Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Displacing the past.

Long since demolished Pergolas on Geneva Ave. at the border between the Excelsior and Crocker-Amazon Districts.
I opened the door to a small, elderly, Italian-sounding woman standing on my porch asking me: 'Are you-a renting or are you-a selling?' 

I thought she was asking how much we'd charge in rent if we were landlords. Don't ask me why I thought this. Anyway, what she really meant was: Is the illegal unit that our landlord built in the back of the garage open for renting. How she knew about the illegal unit is beyond me. 

As it turns out, she's been living with her friend in the house two houses down from mine for the past few weeks. She was evicted from her last place because of a disagreement with her landlord (I don't think this is legal, btw). The woman said she's been living in San Francisco since the 1950s and that she'd arrived here from Sicily when she was just 17 years old. I think it's amazing how her accent is still wonderfully pronounced. Her friend with an even thicker accent, a woman from Northern Italy, came out briefly to ask if she were coming back soon. I made a joke about how it's a wonder they get along considering that they are from opposite ends of the country. She said: 'Oh, no. We have known each other fifty years. We never fight.' I told her it was good they had each other. She then told me that she liked me. I shook her hand before watching her make her way back up the block to her friend's place. Just before going inside she turned around and waved at me. I waved back. It felt as if I were in another San Francisco. A place that was of my grandparent's time. 

I may have mentioned in a previous post that this part of San Francisco, the Excelsior, was home to a large Italian immigrant group that held strong for much of the 20th century. My father's high school yearbook was positively filled with Italian surnames. The woman I chatted with and her friend, my neighbor, are remnants of that once robust community.

She (I neglected to ask her name) told me that after she'd lost her previous rental, she'd gone to stay with her brother in Pacifica, but that she didn't want to stay there because she 'don't like-a Pacifica'. I laughed and told her that I was from Pacifica. Her eyebrows raised and she pursed her lips. 

Our district supervisor, Ahsha Safai, has supposedly pledged to help her find accommodation. I've emailed his office a few times about various things, nothing as dire as needing immediate housing, and have never received a response. One would hope that her case would receive better attention and it sounds as if she's at least had some contact from the man, so fingers are crossed. 


13 comments:

  1. Fingers crossed indeed. My father's accent was largely absent - unless he was tired, stressed or anxious. I wonder whether some of your new friend's accent was accentuated by stress?

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    1. She seemed very chill, but I do know what you're saying. Her friend (my neighbor) had a very pronounced accent as well. I can imagine that when this woman came over she had a lot of other Italian speakers to engage with, so she may not have always spoken the target language, English, in her daily life. She was a real fire-cracker. My hope is that she'd have stable accommodation soon.

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  2. I hope she finds accommodations soon.

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    1. Me, too. It's wonderful she has an old friend able to take her in (in the short-term).

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  3. And one more hoping for her success, or even her former home reinstated.

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    1. I thought about that as well, but, you know, I think that the unit might not have been up to code, so it may have been unsafe to live in.

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  4. I once had an Italian landlord here who could not speak a word of English. He would knock on the door and wait for the rent in cash.

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    1. Were you ever late with the rent money? And, if so, how did he react, I wonder?

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  5. I hope she finds a place to live soon. Her accent, I am quite sure, is a pleasant addition to her personality, and not something to be mocked.

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  6. I hope things work out for her. I'm always puzzled that people can live here so many years, but still have an accent. I think when they've been here longer than wherever they came from it seems odd. A good friend of mine's mother was from Germany. She left Germany when she was a young newly married woman......over 50 years ago. But, she always had an accent right up to her death. She once told me she worked hard to keep her accent. I never got to ask her why you would do that. She was a US citizen and never went back to Germany, so it seems odd to me. The climate right now is scary for folks from other countries, legal or otherwise. My heart breaks for the fear they live with daily.
    Sandy's Space

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    1. Accents are an interesting thing. Assuming your friend's mother didn't then surround herself with other German expats while living in America, the Italian women two houses up from me were able to keep speaking Italian as they were living in a community of Italian immigrants in this area of San Francisco. Given that, I can see why their accents haven't softened much in all these years.



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  7. Best of luck to your new Italian friend. It's a shame that people are being displaced from places they have been their whole lives because their salaries didn't grow as fast as the real estate.

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    1. Yes, it's a real shame. It's great that she's able to bunk with her friend in the interim.

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