The Crane

Published by: Giselle on 16th Mar 2017 | View all blogs by Giselle

The orange monstrosity went up in a day. When I looked out my bedroom window in the morning, my view was the same as the past twenty years: neighbor’s gardens, some trees, and a patchwork of roofs, mostly small houses interspaced by the odd apartment building, none more than 5 stories high. The rounded, silver roof to the left covered the apartment of an acquaintance, Anna, whose three children are the ages of mine. The terracotta tiles facing Anna’s roof grace Sylvie and Fred’s house, a couple with whom we often share vacations. Each roof I see has a story tied to it, some real, some that I’ve projected over the years. The cute little yellow house with the green trimming and orange roses must belong to a little old lady, whom I call Françoise. In all, a comforting, familiar view.

And then came the crane.

Its arrival was inevitable. An old garage and derelict building had been torn down and huge panels announcing the arrival of the BEST of apartment buildings had started popping up all over town. A temporary sales office had risen overnight next to the gymnasium. An ugly little thing, plastered with pictures of the building to come. Yet nothing prepared me for the emotional shock when I looked out the window before going to bed, and seeing The Crane, towering over my rooftops, on Anna and Sylvie’s street. Close enough to fall on any of our houses. Surely a public menace.

Oh how I hated that crane. My morning view was no longer filled with peace, but anger, not just at the crane but at everything it symbolized. Rampant construction. The destruction of small, personally-owned houses to benefit large corporations and banks. The torn down garage and small apartment building hadn’t been aesthetic – far from it - but they’d had their individual histories and a few interesting architectural details. A faceless building with its cold, contemporary façade would be going up in their stead.

The morning after the crane arrived I dropped my son off at school and, instead of walking straight home, I looped around to the crane’s street to see it close up. From the sidewalk it was scant yards away and I stopped, head tilted, neck creaking, to watch the orange arm swing back in forth in front in the grey Parisian sky.

The crane’s presence went beyond its towering column. At night, depending on how it had been parked, its warning lights would blink bright white and red, flashing into the bedroom until the curtains were drawn. In the morning, the lights were replaced by a loud horn, indicating to everyone within a thousand square miles that it was ready to tackle a new day of craning.

The morning crane horn quietly slipped into my daily ritual as it sounded at eight a.m., when I had to be showered and dressed and ready to bring the little one to school. Thanks to the horn, I no longer had to keep an eye on the clock, as some perfect stranger was reminding me, day in, day out, that I had to hurry up. I began winning the morning “getting ready before the horn” race more often, as I wanted to take the time to watch the crane operator walk up the stories and stories of ladders leading up to the cab hanging off the crane’s upper arm. He never walked up all at once but took his time, stopping at various platforms to take in the construction site and the view ,which must have included the sun rising over the Seine, the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre and La Défense. Not bad at all.

I began to appreciate this operator, this man who took time to watch the world. After a few months, when he paused on a platform and looked in my direction, I chanced a wave from the bathroom window. He waved back. And thus started the daily wave.

I continued my morning walk in front of the construction site, and noted that the crane was key to everything that was done. It lifted tubs of dirt from the excavations and brought concrete for the foundations. As the building inched upwards it carried metal and beams and windows, lifting and turning and setting things down. Rain or shine. The horn wasn’t just used in the morning, but during the day, as a means of communication to the rest of the team. I assumed the tiny little bursts were an “all is well”, but now and then I’d hear long blows which could only be warnings followed by shouting and activity as the workers fixed whatever the problem was.

Six months passed and spring arrived. I spent more time in the garden, tending to whatever my daughter’s chickens hadn’t eaten or torn up, the crane a constant presence. One day the cabin was facing the house, and I waved from the ground. The crane gave me a tiny horn blow in return. Over the spring and summer my first reflex upon entering or leaving the house was to look up at the crane, finding reassurance in the operator’s presence in the sky. Far from being spied open, I felt a magnanimous presence, and his frequent, friendly honks reminded me that he was looking over me. Fall came around. The building’s concrete structure was finished and the crane’s loads shifted to insulation, drywall and crates of tiles.

