In New York, my apartment faces 7th Avenue in the bustling Chelsea neighborhood, so I expect a certain amount of street noise. And it is New York, after all. I’m not saying Paris isn’t a proper city with its own share of noise, I just didn’t think when I bought a place on a tiny street away from the city center, that I’d have the same problem. Did I say “same” problem? I meant worse. At least in New York, I can get some sleep.
Here’s the thing: my street is only one block long. It’s quite narrow, too, allowing only one car to get through at a time. It looks quiet, charming. Bucolic, even. And the first night I slept in the apartment, it was quiet—so quiet I almost couldn’t fall asleep, as I’m accustomed to the hum of 7th Avenue traffic. The next day when I awoke, it was to the sweet music of chirping birds. How lucky I was, I thought, to find such an oasis in the city.
It didn’t occur to me it was August, and Paris was out of town for the annual vacation.
I would discover just how lively things would get. One morning the booming voices of teenagers jarred me awake, their antics amplified by the buildings lining the narrow street. Why were there hordes of teenagers on my little lane, you may ask? Well, lucky me, turns out there’s a performing arts school across from my place—and best of all, it’s open six days a week. Six whole days! Ironic, since proximity to a school was the reason I rejected two other apartments, nicer apartments. Foiled by a school that, like a speakeasy, boasted no signage on its nondescript facade, as if conspiring to trick me into believing I was buying an apartment on a tranquil street. Instead, three times a day—six days a week—those doors swing open cueing the swarm of kids, their chatter and shenanigans shattering that tranquility. I should have known it wasn’t a fluke there were two musical instrument stores on my street.
The narrowness of the street is responsible for another frequent offender: the honking horn. Since, there is no way to pass a vehicle that’s stopped—a waiting taxi, an unloading truck—cars back up and honk for freedom. Parisians, it seems, don’t employ the short, sharp honk, instead—much the way they like to talk—tend toward a long, drawn-out discourse. Hooooonk! Hoooooooooooooooooonk! By the way, European automakers favor a particularly piercing, high-pitched honker. Cuts right through you. I have been known to throw open a window and make a few honks of my own. Shuuuuuuut the [honk] uuuuuuuup! Why this short street should be such a popular choice for motorists is a mystery to me.
Yet these disturbances are largely done with by late evening. Come sundown, there’s a whole new species of noisemaker that renders my nights sleepless. Every day of the week, from midnight until about 3AM, the drunken revelers come, their requisite hooting and howling often followed by the tink-tink-tink of a bottle chucked in the gutter. The revelers are the biggest mystery of all since there are no bars or restaurants immediately nearby. Flummoxed and exhausted, my neighbor on the ground floor, Andrea, and I will take to late-night messaging:
Me: What the hell?
Andrea: I KNOW!
Me: It’s a MONDAY? What the hell?
Andrea: [Expletive deleted.]
My fellow Parisians in the 3rd arrondissement have the right idea. In protest of the incessant construction noise from the drawn-out Carreau du Temple restoration, they’ve hung banners on their buildings, saying, “Right to Sleep. Stop the Noise.” I have yet to have a good night’s sleep since I’ve stayed in my place. The jet lag doesn’t help, either. On my last trip, I was so sleep-deprived I started to hallucinate. I actually couldn’t wait to get back to noisy New York, where I could sleep at last. Funny, I know. I’d laugh, too, if it weren’t so [honk]ing tragic. How could I have known the tiniest street in Paris would also be the loudest?
Author’s note: I’ve since done a bit of research into the popularity of my street for through traffic, both vehicular and drunk-ular. It seems it’s one of a few thoroughfares in the immediate area heading west, and is a kind of shortcut for drivers wanting ready access to the avenue. The revelers favor my street because of the Métro entrance at the end of it. Tant pis. Bad luck for me. You can be sure I’ll learn the signs for the next apartment hunt. And given the state of things at this one, that search may happen sooner than later.