Until we moved to Valencia, I hadn’t lived in an apartment for nearly 20 years. Sure, we’d had neighbors that drove us crazy at some of our previous houses. People that were so annoying you wanted to avoid the drive way, except at midnight, so they couldn’t see you and stop for a looong chin wag on the history of the Franco Prussian war – I wish I was kidding. We called that neighbor ‘Napoleon’.
But other than that, living in suburbia in the US is a mostly solitary experience. Drive into your garage with the automatic door and it shuts behind you. It’s pretty quiet, all things considered. So when we got to Valencia and our apartment, it was more of an assault on the senses. But it’s something we’ve come to count on. Our life now is punctuated with predictable sounds.
Our neighbors have a dog that barks for a specific period of time when they leave every day. Do we need an alarm clock? Not usually. They go to work at the same time every weekday. The dog barking wakes us up every morning. If it doesn’t we are disoriented. Sleeping in isn’t something we’re used to anymore. If they’re on vacation, or one of them takes a day off we could miss an appointment.
Another neighbor sings. Most afternoons I can hear him belting out an aria in his tenor voice with the gusto of a trained professional. But lately he’s been expanding his repertoire to include Maroon 5 and Justin Bieber. And just now I got a little Stevie Wonder and some ‘Part time lover’ through the living room wall. He’s pretty good and there are times I join him in song. When Emilie was here she found this terribly embarrassing. But I have no shame and I enjoy it thoroughly. Frequently, he and I sing duets. I’m not sure he hears me but he keeps up his end of the harmony. I’ve not met him – or so I think. We’re like musical ships passing in the night.
We do wish they would get a more regular schedule to the fireworks noise situation. There is still no predictability to that. Monday night at 11pm. Tuesday at 2:03pm. Mascleta or just a regular sky display. On weekends there will always be fireworks – day and night. But we are rarely in the know as to why. Unless it’s a well documented fiesta. Either at the beginning, to kick it off or at the end to say farewell. Ok, wait. It might be in the middle to say something else. Who knows? But it will happen.
The bells are also something I rely on. The bells of the tram and the ringing of the church bells in the square near us. But it’s also the absence of sound that will sometimes grab our attention. When Jeff says ‘Its quiet out there.’ Then he gets up to go to the window. ‘I wonder what’s going on?’ Like a parent who suddenly realized they haven’t heard the kids playing in the other room so they must be up to something, and might be getting into the Halloween Candy.
And speaking of children – there is a baby who lives in the building. The mother spends most mornings on the balcony feeding her breakfast. I remember when the woman was pregnant, and then the day they brought her home. I heard her the first time when I was out on the utility balcony off our kitchen doing laundry. Her cry was that of a brand new baby that I remembered from when my son, Nick, was born. As a mother, that cry still elicits a visceral reaction. It makes you perk up your ears and listen. You find yourself checking your pockets while holding your breath. Then you realize your kids are grown and you didn’t forget anything. When a new born baby cries it has no idea but it’s watched over by every mother within earshot – whether 25 or 95.
I do a load of laundry most mornings, and over the last 20 months I have listened as that child has gone from a new born cry to her first belly laugh. And then on to jabbering incessantly. It makes me smile as I fold my clean clothes. Her mother is teaching her to talk and I’ve picked up a few Spanish words right along with her. ‘No!’ now holds a place of pride in her newly forming vocabulary. The terrible twos are striking early.
I don’t know her name but I see her sometimes in the elevator. She’s gorgeous and points a lot at me so I can just imagine as she shouts commands at their dog during her breakfast. Dropping some of it as he whines for more. Having dubbed this child Inez, it’s clear she rules the roost in her house as her proud father totes her around.
So many of these noises we found annoying when we first arrived, but now we’ll miss them when we go. Like a pebble in our shoe. When soon we can only hear the sounds of the sea we’ll think back on them with fondness and wonder what our opera singer is getting up to. If the old dog is still well enough to lament his owner’s absence. The old church bell bonging at the odd moment – like it did today. And how Inez is getting on as she grows up enough to attend the local Escuela Infantil. These are the things that are the sound track of our life now. And, while I feel sure we’ll find new ones in our future home, until then, I’ll appreciate every moment.