Monday, April 12, 2010

Love thy Neighbor

I've never been one to shy away from getting to know my neighbors - goodness knows, I ended up marrying one of them. But there's something about neighbors - I can't quite put my finger on it - maybe it's a whole yin yang thing about wanting more privacy, while at the same time being incredibly curious about the goings on next door, or maybe it's competitive - some sort of subconscious colonial desire for more land.

I guess in some ways neighbors are a lot like relatives. Like it or not, you're stuck with them and the wise thing to do is to make the best of the situation and try to avoid conflict.

Having grown up on a farm in southeastern Manitoba in Canada I didn't exactly have next door neighbors, but I did have little stand-offs with the boys who lived down the road. I would stand on the corner of my dad's fields, looking through the water culverts (linked to definition for those who are not from the Canadian Prairies) that we used to wade through and dare the boys to take a step onto "our land".

Needless to say, those little confrontations never ended well, usually with me fleeing in fear across the field in my rubber boots. But I must have eased my notion of boundaries over time because I ended up sharing the smallest of spaces with people while living in Korea and Japan, and even lived in a housing coop in Winnipeg called Common Ground.

In Montreal I lived in a very colourful bohemian apartment building on Rue de Boullion, where almost all of the tenants came from different countries. Above me was crazy Louis, the writer, below me the crazy caretaker, and beside me, with whom I shared a French balcony, was my first Argentinian neighbor, who would eventually become my husband.

Truth be told, before I met the Argentinian, I thought he was crazy too for the simple fact that I heard Celine Dion piping through his speakers, a CD which he later explained was one of his first Canadian gifts. A little side note to Canadian souvenir buyers out there - stick with maple syrup and ice wine. Actually, just stick with ice wine.

Here on my beautiful boulevard in Buenos Aires, the whole Argentinian neighbor experience has been less charming - more noise, less romance, and a strange little situation that I like to call "the battle of the balconies." On the left, we have a family with the loudest kids in the world. While I've only seen as many as two kids on their balcony at once, with the amount of screaming that I hear on a daily basis, I find it hard to believe there are less than 10 children living in that apartment. On the right, we have a singer/actress who likes to "vocalize" in her apartment. I'll get to that in a bit.

Now, part of the noise thing is simply about adjusting to a new culture, and I know I still need to work on that. The reality is that kids just scream more here and people in general make a lot more noise than I'm used to. As my husband told me during my first few weeks hear, upon seeing countless demonstrations in the streets, "people like to be heard here."

I think it's safe to say that that is an understatement. I've been known to throw eggs off my balcony at four in morning at the porteƱos partying away on our boulevard in the middle of the week. And even that, I understand - everybody likes a good party.

The view from our balcony at night, and very often, party central.

But part of the noise is simply ridiculous. Sure kids scream now and then, but the quality and the quantity of screaming that goes on on the balcony next to us, which I would ballpark at about 60 cm away from us, is something that should qualify as noise pollution. And the vocalizations to the right - well, let's just say that the sounds of cows during mating season sound subdued in comparison. My husband didn't believe me about the vocalizations until one day I held up my cellphone to the wall during vocalization practice and he asked me if there was an animal outside.

The other factor in the battle of the balconies is the visual aspect. Obviously there is not much privacy, and that I can handle. I can ignore the kids next door clinging like cats to the netting they have caged their balcony with, and the vocalizer has actually created a beautiful space on her balcony with lots of plants and some festive lights.

The thing is, the family to the left has taken to piling up tonnes of crap on their balcony, right beside ours, which is not only unsightly, it totally obstructs and steals the attention away from the amazing green of the boulevard and the polo field. You name it, it's been piled up there. I'm waiting for a toilet to appear.

For a long time, I have been wanting to set up some sort of wall to block that ugly scene. I've tried to rearrange the plants to block it, but alas, you can still see all the junk. I recently took a trip to the markets in El Tigre, home of all things made of bamboo, to look for some sort of outdoor structure to do exactly this. And then, ironically, in the midst of all this, the vocalizer went and set up her own walls.

I have to say, I'm not sure what bothers me more - the fact that she set up the walls first, or the fact that I haven't been able to find a reasonably aesthetically pleasing blockage like hers. And, truth be told, I feel kind of hurt. I'm the one who wanted to block out the others and now I've been blocked.

I racked my brain thinking about why she would block us - we don't store junk on our balcony and I'm not a really noisy neighbor. The only thing I could come up with was my husband's penchant for watering the plants naked, but he does that at night, and I doubt she's seen him because she's almost never out there. So why the walls?

And the worst part about it all is that now we've got a wall on one side and a wall of junk on the other. I would ask the neighbor with the walls where she bought them, but I never talk to her anymore because I can never see her.

If it is in fact a battle of the balconies, I do feel as though I've lost.


  1. LMAO! Oh Carla!!! That made me laugh so hard! I had to share with those around my cubicle! It totally reminds me of your rants on the facilities here at work!
    Loved the story! Keep up the great work! Miss you tons!

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  3. Your husband has a penchant for watering the plants naked? lol. That might have been a bit of a problem. I like how you describe our old apartment building in Montreal as "bohemian". I do have good memories of that place, except of course Louis. I do hope I am not the "crazy caretaker" you were referring to ;).....Tanya

  4. No Tanya, you were not the caretaker! Don't you remember her? I too shudder remembering Louis. Now there's a blog topic!