Saturday, January 08, 2005

The Neighborhood

I have never really explored our new neighborhood before. I know it sounds weird, since our new neighborhood is barely even new anymore--we've lived here a good four months--but for some reason I'd never really thought much about exploring it. Not that I hadn't already found some things: the big grocery store down the hill, the church on the main street, the art supply store whose signs are up all over the city. But going through the neighborhood of mostly houses and just wandering didn't ever really cross my mind.

Until a couple of days ago, when I took my first real walk around the neighborhood. Just a short walk really--I was back home in 15 minutes--but it was a chance to sort of see what the other houses nearby looked like and take advantage of a sunny day without having to brave the hill up to the city center. It's a decent neighborhood--modern but nice--and there were views out into the countryside that made walking around a bit pleasant.

Today I went walking again--same place, but a little bit of a different route. I walked down a hill past modern apartments, the sun setting behind them, and I thought about how it seemed almost American. There were homes that had yards and little gardens, and the apartments seemed like those you might find in cheerful California neighborhoods. In the distance, though, you could see cyprus trees and umbrella pines lined up on a hilltop with the sky turning orange behind them--Italy again.

Walking back home, there was a field with people gathered playing some sport. Just hearing the mess of loud voices, I assumed they were school kids playing makeshift soccer or something, but as I got closer I noticed it was one of those famously familiar bocce ball fields, organized into three sand-rectangles that made up the playing court. I smiled immediately at the sight of the players--groups of old men gathered into clusters, all wearing the same kind of flat wool hat, their hands stuffed into their pants' pockets. I could tell that these were serious games, and every once in a while the sound of a ball being swung across the sand field filled the air with a pop, pausing the conversation for just a moment. The sun had almost completely disappeared now, but the men went on playing under the light of nearby buildings.

I walked home in the darkness, past the post office and up the hill, past an old man in a wool hat who said "Buona sera" with a nod. I looked back as he walked by me, his slow steps headed somewhere certain, turning down the hill that I had just come up. In the background, the bocce ball games were still going. I smiled. I had a feeling they weren't about to end any time soon.



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