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Many evenings, as the darkness envelops the city and the dogs run barking down the street and people who study in the evening turn up on corners, smoking cigarettes and joking around, you’ll find me riding my bike down a street that runs to the west from the middle of downtown to well past my house. It’s called Catedrál, (Cathedral) for the cathedral in Plaza de Armas. But further down, where I live, there’s another plaza with another church, less well-known, more damaged by the earthquake, called Santa Ana.

Here’s the church, damage 2/27/10:


And right on the other side of the church is an empty lot that has always intrigued me. The reason I have had my eye on this lot for the past few years is because of this tree:


I have come to think of this tree as mine. It’s my orange tree. I’ve never gotten close to it, never picked an orange, but every time I talk about the empty lot (to describe the striking mural on an adjoining wall), or to otherwise orient people, they never know what I’m talking about.

I have been attributing this to my superior observation skills. I notice things that other people don’t. Windows, doors, dogs, murals, details. And it’s my tree because I saw it and you didn’t. I’ve always found it curious that my tree gives so much fruit, as the little spot it’s planted into can’t possibly get that much water, and without adequate water the fruit is normally withered and sparse. Yet it never occurred to me that maybe someone was watering it.

On Saturday after leaving the gym I decided to spruce up my mural and graffiti flickr set, thinking that I’d tool over to a secret little street and snap some pics. Then I thought of another, and went over there as well, even posing my bike next to the mural for great urban effect (or not).

And the whole time I was out snapping, I kept on saying to myself “el naranjo” (the orange tree, not to be confused with a great hike which I’ll write about sometime). Oranges are a winter fruit, cheap at the market right now, and plentiful on the tree the last time I’d been by.

So I took my tree’s picture, through the fence as you saw above. And I felt vaguely more urban, more self-satisfied than I had before. I am a noticer. I have a tree.

And then I noticed that the empty lot’s gate, which is always closed, was open. And I went inside to get a better picture of the tree and came upon a set of people chopping onions, drying laundry, and otherwise living.

We got to talking, and the main presider over the lot, a man just a little older than me, shook my hand, showed me around, talking about how this part of the mural used to have even more risqué pictures in it, but how “they” had painted over it.


And we talked about the mural in general.


And then I told him how I’d always noticed the lot, because I thought it was incredible that there should be an orange tree in an empty lot (which I was realizing was not as empty as I’d thought), and I asked if they ate the oranges. He said, yes, but they’re not sweet, though they are good for quenching your thirst.

And then he dispatched a friend who he called “hermano” (brother), but who I suspect is not, to climb the tree and fetch me some oranges.


And I was left thinking about how I believed myself to be a good observer, because I had noticed the orange tree and the mural, but am actually an ignorant ass, because I failed to notice this.


This is Domingo. He lives in the lot, in pretty much the conditions you’d imagine, scavanged construction, etc. He let me into his lot, talked to me about pricing cargo tricycles (it’s a crazy idea I have), about his family, the earthquake, places he’d lived. And then gave me oranges from his tree, and didn’t mind that I’d never noticed he was living there.

This is not my tree. This is Domingo’s tree.