Monday, August 02, 2004


Is Jesús lurking behind that brezo-covered fence? You be the judge. Posted by Hello

Jesús is my next door neighbour. No, not THAT Jesús; although I would suspect that many people in Tennessee have made such a claim. The Jesús I’m talking about really does live in the house next to mine, and he doesn’t have a beard.

Jesús is fifty, a mechanic and lives with his wife and two college-age children. He single-handedly built his house, including all of the plumbing and electrical work. He did a good job, too. Jesús hunts, drinks, barbeques, rides motorcycles, watches every Formula 1 race and entertains frequently. He built a special room in his basement for entertaining during the cold-weather months. It has a brick bar, bar stools, fireplace, medieval-style iron light fixtures – all of which he made himself – and a boar skin hanging on one of the walls. It’s a room that makes you want to don a fur cape, gulp down a flagon of ale, and then chop off Anne Boleyn’s head.

Jesús is the type of friendly, mild-tempered neighbour that everyone would have if neighbours were ordered from a catalog, and such catalog did not offer an “Underwear Model on a Trampoline” option. And he is valuable to me in many ways.

For one, he (mercifully) doesn’t speak English. This is important. Part of the reason my Spanish is so bad after living here for five years is that I converse with María and my co-workers purely in English. The last thing I needed, therefore, was a next door neighbour who wants to practice his English. No such problems with Jesús. We chat nearly every day, and he is remarkably patient with my “introverted second grader” level of Spanish. Oddly, however, our conversations rarely take place face-to-face or at eye level. Rather, they typically adhere to one of two formats: the “confession box,” or the “Romeo & Juliet.”

Our “confession box” conversations usually occur during early evenings while we are watering our respective lawns (and believe me, lawns in Castilla-LaMancha require a lot of watering). Our yards are separated by a chain-link fence that we’ve covered with “brezo.” Brezo is an ecologically-friendly curtain made of sticks and brush bound with wire. They are very popular in Spain for covering ugly things (like chain-link fences) or gaining additional privacy from neighbours and nosy pedestrians. Our watering-hour conversations take place through the brezo-covered fence. We can’t actually see other; only our silhouettes. In this regard, it’s a bit like being in a confession box; albeit without the associated guilt or the necessity of divulging my most impure thoughts to a man who pretends to have never had any himself.

Our “Romeo & Juliet” conversations occur during non-watering hours. Jesús’s house has a second floor terrace where he often sits and ponders life’s mysteries over a bottle of beer. My house has a ground floor terrace where I do the same, except with a glass of wine. Given that his terrace overlooks mine, it’s inevitable that we should ponder life’s mysteries together. In retrospect, I suppose this isn’t so unusual. After all, don’t most people look skyward when speaking to Jesús? Sorry…couldn’t resist that one.

In addition to the linguistic advantages of having Jesús as a neighbour, he is also a valuable source of technical advice. For example, I recently asked him for guidance on installing a particularly complex electrical component in my home. Jesús expertly suggested that if I twist the bulb in a clockwise direction until the point of tension, it would not only remain locked in its receptacle but would also emit light. Then he offered to do it for me if I should continue having problems.

In light of the neighbours we’ve had in the past – such as the fat guy in Oak Park who walked his puppy at 4am…or the Czech woman in Barcelona who was shocked that we didn’t hear the burglar robbing a Walkman from her condo TWO floors above us…or the stubborn Catalan who insisted on drying his underwear on the rooftop terrace where the building’s tenants sunbathed – we indeed consider ourselves lucky.

A different, more famous Jesús once said, “Love thy neighbour.” Our Jesús is a neighbour who’s easy to love.


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