Sunday, September 11, 2011

Won't you be my neighbor

This morning, as we were woken up by our upstairs neighbor's habitual Sunday morning visitor's voice (I think her son), I thought I should write you a blog about living in a city in Spain and the joys that come with it.  The majority of places to live in a city or even the outskirts of a city in Spain are apartment buildings.  And I am not talking apartment complexes with a parking lot and a pool or a gym, but think NYC buildings with a bunch of apartments in them.  Every place I have ever lived here has been an apartment building.  The only other options are basically a huge villa or a farmhouse in the country.  If you want a yard and some peace and quiet, options B and C are pretty much your only options.

I lived in many an apartment in Arizona and New York before coming here, but the experiences are incomparable for a few reasons.  The main difference seems to be the interior patio which is a free entrance to the life of all your neighbors.  Most apartment buildings are set up in a block of 4 apartments or more per floor.  Normally one wall of the apartment looks out over the street, two walls are shared with neighbors and the 4th wall's windows open up to an 'interior patio' as it is called here.  Basically it is a cut-out in the middle of the apartments where people hang thier clothing and can get some sunlight in the interior rooms. Please note, that although I call it a patio, we can not actually step OUT onto a deck or something, it is merely windows for us.  Some apartments DO have interior actual patios, but not this one. Sounds nice, but we get much more than sunlight from our interior patio.  In our particular building layout, all of the apartments' kitchens are located in the interio patio side, so as you can imagine, when everyone is cooking, everyone else knows it.  If someone is even in the kitchen it is community knowledge.  From loud frying pans crackling to couples fighting over what to eat at night to the smell of chicken wofting through the interior column, I can precisely tell you who was home last night and from the smell on our clothes this morning, I can tell you what they ate!

Even better than having your clothes smell like steak or peppers is the random suprise that falls upon your clothes.  The old woman who lives above us occasionally drops her apron while she is hanging it on the clothesline and consequently we always return it by hanging it on her doorknob.  The kind favor was not returned when I accidentally dropped my undies onto the clothesline below.  Shows what kind of neighbors in 3B we have!  Even worse is the lady at the bottom of the building, who gets incredibly angry if you drop something and it makes it all the way to the floor and she has to go fetch it for you on her patio. Even with the biggest smile and a hearty apology she hates you immediatley and requests you identify your apartment number (like she keeps track of who drops what or something). Think the mean dog in the movie Sandlot - she is kind of like except she has a croaky voice and due to her age a snail's pace. 

Besides being so close you have occasionally smell the fabric softner of your neighbor's clothes, it seems all of the tennants in our building are quite the gossips.  Our landlords warned us of this when we moved in and they were right.  Upon entering the elevator with a fellow resident, I always say hello very friendly and ask which floor they are going to for button-pressing purposes.  When they hear I am going to 4, they of course ask which door, because they can't accept just knowing my floor, they also need to know EXACTLY where I live. 

If they really want to know about our personal life, all they have to do is lean thier heads out the kitchen window and GASP hear us speaking in English.  To maintain some sort of flow of air in the apartment we often leave the kitchen window partially open but keep our speaking voices low.  However, it seems in Spain that the acceptable speaking level is a few decibels higher.  That goes for TV volume too.  From shows like Jerry Springer to soap operas it seems there is always a TV on in one apartment.  Not interior patio business but just our luck, our neighbor that we share the living room wall with happens to be a huge classical music fan and we can usually hear him singing some sort of opera or enjoying a classical CD at full-blast.  A few wall punches are normally in order to turn the sound down.  He is also the conniseur of loud-door opening and it seems his key just makes as much ruckus as possible when he gets home every night at midnight.  One day....ohhhh one day I am going to whip the door open and teach him how to quietly enter his house!

While in the States most people live in single-family homes, here that is basically unheard of.  I know that the same sort of neighborhood gossip can still easily go on how it goes on in our apartment building, but I guess since you can enter your own 4 walls, the nosy neighbor or the Friday night party never really seemed to annoy me.  Here every wall of your apartment is connected with that of someone else's home and the only free one is the wall that has windows to the street which is a whole new can of worms - kids screaming, people shouting to people in thier homes, horns honking, the works! 

There is a popular sitcom here called ''AquĆ­ No Hay Quien Vive'' which means 'No one could live here' and it is always making fun of this exact type of living situation - where your neighbors know all your business.  Who had a fight with who last night, who bought what at the grocery store, who bought new undies, etc. 
With only a few months in this apartment, I feel we would make good supporting actors for the show!

Muxu from me and all my neighbors!

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