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.