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Amber Paulen

Wake Up

23 June 2011


A scene from life in Italy:

The buzzer buzzes. It’s early. We were out last night late, out late the night before. The alarm had been put to sleep twice already. Simon dresses, he goes to the door. He’s disorientated. It’s early. It’s the downstairs neighbor buzzing, the one who trails cigarette ashes in the hall, who coughs like a dying horse all night long, the one who is most in charge of the building. When this neighbor comes to call, it’s usually some complaint she must deliver. A terra-cotta pot was discovered this morning shattered on the sidewalk. Is it yours? Are your pots secured? The flower seller below us on the corner is angry. The people who lived in your apartment before had a pot that fell onto the roof, which is why the roof is covered in flowers. Are your pots secure? The flower seller on the corner is complaining.

The flower seller on the corner is a post-menopausal woman who never cracks a smile. She rents a space in our building, underground, to store things. Sometimes we pass in the front hall. I salute a hearty, “Buon giorno!” best smile, all sweetness. The flower seller’s lips tighten, her brow furrows. It’s as if I told her, “Go to hell you ugly bitch!” I don’t think the flower seller likes me. I don’t think the flower seller likes anybody. I don’t know if the flower seller even likes her flowers. Perhaps it was her pot which suicided, fractures of ochre terra-cotta and broken roots still young and full of potential, its pieces all over the sidewalk.

The neighbor from downstairs is a post-menopausal woman who pretends to act as emissary. Her smile to my “Buon giorno!” tends to an upside down scowl. Her windows are full of flowers, full of terra-cotta pots bursting over the sides of the building in a spray of violet and fuschia. There is an antagonism between women in Italy that has existed in nearly every apartment I have lived in. I think it is part of their culture; I think it comes from some mix of boredom, jealousy, frustration and an impermeable sourness that is too quick to condemn; I think they enjoy whittling far into other people’s business.

Italian women would argue back, they would shout and swear and scowl their nastiness. But I have no fight to give them. Instead, I secretly delight in the fact that these women are bored, frustrated and unhappy. And when I see them in the hall I’ll bid them a joyful, “Buon giorno!” disillusioning myself that friendliness can supplant life’s disappointments.



Commentary for Wake Up


2 On Monday 27 June 2011 Clare Galloway wrote:

Ooooh- I am not alone, then!! I just blogged my frustrations about the war being waged on me by my neighbours and my neighbours alone, out of the multitude of others in my town who are wondrously open, gentle, enthusiastic and talkative with me! Thanks so much for sharing! :-) Clare, Guardia Sanframondi, Campania www.arthouseguardia.com

3 On Monday 27 June 2011 Amber wrote:

Hi Clare, I think the smaller the town the higher the pitch sometimes. The neighbors were ultimately what made us move away from charming Bracciano. What a shame! At least there’s so much beauty around to drown them out.


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