Wednesday, June 22, 2011

June 22, 1936

Oh, isn't it appalling! Yesterday was the first day of summer - there was a bit of sun, but the weather was mediocre, all told - and then today has dawned an awful, steely gray; the weather here is frightful! Oh, how it sets my nerves on knife-edge. If only I were better rested I might be able to bear it better.... You see, I have beastly neighbors in the flat above * who are always making the most jangling racket at all hours of the night, and disturbing my sleep.

You'll not believe it, but it seems they are Indians! No, not the ones with feathers, the Imperial sort, shall we say. Really, I don't know what they're doing here. I've not seen them, and I've no idea whether they be high Indians of low Indians. I doubt they'd be Maharajas or Maharanis, or what have you, living here in Portland - what a silly thought! Ha-ha! But, at any rate, that very odd caste system they have over there is more than I could ever decipher. Who may speak with whom, what one wears on one's head, where one bathes and all that - it's most perverse and confounding. Which reminds me, I've always wanted to know: do "Untouchables" get to touch each other? Hmmm? Are they even permitted to touch themselves? I do hope it's not that severe. That would be too beastly; as it is, I feel very sorry for the poor wretches. How awful to go about being called "untouchable". How would you like to be called - right to your face - "unwatchable" or "unbearable" or even "unsmellable"? If nothing else, it's simply the worst manners! India is a part of the British empire, after all, so why do we put up with such barbaric rudeness? Something should be done. We're usually so good at ameliorating the unkind impulses of the colonials. Very exasperating...I'm sorry, what was I saying...?

Oh, yes, there are these two who live above. There seems to be one of each sex. I must assume they are a married couple - do Hindoos and such marry the way we do? I'm afraid I don't know that either.... Hmmm? What? Oh...well, ever since they've been living proximately, I can - far more than occasionally - hear their muffled arguments. Such a very vulgar thing to do, shout and carry on so the neighbors will hear you. And far, far worse than that, I often hear their muffled cries of passion. You can imagine my horror. I can think of nothing less attractive, nothing more sick-making, than the sound of other people in the throes of passion, indulging their animalistic desires. I suppose most of humankind will visit that "bestial realm", shall we call it, from time to time - it is necessary, I suppose, to some extent - but it is so very low. And at the very least, one must insure one's absolute discretion and privacy. Well, I'll not speak of it further. I really couldn't say more. I shouldn't have said anything in the first place, of course. So, so distressing....

Now, I'm not the sort to interfere. And I certainly need no petty residential complications. But after this had gone on for some time, I was forced to alert the management of this outrageous intrusion, which was ruining my peace of mind, my sleep, and driving me quite mad with revulsion! They apologized fulsomely, but said there was nothing to be done. Nothing to be done! There are silly laws, if you can believe it, that prevent any sensible intercession. All about "personal freedom" and other such nonsense, no doubt. But what of good manners, what of the simplest courtesy?! It does so boggle the mind. American's fair-mindedness is pitched so high, whilst their standards of behavior are so very low.

Honestly, things have been a bit better of late. Perhaps the management discretely advised them of my complaints after all. And I'm quite certain I've not been the only neighbor to express distress. Now, as I said, I've never come face to face with either of them. But it is certainly possible that, meeting other respectable tenants in the vestibule, they've been cut dead, and have begun to wise-up, as the Americans say.

But then, Saturday evening last, they threw a very noisy party. Quite horrific, the din. They had some sort of squalling Jazz band, with dancing long, long into the night. On and on it went. I had ingested a soporific, and then another, in an agonizing fear of failing to sleep. And I'd put a recording of a Mozart serenade on the gramophone - the duller Mozart can be so very soothing - all to no effect. I always keep a bottle of my dear Veuve chilled - as any sensible, civilized person will, ha-ha! - and, since a few glasses will make me so deliciously droopy, I uncorked and quaffed lavishly. Though I did begin to feel a bit dizzy and existentially vague, still sleep would not come.

