In the old cities of Holland, you see the narrow, flat-fronted stepped-gable townhouse. In the Caribbean, you see sorbet-colored single-story stucco buildings, lime-green, mango, cherry-vanilla, cafe-au-lait. In the Cotswalds, stone cottages, on the beaches of the Yucatán, the conical thatched roof of the palapa hut, in Bavaria, the half-timbered chalet. In Cancerland, what you mostly see (what people mostly live in) is the house of cards, a construction apt to come down at any time, for any reason, or for no apparent reason at all.
The house of cards can be strangely steady in a high wind and then, with the wind gone, when the air is still and the sun shining, down the house comes, noiselessly, because cards make no clatter, the way bricks and boards might. It’s a wonder people live in these things. But we do.
And we add to them all the time. Second stories, third stories, new wings, front and rear porches. We push our luck, relentlessly, though of course we ought to know better. It ought to be enough for us that our crazy contraptions are still standing at all. But somehow it isn’t. We feel the need, are compelled, to dare yet another layer, to balance more and more on no foundation at all, to see what we can get away with.
The house of cards wants to be a castle of cards, a chateau of them, a great abbey of turrets and high walls and long halls. And then, when it all fails, there is nothing left. No rubble, as there might be of stone or concrete or buildings made of beams and plaster. When they fail..when they fall…houses of cards fall flat, fold up more than fall, becoming something more like colored patches of lawn than what once were dwellings.
But we are devoted to them nonetheless, balancing flowerpots on our knife-edged windowsills, putting pictures up on our film-thin walls, hanging chandeliers from our stiff fragile ceilings.
I’m talking here only about the dwellings of the common folk. The institutional structures of Cancerland are all quite sound, of good materials, solid, many of them of marble, with granite steps and rooftops clad in verdigris copper, as permanent and imposing as the card-houses strewn around them are temporary and unimpressive.
Well, no. That’s not true. They do make an impression — of hopefulness flying in the face of the facts.