For fifteen years I lived in paradise. When I left, the place existed, frozen in time. Sometimes I’d think – I’ll move back to my paradise, if I ever move back to California.
It’s not to be. The owner’s children sold the building and the building is getting all fixed up. It’s not the same.
I lived in a neighborhood called midtown, in Palo Alto, California, a smallish city on the peninsula south of San Francisco – a city located in what is called Silicon Valley. Midtown is mostly residential, but my street was zoned for mixed use. There were shops, apartment buildings and detached single family homes. There was a gas station up the street, but it closed.
Palo Alto is a pricey city, even by pricey San Francisco Bay area standards. But, midtown Palo Alto was a little less pricey. My apartment, though ridiculously expensive by what I call “normal” standards, was a good deal by Palo Alto standards. I like that – I like being the “poor relation” in a pricey area. There were about thirty apartments built around a central courtyard with trees, two patios, plants, and a pool in the back. I say “about thirty” because I never noticed the exact number – how California is that!
I lived on the second floor, an apartment with high ceilings, big windows and a screen door which opened up to a view of the inner courtyard. The apartment I lived in for eleven years was a two bedroom, with a big window facing the inner courtyard and another big window across from it, against the back wall, looking out onto a tree in the condo parking lot next door. I didn’t have a balcony, but there was enough room to place a container garden against the railing, across from my front door. From my desk near the back window I looked to my left and saw a tree, and to my right I saw the top of another tree from the inner courtyard. When it was warm I saw my plants from beyond the screen door. It was magical. The light, the courtyard, the trees, the plants, the pool, the open layout, the glorious weather – the entire time I was there it felt like I was living in a resort.
My second apartment was a one bedroom, still on the second floor, across the courtyard from my first apartment. I was back in school and needed to economize. While not as wonderful as the first apartment (the layout was different, not as much natural light) – it was still wonderful. When I was in my second apartment my plants were nestled outside against an exterior wall.
In most apartment complexes you don’t get to have your own in ground garden; our place was different. The place had a bit of a funky quality – which I like a lot. Someone (might have been the apartment managers) had created a space for a garden. As my plants got bigger I moved them to the garden, along with new plants I bought for the garden. The garden was a low key affair – put in a few plants, a bit of topsoil, water once or twice a week during the dry season. That’s it. Given the soil and the dry climate there were almost no weeds. There was a bird of paradise bush. In season the lily of the nile, agapanthus, bloomed. There were hummingbirds.
And the pool – did I say there was a pool? There was a pool at the back and it was wonderful. It wasn’t heated, so the swimming season was only from late May, early June, through September. Unlike some areas in the US, there was no rule that you have to have a lifeguard or pool attendant, so pool hours were very generous – daytime to around 10 PM at night, though if you live in northern California you know there’s not much night swimming. Nights, even in the summer, tend to be blissfully cool. The pool was used, but not heavily. There were many, many times that I was the only one there. It was my pool. When a family member came to visit we spent many happy hours at the pool, swimming, then, using Styrofoam pool toys (“noodles”) lazily kicking our way back and forth, talking and laughing. I was so happy. Some summers I lived in my swimsuit on the weekends, putting shorts on over my suit to go to an art exhibit at the Palo Alto Cultural Center or to get the paper, coffee or a burrito.
The place wasn’t perfect. The apartments were large but didn’t have much soundproofing. If you don’t get the right tenants, interior courtyards can be awful – sound carries. So the apartment managers tried to get responsible tenants who weren’t noisy. Palo Alto is a desirous place to live and the schools are excellent, so we had a mix of ages and nationalities, singles, couples, people with children. For fifteen years, this place worked out well for me. I didn’t want to leave.
I’ve learned that it’s different now. The former apartment managers told me that the name has changed, and the plants were torn up to put in new patios. For new tenants the rent is $500 more than it used to be. I understand. Given the location and the structure of the building, you could change the place and charge a lot more. You could take away some of that naturalness, that imperfection, the communal space. It will be a good place, but it won’t be my place.
I guess it’s true – you can’t go home again (apologies to Thomas Wolfe). Even if I would ever move back to California and live in paradise, it won’t be that paradise.