I (we) live in a flat on a quiet street in Northern Italy, in a building that is more than one hundred years old. Our landlord told us a bomb came crashing through in the first world war, sent by the Italians from Ala. A family used to live here, with parents and children living side by side in separate apartments. Cows were housed where there are now garages, and the hay was stored in the back. And then an accident happened, and they didn’t want to live here anymore.
Our building is blue with blue shutters. The first time we saw it was on Google street view, which we were using in New Zealand to decide on the flat, and the blue paint and the blue shutters made me like it before we ever saw inside.
You enter through large heavy doors, with the yellow glass covering the grill suggesting they were added some time in the seventies. Our postboxes are on the other side of the heavy wooden door, creating an unenviable job for the postman who must push every intercom button on every door on the street to find someone who can let him in (it usually is a him). I have learnt not to expect anything in the mail just because the postino happened to find us at home.
Once inside our flat, its age is immediately apparent. The white plastered walls aren’t quite even, or smooth, and the floors slope. The plaster comes off the walls in large chunks and we use posters to cover our small damages. We chose to inherit the furniture that was already at home here, and our bedroom is full of heavy, ornate pieces and old-fashioned lamps that match the hanging light fittings. When we come home after a holiday, when the doors and windows have been closed too long, we open the door to smells and scents that are not our own. We still manage to discover new drawers, and with them old kitchen utensils abandoned by their previous owner.
We have three windows that face the street. These look out across to a daycare centre where the children are cared for by nuns. From our back balcony we see only the backs of other apartments, their height crowding out the sun so we don’t use our little balcony except to hang washing.
Living so close to three other families mean you are never alone, even when enclosed inside. From our bathroom we can hear the dog who shares our floor barking, and the voices of its owners. From upstairs comes the scrapping of chairs and thumping of feet, creating an unwelcome weekend alarm. In our bedroom the ceaseless hum of the electric garage door below sometimes keeps us awake at night, and means that Matt always sleeps with ear plugs. We hear our neighbours as they move up and down the three flights of stairs, sometimes singing to their young children.
Sometimes, despite this, when I am alone in our bedroom, with a book or the internet, I can forget which country I am living in. I can forget that outside everyone is speaking a language I struggle to share, and participating in a culture I catch only small glimpses of. In those moments I could be anywhere in the world, and it is with a small start that I remember exactly where I am.