I just moved. I’ve moved from Italy to Italy. The new place is in shambles, everything all jumbled, boxes and clothes everywhere, everything spread out covering all surfaces, crammed into corners, suitcases and boxes piled high in every room. It’s been surprisingly really hard, and I feel completely uncentered, like I am in a time warp. I keep looking at my agenda, flipping back between today and the day we moved. I’ve been doing this every day since the move, hoping to place myself somewhere on this timeline, understand where I am, what just happened, and what comes next. I am unable to sort it out. Flip, flip, I take my pencil and circle the day we left the old apartment, I page forward to the day we arrived at this one and circle the date in a red pen, then my eyes land on today and my pencil hovers there, today, today, what is today, is it today? What day is today? I do that everyday, have been for, wait let me look now to see how many days it has been, here we go, it has been exactly two weeks to the day. Today is Monday, March 14. We spent the first night here on Monday, February 28. It doesn’t help that February only has 28 days. I am wondering why we have done this. What have we done?
We discussed this move, we deliberated, we planned it. I shouldn’t be so shocked. We researched our options, scheduled and visited several apartments, and decided on one (granted we only got to visit it once, it was during the peak of Omicron and we got a quick ten minutes to view it). It seemed nice at the time, and just what we were looking for: a top floor for quiet. Affordable. Not too far out from downtown. Ideally in centro storico (impossible) if not, close to where we were living. But the priority was sleep. Sleep was our driver. After seven months of living under intolerable noise courtesy of our upstairs neighbors at the old place, sleep became our obsession. Our building had terrible acoustics and a noisy family of six, with very young children, including a newborn, moved in upstairs eight months ago. They kept erratic hours, and lacked common Italian apartment building courtesy (don’t clomp around in hard sole shoes, put felt pads under chairs, put down rugs where the children play, respect quiet hours between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., don’t flush the toilet after midnight) we had had enough. We were sleepless in Rome. I was up with the baby every two hours. The building acoustics were such that I could hear the baby not only cry when she was hungry but coo as she nursed. I know. It meant that I heard all of the sounds families make. All of them. It was a rare situation. Buildings can be loud but there is a range. They can be entirely sound-proof or have paper-thin walls. Pro-tip: buildings built in the 1600s are particularly sound proof. I may sound like a control freak, inflexible, overly sensitive ears. But no, really, we were in an unusual situation. We went bananas doing sound tests, dragging our mattress into different rooms in the middle of the night hoping to land on a dead spot. I was sure that the hallway where all cell signal and wi-fi died meant for quiet but not so. We talked to our neighbors, who commiserated, especially the family living directly above the noisy rascals, but what can you do they shrugged. They’ve lived there for 20 years. And of course the nonni downstairs were the most sympathetic with the young family: “ah we’ve all been parents, grand children are so lovely,” they’d trail off. They are also hard of hearing. And they yell at their grand kids when they’re too loud too. We had friends over to give us their opinion, went to their places to compare. The consensus was that our building was loud.
You eventually do get used to noise. Have you ever lived in a loud city? When we arrived to Rome I couldn’t sleep the first few weeks because of the noise. I’d wake up to car alarms, garbage trucks, youth laughing in the street, airplanes overhead. It took some time but my brain eventually processed all the sounds and learned to ignore them. The predictable ones at least. I also learned how to ignore the elevator gears creaking throughout the day, slamming doors, vacuuming, domestic fights, kids crying, nonni yelling, laundry machines gyrating on balconies, cables whipping the side of the building like a metronome on windy nights, and the man in the building across the way who fashioned himself an opera singer. When the grandkids downstairs came over Tuesday afternoons and all day Saturday I’d move around the house according to where they were. I learned to watch the same news program as the nonni so that their television didn’t bother me. I also watched Detto Fatto a variety show on Rai 2 in the afternoons with the nonna. It was very good for learning Italian. Over time, I lived there for 3.5 years, I became part of the ecosystem, one big happy and noisy family living life. And that is a beautiful thing. It’s called community. Even if you don’t have particular ties with the people you share space with, you do share space with them. And because the building was a drum, it was built in the 1960s and I’ve been told that certain building materials from that time are less sound proof, we got to know each other very well. The neighbor on the first floor would roll her eyes at the mom on the second floor after a particularly loud night with their new-born. Did I tell you that before the new-born upstairs I had already raised the new-born next door?? She’s three and a half now. And she still bawls her eyes out but I am used to it. But having a baby live right above you, cooing and crying as if she were in your own bed, (some nights I found myself almost getting out of bed to go pick her up and burp her as a reflex), hearing her parents scream at each other and then just as passionately make up, well I’ve already done all that. I’ve already raised my own family, have had my own couple squabbles and have made up more times than I can count, so I’m not interested. I’m interested in sleep. It was a great intensive course on how to be Italian and I’m now dropping out of school.
Which is why I now live in this crow’s nest of an apartment. It is a tiny top floor apartment, but there is no one above me. It is quiet. It is also cold. And I am sick. The radiators don’t work and this early March has been unusually cold in Rome. We reached highs of 40s and had high winds. The windows are leaky, too. So I caught a cold. It didn’t help that I ran out of clean underwear and had to do my first load of laundry. My new laundry room is outside. It’s out on the terrace. Also, I am living a very Roman life now because I hang my clothes out to line dry. In high winds. Previously I had a dryer. Yes, my lingerie flew off the terrace that day. It will take practice. I’ve been sitting in my sub-zero parka all week nursing a really bad sore throat. It’s not Covid; the test was negative.
The new apartment is quiet. True. But I’m still not sleeping. Moving to Italy from Italy so far may not have been worth it. I’ll let you know how things go in a few days. Until then, what day is it??