Sunday, October 17, 2021

Real Estate Is Not Proust's Madeleine


 In Hilma Wolitzer's witty short story, "Sundays," the narrator has to coax her depressed husband Howard out of bed every Sunday morning.  To cheer him up, they drive from Queens to the suburbs to tour model homes. 

Wolitzer writes,

Not that we want to live in the suburbs. How we laugh and poke one another at the roped-off bedrooms hung in velvet drapery, the rubber chickens roosting in warm refrigerators. The thing is, places like that confirm our belief in our own choices. We’re safe here in the city, in our tower among towers. Flyspecks, so to speak, in the population.
I love the Paulie and Howard stories, and I know the feeling of looking down on the suburbs.  It is unlikely that I will ever live in a development.  Nonetheless, I am enthralled by real estate. "I would love to live there," I exclaim as I pass a Victorian house with a wraparound porch, or a Mid-Century Modern Home from the '60s.  Even if the house is for sale, it is just a fantasy, though.


I see myself living here in an alternate life.

Every Sunday the newspaper publishes a pictorial feature on a glamorous house for sale.  By glamorous, I mean shockingly expensive.  One week they highlighted a suburban house that appeared to be a group of angular out-buildings stuck together with rocks. It reminded me of a Middle Eastern compound on the TV show Homeland.  (The price: $1,000,000.)  

Looking at real estate online is more entertaining than the newspaper. You can find the perfect
pied a terre in San Francisco or a cottage near Niagara Falls. You can even take a virtual tour of your grandparents' house, though it is not for sale at the moment.  "What have the new people done to the sunroom?" you lament.  "Why did they paint Mom's room black?  Who would rip out built-in bookcases?"   

A virtual tour of your childhood home is even less satisfying.  The style has changed from maximalist '70s kitsch to play-it-safe minimalist: wooden floors as slick as a roller rink, wooden kitchen cabinets inexplicably replaced by white particle board,  a futon in every bedroom - and no trace of the nuclear family.

You can disapprove of change, but you cannot recapture the past by real estate. 

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