The crazy guy from the family that lives downstairs is cackling fit to burst, while the little girl with the dog whines at him. “Noooo! Pleeeeeeeeease!” The sound of these two reverberates up and down the street every day. He bursts into gleeful, harsh snippets of song out of nowhere while she bellows – for him, for her dog, for her nonna: each of them in their own tiny bubble of childish selfishness. Today it sounds like he’s keeping something away from her – maybe her toy piano. It’s not playing its plinky-plonky christmas tunes at the moment, anyway.
“Rosita!” The cigarette-hoarse voice of the nonna of the family bounces off the walls of the alley. “Rosita!” The woman herself never seems to answer, but all day, every day la nonna yells for her along the street. Grandmother stomps along the alley, thick black cardigan wrapped around her and hands tucked under her armpits for warmth, yelling as she goes. “Rosita!” Her voice lowers for a moment as she goes inside the house, but it’s still audible, with its harsh-edged crackle of overuse, as she fires a volley of words at the quiet woman inside. Having got the answer to her question she turns and heads back to her own home, only to yell again quarter of an hour later. “Rosita!”
The pretty boy who spends his days outside singing Bruno Mars songs revs the engine of his elderly motorbike. There’s something wrong with the injection; it needs long minutes of warming up every time he starts it. Some days it’s worse than others, and this is one of them. He revs it higher and higher, the engine screaming in protest, for ten minutes before he’s satisfied. He leaves it ticking over and heads inside for a moment, returning with a red motorcycle helmet. He stands beside the bike, smoothing his shoulder-length black hair off his face and tying it in a topknot before shaking his head back to get rid of the final stray hairs on his forehead and sliding the helmet carefully over his head, front to back. He swings his leg over the bike, gives one final, screeching rev of the engine, and swings the bike round in a wide arc and out of the courtyard into the alley. The absence of noise once he’s gone is deafening.
The sound of a clarinet playing perky French jazz floats down from the flat above. It has that sound: the sound of a million sunny, happy French film sequences that feature dancing-eyed, fresh-faced girls in delicate ballet flats, who cycle along sun-drenched river paths and wave hello to the boatmen from their shabby-chic sit-up-and-beg bicycles with the baskets on the front as they head off to market to buy delicious cheese and crusty baguettes, before returning home to prepare an effortless, perfect lunch for all of their equally fresh-faced and bright-eyed friends, as they laugh and talk and chase each other through an endless, lavender-scented, dust-moted summer.
Dreams of rural France are interrupted by the sound of an electric guitar from the other side of the building. Every day, around 5pm, it starts. From a technical point of view it’s good, but – let’s face it – sunning yourself beside a French canal is always going to be preferable to sweating it out with a lone, bloody-fingered metalhead, no matter how talented they are.