Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington,D.C,is the address of two famous and very different residents.
At 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.,the president of the most powerful nation in the world and his family enjoy the refinement and comfort of the White House – a 132-room,32-bath,six-floor mansion built more than 200 years ago.
On the other side of the street,without an address,ceiling,walls or any kind of comfort,Concepción Martin Piccoto,57,a native of Spain,transforms a little piece of Lafayette Park's sidewalk into her living area. Her 24-hour-pacifist vigilance against nuclear bombs has been a way of life for the last 20 years.
“I don't call it home,because I don't have any living conditions,” said Piccoto. “ I simply keep my vigilance.”
She's not even allowed to lie down to sleep. A prone position would mean camping,which is forbidden in public places,according to American laws. The few hours a night she spends asleep she spends seated on her park bench,leaning back on one of the two 6- feet-tall signs authorities allow her to keep.
She reduced the rest of her belongings to a bicycle and a couple of boxes,where she keeps a camera,a radio,an umbrella,and paints to decorate rocks with the dove of peace. She sells the rocks to get some change at the end of the day.
She gives copies of newspaper articles about her life to a certain group out of the 6,000 tourists that,daily,after visiting the most famous residence in the world,cross the street to get to know the president's most famous neighbor. She also keeps a plastic canvas to cover her belongings during rainy days. During hard winds,the protection can't do much against the power of nature. Her possessions spread along the park and her signs fall down.
It's under the sun's harsh rays or the bitter cold winds of winter that life gets even harder for her. The thick black wig she has worn since the beginning of her vigilance to protect herself from physical blows to the head provokes an unbearable heat. During the winter,she fights the cold so she doesn't freeze. Besides that,Piccoto struggles to find someone to take care of her spot while she goes to a public restroom or takes a shower at her friend's house. The same friend that keeps the few clothes Piccoto has and a website on her life and mission. Her last source of help is the other protester who is also in a 24-hour-vigilance in front of the White House. She can't leave her spot and belongings before she finds someone to replace her,because U.S. laws require that all signs must be attended by someone standing within 3 feet of the sign's locale.
Her meals also depend upon another's good will. The tips she gets from sympathizers and from selling her “peace rocks”aren't enough to pay her food expenses. But late every afternoon,when bakeries in the neighborhood give homeless people the breads and sandwiches that weren't sold that day,she can fill her stomach.
“The hardest thing about [living in the park] is that I lost my freedom. I live in an open jail. I'm a dead walking woman,but I don't despair,” said Piccoto. “If you're sure about your cause,you can overcome mental pressure.”
And the pressure must be really big for someone who came from being an employee at the Embassy of Spain in New York to being a homeless woman; from being married to a successful Italian businessman and an adoptive mother of a daughter,to the end of a divorce with no money and without custody; for someone who believes she is watched by electronic cameras 24 hours a day and who believes her decayed teeth are not a consequence of not brushing,but of the lasers the White House uses to hurt her. She blames these same lasers for her twisted toes.
The mental pressure must be enormous for someone who,for the past 20 years,has lived in front of the house of men that,year after year,she has called “devil.”