sense of relief that gives her gut peace and that she feels in some of the many places that welcome her rags and toothbrush. She aspires at revealing the reason behind the worry of ending up in the streets and the anxiety of nomadism. This is not about shapes; but, Maggie Mee remarks thinking about the previous night, since the beginning of time houses have always had a base and a roof.
Flats, villas and caves; tree or boathouses; tents, circus big tops, tented camps. Human settlements made of cities, towns or two houses only. Some have a sloping roof, some have it flat; some have it covered by tiles, some by tin or asbestos to make it fast and spend little money. You can put up two walls, but without a roof you do not achieve much. A roof is what you need to rest and think, two of the essential conditions for life. But that’s not all.
In the meantime, banalities read in mainstream glossy magazines come to her mind, those cliches that fill the pages of magazines about how other people live and how you should live, if you get what I mean.
Those who think they know it all say that once you have left home, it is difficult to go back.
“However”, Maggie Mee thinks, “these are the same guys who say it is more dangerous to go out than to chain yourself inside.”
They say that if you go back home, it is always because something has gone wrong. Children drop in between jobs or between marriages – humiliated but still arrogant – or else they never leave, preferring mum’s slavery to the slavery to the system.
Those who know a lot but don’t say much say that once you have got used to being without a house, you stop looking for it.
They say that if you exit the hellish path of the need that becomes a desire and then turns into an obsession, you attain freedom and the attachment to a house seems ridiculous.
Maggie Mee sits on a bench to think it over and, at the corner of the block, there is a carton box and some blankets. A toothless smile shines in the shade between two buildings. Her attention is drawn to the carton box placed on the ground. She reads “When times are tough, slithery grounds collapse.” Only then she notices the author of this sentence, sitting on the pavement. Conversely, he has been observing her for a while, while she nervously looks around her, immersed in her thoughts. Suddenly, he bursts out laughing, as if the two of them had been talking for hours, as if any conversation had already been made and everything could be taken for granted.
“You are looking for the foundations, for the pillars, the base of it all.” He says. “You can always find a roof over your head on the way; in fact, sometimes you do not need more than an umbrella.” Maggie Mee flinches and looks at the homeless man with astonishment, suddenly realising it is raining. “Oh no! Here we go again! I have to go back home to stop up the leak.”
Maggie Mee is drenched as miraculously she finds her way home in the storm.
She enters quickly and, while she dries off, she gives an annoyed look at the bed, wet of the rain leaking from the roof. She is disappointed by her day. She has the impression she has searched in vain and not understood a thing. She should have stayed home and think and not jump around the city looking for who knows what. “In fact,” she says sitting on the wet bedsheets, “probably the secret of the house is not in a house but below, in its foundations. It lies in what cannot be seen of a house, but that supports it. This is what Saint Squats protects!” Maggie Mee smiles, she is finally satisfied. “Though at times a trap, at times a shell, sometimes the hell of house-sharing dynamics and sometimes a quiet shelter, as roots, these foundations silently connect the world that sustains you.” Said so, Maggie Mee moves the bed, places a bucket to collect the leaking water, changes the bedsheets and goes to bed, without forgetting to thank the already over quoted Saint Squat.