El Apartamento

By William J. Furney

The only good thing was there were no cockroaches. At least inside. On the steps up and down the five floors of the L-shaped apartment complex near the sea, brown bodies lay upended, some with legs and spindly feelers still creepily twitching, as though saying, “I know my life was pathetic but I’m not ready to go”. 

Unlike other places I’ve stayed at here, in sub-tropical Gran Canaria, a miniscule, half-desert Spanish island near the northwest coast of Africa, where the skin-crawling creatures come flying at you with reckless speed and even dare to scuttle across dining tables as you’re entertaining. They never seem to know their place; and they’re made of goo — step on one to stamp it out and you end up with white muck all over shoes, and floor. 

In tropical Indonesia, where armies of giant cockroaches are as prevalent as equally large rats, we frequently hired exterminators to fumigate the house, with such potent chemicals that we had to stay away for hours. Here, as there, they do the same, but in the many apartment buildings, fumigation is limited to garden and other public areas, leaving residents of the shoebox dwellings to spray their rooms with cans of foul-smelling insect repellent bought at the supermarket — aim, fire and run. 

If only there was a similar method of getting rid of some of the other, and many, irritants of apartment life. 

In my year-leased apartment on the fourth floor of a five-floor building in the south of Gran Canaria, just up a small hill from the endless, golden-sand beach of Playa del Ingles, I many times felt I was living through either the 1960s film The Apartment, with Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine, or Rear Window, from 1954 and starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly. Possibly it was both. Because out my glass-walled balcony that overlooked pools and where I set up my office, I could see all sorts of goings-on, in my block and the buildings in front. 

Then there was the night my German neighbour arrived, and straight away turned his flat into a thumping nightclub. I knocked on his door, and a short, swaying, bleary-eyed, balding man appeared before the wall of noise. 

“I’m your neighbour. Your music is very loud. Can you please turn it down?”

Without a word, he retreated, disappearing from view, and lowered the volume.

“Thank you,” I said, and returned. 

Seconds later, the music was cranked right back up again. 

He was irate when I went back and repeated my request.

“Do you own your apartment?!” he, clearly drunk, demanded to know.

“Whether I own my apartment or not is irrelevant,” I calmly said to the man. 

“I own my apartment. This is mine!”

“Can you please turn your music down? It’s getting late, and it’s impossible to relax with that level of noise.”

“I don’t speak English.”

“You’ve been speaking English.”

He went to shut the door in my face. 

“OK, I’ll call the police,” I said, and walked away. 

Furious, the German followed me to my door, but I got in and shut it before he arrived, and he started banging on the door. 

I sat on the sofa and said and did nothing more, waiting for the intoxicated eruption of anger to subside. 

Early the next day the German was hollering incessantly into his phone, and the noise was also deafening. As the days went on, his TV blared, raucous parties with various women ensued and the cantankerous neighbour spent the days roaring.

Mercifully, he left a few weeks later. But it wasn’t long until he was back. That’s when I discovered, when I again rapped on his door, as the noise level soared once more, that he was half-deaf. 

Upstairs, meanwhile, it sounded like an elephant was stomping around, up and down the flat, for hours every night. After weeks of enduring this maddening behaviour, I complained to Massimo, the concierge, who spoke to the occupant and asked him to consider others in the building and be respectful by not making noise. 

His words went unheeded and the stomping continued. As did the endless scraping of chairs and tables on tiled floors, and cleaning that went on all day and created another crescendo of audio pollution. 

Several months elapsed and, having long since had enough, I went up to the fifth floor and tapped on the door. An elderly man and a younger one answered; both denied walking around heavily for hours, and the younger, the owner’s son, said he had such problems of his own in his flat — that of a woman upstairs clacking around in stilettos. 

After that brief and cordial chat, the stomping stopped. 

A short time later, I was on the way back from Athens, after an overnight hotel stop in Madrid, after a trip to England, Cyprus and Mykonos, and was looking forward to a siesta. The moment my head hit the pillow, brazen power tools next door — the opposite side to the choleric German — roared to life and began demolishing allsorts. I arose and descended to the pools, but there was no respite; so the next day I checked into a nearby hotel. The builders renovating the flat said they’d be done in “three days”.

A couple of weeks on and they were still at it. An extraordinary amount of work in a place you could barely swing a cat in. Juan, my affable landlord and neighbour, two doors down, said it was his flat and he was renovating it for family in Peru who were soon to arrive. 

Arrive they did, in numbers large enough to suggest they would not fit into a one-bedroom apartment. In the evenings they held raucous parties on the balcony that went on for hours and surely into the early morning (I had gone to bed with earplugs — an absolute necessity in the noise-filed rabbit hutch). 

Neverending roadworks, heavy traffic and roaring renovations in neighbouring buildings combined into a deafening roar that overshadowed sunny, otherwise delightful days. 

My 12-month contract was ending, and I was desperate to get out and not renew. But covid was ending, tourists were returning and places were filling up fast. I sought a bungalow with a private garden, but not many were available, because it was early in the year and, therefore, still high season here. And that supply in this tiny place is low and demand, generally, robust. 

Many viewings later, I found the place I thought I liked. But just as I was about to sign a contract, another opportunity sprang up, and I took that place instead — much to the irritation of the previous property agent. 

After a year of incessant noise, I wanted peace and absolute quiet. 

What I got was a building site beside my new place, neighbours with dogs that never stopped barking and a tree in the garden full of aggressive bees and wasps. 

Stung once again.

  • Title image shows the view out the writer’s verandah office, with the same apartment building at right and another in front. (Photo: William J. Furney)

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