On a grey October day I dropped off my son at school and, as usual, went to check out the construction site only to be blocked by a huge truck with flashing lights. The street was closed and I back-tracked and buried myself in work for a few hours before leaving for a business meeting. I stepped into the garden and stopped up short. The crane had been decapitated. Gone was the long orange arm that swung around, gone was the cabin, gone were the blinking lights, gone the horn. And gone the operator. All that remained was the main column and by the time I returned from my meeting even that had vanished. The giant truck had left and the street was open to circulation. My crane had disappeared.

The following morning I looked out of the bathroom window and saw only the new, huge building with its empty windows. My pre-crane life started again, without the horn to race against, without a small figure to wave to. It took a few weeks for my morning emptiness to dissipate, but it finally did. It was just a crane, after all.

I’ve grown fond of my morning walk and still pass by the construction site every morning. The building’s been painted and the protective plastic sheeting removed from the windows. It won’t be long now before rental trucks arrive, spilling out families and furniture. They’ll be starting new chapters in their lives while, elsewhere, other cranes rise.

Comments

22 Comments

  • JD
    by JD 3 months ago
    It's amazing, isn't it, how readily we adapt. And how much we humanise, evidenced by crane-shaped holes in your life. :)
  • AlanP
    by AlanP 3 months ago
    Lovely, lovely.

    There's a 60s Jack Lemmon movie, "How to murder your wife" where the apartment is surrounded by construction work and a concrete pouring device called the glopada glopada machine. The wife (who isn't murdered) starts her day waving to the construction workers. This has that same charm about it.
  • OFP
    by OFP 3 months ago
    Loved this.

    So perceptive.

    It is so strange in retrospect to think of the close but temporary bonds we create in transient natures of our working lives.

    First name basis with a lady who makes our coffee or the guy sells us samosas and then gone.

    I was particularly taken by your appreciation of the Craney taking in the views.

    A building site is a measure of time.
  • BellaM
    by BellaM 3 months ago
    This is a charming piece. I really enjoyed it.
  • RichardB
    by RichardB 3 months ago
    Lovely piece, Giselle. Proof that a real writer can take something lots of people wouldn't even think about and make something interesting and moving out of it.
  • Sandra
    by Sandra 3 months ago
    This gentle, well-observed look into your life is exactly what makes this site such a joy to be a member of, a glimpse and a sharing.
  • mike
    by mike 3 months ago
    Dear Giselle,
    Your story is repeated all over England and you have written it very well.
  • Squidge
    by Squidge 3 months ago
    Really enjoyed this, Giselle.
  • Jill
    by Jill 3 months ago
    Giselle, this is a great and well-crafted piece of writing; a thoroughly good read. I was transported into your Parisian life with the crane and crane driver and felt your various emotions as I read your words. I do hope that your rooftop views have not completely disappeared behind the new apartment building. There is something special about rooftop 'scenes', I think, especially domed roofs or ones made up of rich terracotta tiles.

    In a lesser way in recent months, I've had mixed emotions about a crane being used in the construction of a new primary school extension nearby. Good that it was helping in the schooling of more children, but bad that the building it was helping to construct has taken away the old playground area, as it was lovely to hear the little children at play during they breaks. Now their playground is too far away for the sound of laughter to reach our garden.
  • Giselle
    by Giselle 3 months ago
    Thank you all for your kind words. The crane disappeared a couple of weeks ago and when it left I was quite sad for a couple of days. A complete turnaround from my initial hatred and I wanted to explore that.

