When I moved to Paris in 2007 my friends, family and acquaintances all exclaimed at one point or another something to the effect of "how wonderful!" "Life in Paris!" "I've always dreamed of living in Paris!"
And it is. It's a gorgeous city. It's beautiful. The architecture, the buildings, the parks, the restaurants, the cafes, the shops, the museums. It's all wonderful. I've truly adapted to my life in France and have come to love the full experience.
But what many people may not think about when they see pictures of shiny parquet floors, marble fireplaces, double "French-doors" opening out onto iron-work balconies, is that these beautiful old Haussmann buildings are not sound-proof.
In fact, at times it seems as if my walls, floors and ceilings (built in 1857) are all paper thin. For example, I can hear my upstairs neighbor's cell phone vibrate. I can hear pins (or other small-sized items) fall on the floor. Obviously they have no rugs on the floors. I hear them walking everywhere. (In my experience, French people don't take off their shoes and change into slippers when home.) My new upstairs neighbor (the one with the newborn) wears shoes all day long. Her partner rises early for work (5am - 6am), and they coucher tard (go to sleep late). The neighbor before had a toddler who ran everywhere when home from school until about 10:30 PM.
Next door I have a young professional Chinese girl who is usually quiet, until her family comes to visit, all staying with her, and staying up till all hours chatting, for weeks at a time. The only reason why this is an issue is that my bedroom used to be part of her living room. The prior owner of my apartment bought half of his neighbor's living room to create another bedroom for him. What used to be two 1-bedroom apartments on the same floor, are now one 2-bedroom (ours) and one smaller 1-bedroom. You can also see the division because, before, each apartment had two balconies, but now we have three and she just has one. And, because the wall between my living room and bedroom is about 17 inches but is probably only about 4" between my bedroom and her living room. In fact, my headboard is probably literally lined up with her sofa. Unlike typical French families we (my husband, son, and I) all dine and sleep early. With this new setup, I may as well just go park myself on her sofa and try to sleep. It's nearly the same thing.
None of the above situations are impossible to deal with. They are nice enough people; they are simply living their lives and so I don't let it bother me too much.
The one that is hard to live with, however, is my downstairs neighbor. It's ironic that she complains we are too noisy, considering we wear slippers all the time, are in bed by about 8PM - 10PM and wake at a normal hour (7AM) and never have evening guests. But what I will mention, in light of this post, is the heartbreaking fighting that I hear nearly every night. While the baby's crying upstairs, and the next door neighbor is entertaining, this woman is screaming at her 7-year old son. I hear him screaming at her to stop, to shut up. I hear her badgering him over and over and over again. She berets him incessantly until he stops yelling back and just starts crying. I hear thunderous running, banging, crashing and thumping. One time he broke a lamp. We've heard her threats to send him to pension (boarding school isn't viewed the same in France like in England or the USA). Regardless of what's said, I can hear the anger, the hate, the frustration, the pain underneath it all.
I've tried to pray for this woman, her situation, the boy. I've tried to be friendly despite her rude treatment towards us. I've tried to reason with her or defend myself when she attacks me in the hallway. Once, about three years ago, I even called the French protective services for children because I was so alarmed by the violence I heard each night. Nothing has changed. And I fear nothing will.
It's just a reminder that not only in my building in Paris, but in thousands of buildings in this beautiful city, hundreds of thousands around this country, and millions around this world, are stories just like this and even worse. Broken lives in the midst of beauty...in this fragile world...