viernes, 23 de septiembre de 2011

When the Bells Toll

Bingo! I have finally found a flat in Tarragona. It has taken me five long weeks of footslogging in unmercifully high temperatures to reach the end of this rainbow and the treasure I have found is well worth it. I’m living in the old quarter, just a few metres away from the cathedral and the ancient Roman walls surrounding this part of the city, which is what I’d been dreaming of since I decided last winter in Belfast that I was going to move here. My flat is located in what I believe to be one of the prettiest and quietest streets of the old town. I live in a cul de sac, so no car horns and no drunken brawls to intrude on my dreams.
I’d started off on my quest keen and determined, placing well-worded ads in the local newspaper and on the Internet. They elicited plenty of response but nothing I saw tempted me, not even for a couple of seconds. Either the roar of traffic beneath the bedroom window, the lack – and sometimes the complete absence - of light in the room for rent, or unsuitable flat mates, sent me scurrying back out into the street after each viewing doubly frustrated. In two flats I was greeted by large smelly dogs which their owners forgot to mention when I initially inquired about the room. One sulky Hungarian failed to recognise that it might have been helpful to lower the volume of the music while I was attempting to communicate with her. In another flat I squeezed past a boyfriend or a lover, splayed liberally across the sofa, beer in hand, and into the adjacent cell-like bedroom where the walls reverberated with the cheers of the crowd in the televised football match. I did mention the words “quiet” “meditation” and “yoga” in my ads, but they must have forgotten. I smiled tightly and promised to let them know if I was interested. Twice in the final few days I called about rooms I had seen at the commencement of my search, and for one heart stopping moment I feared I had walked into a flat which I’d inspected two weeks previously. Fortunately I hadn’t and was spared the embarrassment of having to apologise and backtrack.
In the end, out of weariness I have chosen to live alone, which is an expensive choice to make. I have had to ditch my budget for the year and withdraw a large chunk from my savings to finance it. Using a letting agency involves having to pay a hefty fee, equivalent to a full month’s rent. Unlike the UK, where the house or flat owner pays the agent, in Spain it is the tenant who shoulders this heavy burden.  On top of this outlay there is a deposit of two month’s rent to be paid and, of course, one month in advance. That’s a bill of 2,000€ just to walk in the door of my new home.
I don’t resent the fee as much now that I’m in here. I may never get this chance again, to live somewhere that I’ve dreamed of, it’s a gift to myself and to my friends who come visit, so it’s here to be enjoyed. This flat undoubtedly has character. An ancient oak door leads into the building from the cobble-stoned street. Heave it open and step inside, where the aroma of ages greets you in the semi darkness. It’s a dank mustiness that speaks of centuries, of another era. Fumble for the light and you will see a wall fashioned from rocks, typical of the stone used by the Romans to construct their fortifications. It makes an impression. When he saw it, my first visitor exclaimed, “Waow! It’s a cave.”
Follow the wall for a few metres to where the ascent begins. Lifts had not been invented when the plans were drawn up for this building so the footslogging continues. You have to be swift. In exactly one minute and fifty five seconds the timer kicks in and the light vanishes. At that point, unless you know the exact location of the switch, you are doomed to grapple with the darkness, to blunder your way up the spiral staircase. I’m on the second floor and there’s only one floor above me, so it’s do-able … unless you happen to be laden with a week’s supply of drinking water. The front door of my flat is typical of its kind, plain, painted chocolate brown and with a spy hole for security. Its effectiveness, I suspect, will be somewhat limited if a potential intruder pleads that they are unable to locate the light switch. Momentarily I imagine myself pressed up against the spy hole negotiating hesitantly with a voice muffled by the darkness on the other side.
I’m the local priest out on a mercy mission to your sick neighbour … honest. Open the door and I’ll show you my dog collar.
Should I ask him to hold it up so I can see it? It’s a conundrum that I hope I’ll never have to face so I drop the hypothesising.
My flat has a feature I could have only dreamed of back home in Belfast: exposed wooden beams that run the length of the living room and bedroom ceilings. Nothing else in the apartment fascinates me more. I have neck ache from staring up at their beautifully varnished asymmetry, imperfection that reveals authenticity. The novelty of living my life under these wooden beams will take some time to fade, if it ever does.
If the ceiling is authentic, the floor certainly isn’t. Laminated wood has become very popular throughout Spain and while I prefer it to tiled floors, it is hard not to think of an aspiration turned fake. Nevertheless, the owners have chosen not to pretend that this floor is something which it really isn’t, oak, beech, walnut or pine. They have opted for grey and it looks classy, blending nicely with the very simple décor. There’s a double bedroom containing a vast walk-in wardrobe, eating up one third of the boudoir; a compact well-designed modern kitchen featuring a waxed brick wall; and a small but well-equipped bathroom. Light, plenty of it, floods into the bedroom and the lounge. The street below echoes a blissful silence, although those cathedral bells although do sound awfully loud, particularly when they toll at 2.00 am. I'll expect I’ll get used to them...

1 comentario:

El gruñón dijo...

Las campanas en Tarragona, los gallos en El Soto.