    @JD yes, crane shaped indeed. And that lovely little silhouette of the crane operator, whose waving arm I could make out when the light was right.
    @Alan, seems I'm not the only one, though I think I'm going to ask my husband if he has any plans on my demise in the works.
    @OFP, those little moments are what makes the world civilized, and the difference between being home and not home.
    @Bella, thank you.
    @Richard, sometimes I wonder if I'm mad thinking about these things. I mean really, a "relationship" with a guy hundreds of feet above my head, who's face I'll never know? And then a comment like yours reassures me. Thank you.
    @Sandra, Mike and Squidge, thank you.
    @Jill, the new building has blocked out a chunk of skyline about three streets away, so my view has been reduced. I'm just lucky that the building is far enough not to create shade. Some houses nearby will never see the morning sun again, poor things. (Though the house worst hit belongs to a really nasty pharmacist, and I can't help but see some divine justice there...). That's sad that you can't hear the children playing anymore.
  • RichardB
    by RichardB 3 months ago
    No, you're not mad, Giselle. It's the writer in you. Simple as that.
  • Bric
    by Bric 3 months ago
    I really enjoyed this. I always fancied being a crane driver. The fulcrum and pivot of all building sites, at least when they know what they are doing. I bet that lonely crane operator appreciated those waves. Human contact. What we all need.
  • Caducean Whisks
    by Caducean Whisks 3 months ago
    Woman meets machine. Wary at first; resentful. Sees more dimensions, familiarity breeds content. Cosyness and connection with other lives, visceral and mechanical. Seasons pass. All things pass.
    A lovely piece, Giselle. I bet your craney looked forward to seeing you, too.
    And just think - the new inhabitants of those cubes of air will now be able to admire your roof, as you once admired their foundations.
    You've made me wistful for a crane. Surely not. Not when there's been a builder knocking down my chimney today and making my house wobble. Far away is better :)
  • Jenni Belsay
    by Jenni Belsay 3 months ago
    As others have said, this was lovely. Who'd have thought poignancy could be associated with a crane? I felt sad too, in the end, that you didn't even have the chance to say goodbye. Such is life sometimes.
  • Giselle
    by Giselle 3 months ago
    @Richard, thank you.
    @Bric, I bet you'd make a wonderful crane driver. I'd never really thought of them before, but it mustn't be easy working so far away from everyone else. I was amazed at his sure-footedness and utter lack of fear - before slipping into his cab he walked out on the arm every morning to ensure all was well. I'd be clutching the railing with my eyes tightly closed.
    @My dear Whisks, don't let them knock your house down! Yes, far away is better. A couple of other cranes have popped up in the neighborhood, but they're far enough not to fall on the house. :-)
    @Jenni yes, I was astounded at how sad I was. But meeting him might have been an awkward and I appreciated the symmetry of the crane leaving as quickly and quietly as it had arrived.
  • Janeshuff
    by Janeshuff 3 months ago
    I enjoyed this, Giselle. I love crane watching too. Hope all is well with you! jxx
  • Tony
    by Tony 3 months ago
    Like the others, I enjoyed reading this sideways look at the mundanity of a building site that most would see as mud, noise, rubble, inconvenience and obtrusiveness. Yet you have given us a tale of gentle observation embracing all of Paris from Montmartre to La Defence as well as the imaginary Francoise and her neighbours, a little boy's school and the gradual coming together of the homes for many a future Francoise with their little boys and girls, while you and the crane driver move on with only your memories and waves, and the hoot of the horn. Lovely piece. Write on, Giselle!
  • mike
    by mike 3 months ago
    There are huge cranes around the Shell building- River Thames - close to The Eye and netx tot Hungerford Bridge. I enquired as to the cost of a flat there and went to the 'marketing suite' (estate agent) The venue was in a room. oak panelled hotel in the old London Town Hall The concierge was a an old South Londoner. He winked and let me though. The women were pleasan an enough, as was the coffee and dark chocolate biscuits, You can guess the price of a bed-sitter,
  • Newbie
    by Newbie 3 months ago
    This was so visual, Giselle, I can imagine it as a short film. Some lovely moments when you wave to the crane driver and he waves back and the awful emptiness when the crane is being dismantled. Because of your observance we're able to share this experience - thank you my friend. xx
  • Stephen Mark
    by Stephen Mark 3 months ago
    Lovely, Gis :-)
  • Pinkbelt75
    by Pinkbelt75 3 months ago
    This is boss. I want a crane now, although I should be careful what I wish for because there are a lot of farmers fields near me. Anyway as for me throwing in a new scouse phrase for you:

    Boss - a scouse phrase meaning very good, brilliant, outstanding, great.

    Often used by tracksuit clad fifteen year olds - dat's boss lad.

    Synonyms include: sound, sick, on top.

    Anyway loved it.
  • Giselle
    by Giselle 3 months ago
    Thank you all!

    @Jane, all is good, the garden is offering bright yellow flowers at the moment.
    @Tony I love construction sites, airports, train stations... all places where you see everyone working together to get the overall project accomplished.
    @Mike yes, those oak panelled walls and chocolate cookies are a dead giveaway, aren't they? But who wants to live there? ;-)
    @Newbie,I'm glad you envoyed it. The story was bubbling under the surface for awhile and popped out this week. Felt good.
    Cheers @Stephen!
    @Pinks, good to see you! Thanks for the scouse lessons, you've just doubled my vocabulary. ;-)
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