We rented a car to explore the island of Rhodes. It’s a big island, and also I think David just likes to rent cars in foreign places.
As we (he) drove, the silhouetted shells of unfinished houses became harder and harder to ignore. They dotted the landscape from coast to coast. Next to completed homes inhabited by families whose laundry flapped lazily on their upstairs clotheslines were structures still in their construction’s infancy. In the middle of (seemingly) nowhere, where nothing else could be observed for several yards (meters?), the concrete forms of houses, with stairs and cut-outs for windows, would rise from amidst the otherwise undeveloped terrain.
But there were no crews at work that I saw. No one seemed to be actively building any of these buildings.
On our second day, my curiosity sufficiently piqued, I googled, “empty concrete houses Greek islands,” which led me to a forum about Greek building customs and codes.
Not surprisingly, there were posts alluding to abandoned foreign investments in light of Greece’s economic plight.
But the more commonly held viewpoint was that the structures were the products of two longstanding familial customs among Greeks.
Firstly, upon the birth of a child, Greek parents begin the first phase of construction on a new home. Throughout the child’s life, whenever they have saved the necessary resources, the parents commission the completion of another building phase. Customarily, this home would be completed in time to house their child and new spouse following their wedding, as a way to support their new life together.
Secondly, Greeks who leave their homeland in order to seek more gainful employment are in the custom of regularly sending money home to their loved ones. The loved ones, in turn, use a portion of those funds to build their relative abroad a home (in similar stages) to one day return to in Greece.
The concrete structures are physical representations of future dreams. They are tangible expressions of intent.
“That’s awesome,” David said, after I had finished reading the information aloud. “They don’t want their kids to be burdened with the massive expense of a house when they’re just starting out.”
“Yeah, isn’t that such a beautiful custom?” I agreed. “They just really want to take care of their children and their relatives.”
We cruised past another cluster of them, looming large and shadowy in the waning daylight.
“They’re pretty ugly,” David admitted.
“They’re an eyesore, really.”
We laughed, because sometimes we’re the worst.
There was something deliciously ironic about it. One person’s dream home is another’s blemished landscape.
Each of us is intent on what we’re building. We visualize the endgame from the beginning. We imagine what it will look like, and how many stories it will have, and what it will mean. And that vision, in our eyes, is a thing of beauty.
Meanwhile, two tourists in a rental car are driving by, wondering what the heck that hulk of stone is doing in the middle of a field, and turning to each other to agree, “ugly.”
Little do they know that one day, some untold number of years from now, when the right amount of money has been earned and saved, a set of keys may be pressed into the palms of the hopeful or the weary–“For you. For your future. For your hard work. For your dreams.” Then, it won’t have mattered who else did or did not see the vision before the building was completed. It will only have mattered that building went on anyway.