The tallest house on the lane—the tallest of the seven structures that are houses, not barns converted into garages or workshops—is three stories. It sits with its back to the lane, a small faded green house huddled against it on one side and on the other side a freestanding old brick garage, a parking spot, and access to the front of the house. The house is painted bright blue, only not altogether bright. Something dark, a sort of warning note, is in the splendid color, as if the house is a peacock, tail spread, a single-color fan of attention-getting feathers held stiff as the bird glares over its shoulder at you, just daring you. The house holds a hint of that dark flashing eye. No need to shake and shimmer—not this dwelling with its back on you, the color unbroken except for two small windows in the rear and two on the side. The front of the house, with its wooden balcony and inviting porch, is not in view from the lane.
Does this color have a name? Electric occurred to me, as did royal. Bright blue, called añil for the plant whose berries provided the color, is the shade of the lower half of the whitewashed houses in traditional villages in La Mancha. The whitewash served to keep the houses cool in summer and to sterilize the homes, and the blue disguised the dirt and dust kicked up by horse or cart. No terracotta tones for those homes as you find across much of Castile. But that blue is not quite so bright and deep, and those blue and white houses, a whole tribe of them, do not individually demand your attention, as this house does in its setting, faded green cottage on one side, dull red brick garage on the other, and mostly cream and yellow buildings, weathered wood, and tan and gray stone along the street.
The color is one you noticed even before the recent paint job after some roof work. Now, freshened up, the house doesn’t so much draw your attention as seize it. I feel a bit wary of it. Imagine a teenager, big for his age, invigorated after a can of coke or a chocolate bar, poised to make a move. That is this house. The color is not a mix of electric and royal but the most of both. It’s an eye opener.
When I took the shortcut and stepped through my window onto the lane the morning after the house was freshly painted—the shortcut to the street, a neighbor had wonderingly informed me, favored by all the previous tenants too—the birds were just starting their chirping. A breeze was rising. I looked down the lane. The house, like a sunrise, was just coming into its own. It seemed to occupy more than its allotted space in the lane, as if it had just inhaled. How firm, how strong it appeared. A big block of blue. Not threatening, exactly, but ready to give orders. How long would it remain the prince of the street? All that day the house held its own and then some. But it couldn’t last. After two months, the other houses on the street and the oddly placed garages that go with them have resumed their regular low-key communion. The peacock house, like a flashy bird, or a brazen youth, or even an aging adult determined to stay in the game, may still think it’s to be reckoned with, and it may still impress a newcomer, but we others on the street know that despite its preening, it’s just a house.
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