Life On Beautiful Street
Almost anything in Italy comes with paired chaos.
As if Italians are just better adapted to (more tolerant of) what we American’s would consider discomfort. Things don’t bother them. Everything is a mess. There’s always noise. People tell half-truths and don’t follow through with things. The heat’s broken. The oven was never properly installed.
It’s what’s expected, and no one is let down.
But it wasn’t until living in our fifth apartment (in three years), that I realized I’d been going about things all wrong this entire time. I’d been taking it personally, getting frustrated, plotting revenge every time we had issues with our living situation.
When we moved our bags and boxes into the place on Via Bella (Beautiful Street), I stood in the doorway with an arm full of pillows, bland about the whole thing. I wasn’t expecting much. I knew it was a temporary place in Perugia, at least until we figured out our next move. I knew, eventually, we’d be leaving. Like we leave every place.
I was so worn down from the panoply of transitions and apartment disasters since moving to this country, that I didn’t have it in me to care if things went badly. I expected that they would.
What I hadn’t predicted, though, was the way I would fall in love with Beautiful Street.
It all begins with the cat on the roof. Yes, you read that right. A meowing, desperate black cat living on the pitched, terracotta roof of our five-story building. Apparently, someone had abandoned it there (who does that?), and it cried murderously into the night, peeking its head over the roof for someone to feed it.
The man across the street kept saying, “Someone will come.”
I used to peek my head out our window and look up at the roof, and sometimes the cat would poke it’s head over the eave, and we’d stare at each other like this for a few moments — me, wishing I could rescue it with the flick of a finger.
Six weeks later, the cries disappeared, we saw the cat no more, and all we could do was hope that the man across the street had been right.
Then, one day, the music came to Beautiful Street. Music that would grow steadily louder, approaching, rounding the corner onto our narrow via. I’d watch out the window as other people tossed coins to a man playing an accordion. Great gypsy tunes, or classic Napoletano rigs.
By our second month, I found myself stacking 20, 30, 50 centesimi pieces by the window. “In case he comes,” I’d tell J. “I want to be ready.” Tossing them down when I’d hear his approach.
Each night, the garbage & recycling collector men rolled in in their mini-trucks (sometimes after midnight), and would have me running, motioning to Jason, “They’re here…run! Get the garbage out before they leave!” Sometimes, one of us would drop the bag out the window and directly into the back of their truck, its yellow lights flashing across our white-washed walls.
Motorini (mopeds) often roared up and down Via Bella, forcing us to stop mid-sentence, until the piercing squeal of the unmuffled engine had faded. We’d smile each time — unaffected. Unperturbed. And it wasn’t until month four that J pointed out, “You do know there’s a moped fix-it shop on our street….”
I’d had no idea.
There were other things, too:
- Heavy metal music blasting out the windows from our upstairs neighbor, which had me happily blasting Italian radio to drown it out.
- Drunk students passing by, shouting or singing at 2, 3, 4, am. They would wake us, but we’d only drift back to sleep.
- The perpetually clogged bathroom sink (despite our many efforts at unclogging it), met with a basic Indian head wobble, a who cares, why fight it? attitude.
- The shower head that broke, J silently replacing it with one we’d used at a previous apartment.
- The various languages coming from apartments across the road (so close I could toss a loaf of bread to my neighbor on the other side), that had me leaning out the windows, sometimes, to eavesdrop.
- Our chain smoking, Chinese food-cooking neighbors, whose odors I’d marathon through on my way into our place, with no more than a passing shrug.
- The buses and cars honking their horns at the nearby intersection, becoming the bird sounds I did not hear.
- Except for the squawking parrot a few doors down: the familiar laugh of a friend.
To love Beautiful Street had not been an expectation of mine. Maybe the reason we got on so well was because I knew it was temporary, or because there was so much chaos that to fight any of it would have rendered both of us mad. But I surprised even myself when the constant commotion of that place became something I actually enjoyed.
The backdrop of Beautiful Street is something I never knew I was missing until it came and went from my life in under four months. As if, after three long years here, I’d finally begun to settle in, everyday Italy’s usual disarray having grown familiar. Acquainted. Commonplace.
Despite the fact that I was hidden away, taking notes three stories up, all that noise began to imbue me with a feeling that I wasn’t so alone in this world — the street’s rhythms filling in the rhythm to our own days. And yet I never felt the need to join in, it being enough to sit back and listen to the orchestra. To the rumpus. To the frenzied motion of life.
I’ll miss you, Beautiful Street. May you last in my memory and deep in my soul. May you last and last and last.
Ever lived someplace that defied your expectations? A place you were convinced you’d dislike or at least be indifferent about, but then ended up loving? How did it shape you? Change you? Share in the comments below.