Tag Archives: bungalow

bungalow

Home, humble home, the same everywhere and different everywhere. The old inner suburbs, the city-edge sprawl with intestinal streets, and the long sidewalkless half-rural roads; the cities of the west that stop where they stop, the cities of the east that fade like dusk and dreams, the cities of the much farther east that cast monsoon rain off their roofs; the hilly and the flat, the treed and the barren; the cement-plant village I lived in as a child, the foothill suburb I lived in as a child, the Indian reserve I lived on as a child, the resort town I lived in as an adolescent, the flat shopping-mall satellite I lived in as a young adult… All jumbled with humble bungalows, the subtle tigers of the homebuilding business.

Beneath a sky of oatmeal gray, the land slides downwards from a Kmart parking lot
Into a distance lined with bungalows, and then a vague horizon.
—“Early Morning in Milwaukee,” John Koethe

They are the same aren’t they,
The presumed landscape and the dream of home
Because the people are all homesick today or desperately sleeping,   
Trying to remember how those rectangular shapes
Became so extraneous and so near
To create a foreground of quiet knowledge
In which youth had grown old, chanting and singing wise hymns that   
Will sign for old age
And so lift up the past to be persuaded, and be put down again.
—“The Bungalows,” John Ashbery

Once you’re in, there is not much up—it’s kitchen and dining room and living room and bedrooms all on one floor, and then perhaps another space, finished or unfinished, downstairs. Or perhaps there is an upstairs, spooky rooms under the slant of the canted roof, dormitories with dormer windows. And maybe, just maybe, if you are in the right place, a veranda.

How does it feel to be outside and inside at the same time,
The delicious feeling of the air contradicting and secretly abetting
The interior warmth?
—“The Bungalows,” John Ashbery

A bungalow isn’t, or is, a house for wealthy people. If it’s your vacation house, then you are the sort who can afford a vacation house. If it is your one and only home, it is humble but it’s life, and it has more room than most apartments, after all.

It’s the ragged source of memory,
a tarpaper-shingled bungalow
whose floors tilt toward the porch,
whose back yard ends abruptly
in a weedy ravine.
—“The House on Moscow Street,” Marilyn Nelson

What, exactly, a bungalow is defined as depends on where you are. In Canada, it is a single-storey single-family dwelling. In theory that includes big ranch-style houses, but everyone knows the difference between a sprawling ranch house and a boxy bungalow. In South Africa, the definition is much the same. In the United Kingdom, it often refers to a prefabricated single-storey seaside house. In Ireland, if you pass a house in the countryside, it’s probably a bungalow and quite likely one storey. Throughout the United States, there are many different kinds of bungalows, often strongly influenced by the Arts and Crafts style, pretty much all with sloping roofs and some with second stories; in Australia, it is much the same, but they have second storeys, not stories. There are Chicago, Michigan, Milwaukee, and California Bungalow styles. All have doors, of course, but the Doors have a Hollywood bungalow:

But where do bungalows come from? The clue is in the name, though it has changed shape as much as the house has. The house style is named for the place it originated, where it was—and is—a house with a sloped roof and a veranda, and often a second storey under the roof: Bengal.

Yes, Bengal, the region that holds the northeast nook of India and the whole of Bangladesh, home of the deltas of the Ganges and Brahmaputra, and the cities Kolkata (erstwhile Calcutta) and Dhaka (erstwhile Dacca) and Chittagong and several others. The Hindi word for Bengal is Baṅglā, and the Gujarati word is Baṅglo; from these we got bungalow. In Bengal they often call such houses Bangla ghar, which just means “Bengal-style house.”

Which, to North American ears, might make it sound exotic, and yet a bungalow is as homey as home can be. But it is a fun word—it sounds like your younger brother tumbling down the stairs, doesn’t it? But what stairs? It’s a bungalow!

So now you know. All the little houses, four to a Monopoly property until they are displaced by hotels, what each of us from places where they build them think are a defining local residential style, even as in each place they are different like the families in them are different, they all trace to the Ganges delta, to the home of the ancient kingdom of Vanga, mentioned in the Mahabharata.

You who were directionless, and thought it would solve everything if you found one,
What do you make of this? Just because a thing is immortal
Is that any reason to worship it? Death, after all, is immortal.   
But you have gone into your houses and shut the doors, meaning   
There can be no further discussion.
—“The Bungalows,” John Ashbery