I can't imagine who were their guests - awful people, to be sure - but the sound of them! In my deepening delirium I conjured lurid visions of enormous, clumsy acrobats; elephantine, toothy debutantes; and Shetland ponies - yes, ponies - wearing tap-shoes, all flinging themselves about in a great, spasmodic devil-dance. (Actually, I attended a demonstration of Indian ethnic dance once, years ago and, I must say, it did rather have that aspect....)

I was really quite fearsome for the forbearance of the floorbeams. Such ominous creaking. At wits end, I did a rather foolish - but ultimately effective - thing. I've saved one of Mama's walking sticks - Edwardian, you know, quite glamorous, with a pretty Fabergé handle - and have it leant up in a corner of my chambre, as a bit of décor, you could say. Well, in a great fit of pique - blind rage, really - though rather wobbly on my feet, I grabbed Mama's stick and started pounding recklessly upon the ceiling. I thrashed about until everything above went silent. After a few moments I was able to discern a good deal of grumbly muttering, and then a great shuffling headed in the direction of their door. Presently, calm reigned, the moon shone upon the counterpane, and I collapsed upon my divan, there to enjoy the "rest of the dead", comme on dit.

A very common display on my part but, as I say, effective. The foolish part, you ask? Fabergé objets de vertu were never meant to be used in battle or as tools for unplanned apartment renovation - oh, la! Though it gave the ceiling plaster a good bit of a gouging, the cane handle came through it all only slightly depressed. But the large cabochon sapphire at the hilt had been knocked out. Alyssia has been looking for it ever since, so that I may have it repaired, but to no avail. Mama would be quite cross to know of my behavior and the damage inflicted upon her lovely possession. Ah, but she could never imagine the rough world I inhabit. Oh, the coarseness one must endure. C'est triste, très triste....

À bientôt, my darlings!

* Yes, you will ask why should I ever reside anywhere but on the top floor of any given building, the penthouse, even? Well, my darlings this will be instructive to you: When I was looking about for a temporary residence in this dreary city - "temporary"; the heart-wrenching irony of that word! - I was assured that this was the place to put up. Even though there was an available apartment on the top floor, I was assured by the management that the suite of rooms I currently occupy would prove more congenial - quieter, the better view, warmer in the winter, cooler in the summer, - and this had proved, for the most part, to be the case. It really is the nicest thing. So, there is a lesson for you, pets. Always strive after, always acquire, the best, not merely the most impressive. Quality trumps allure, you will see. Quality will out. Always remember that!


Penny Prévert said...

Mother, for god's sake, why didn't you just turn the stick over and hit the ceiling with the other side? I'm sure Grandmama's turning over in her grave with the knowledge that you lost the sapphire from her walking stick by banging it on the ceiling. I am glad that you gave those rude people a piece of your mind, but... Fabergé, Mother! And, wasn't that walking stick supposed to be mine? Didn't you have any shoes you could throw?

Madeleine Prévert said...

Oh, darling! Where are you, darling? Mummy hasn't heard from you for weeks! It's very odd but, you know, I saw a photograph in the paper the other day, and I could swear you were in it - but that couldn't have been, could it? Something about a new moving-picture, just out. There were a lot of silly women, very painted up and wearing nothing but spangles, splashing about in a very large pool. It was all quite shocking and undignified - which is, of course, the whole sad truth about your beloved Hollywood. Awful! Now, do assure your ever-worried Mummy that you had nothing to do with any of that. No, yes? Darling...?

As for our family heirlooms, pet, I think it very vulgar of you to speak of them as mere property to be doled out, once my death certificate has been signed; you sound as though you couldn't even wait for my poor corpse to go cold! Ha-ha! Well, but you do sound greedy, dear. As my only relative, you will of course receive all my worldly goods, comme on dit. You know all that. But let us not continue this tasteless strain.

I will certainly have Mama's stick repaired, so do not worry. Yes, it was a poorly chosen weapon, to be sure. But you cannot imagine the state of mind I was in at the time; I was frantic. You suggest I might have thrown shoes at the ceiling? Shoes?! Mummy wears an American size 4 1/2 shoe, darling. Do you really presume that the faintest thud of my dainty shoes upon the ceiling would make any sort of an impression upon those ghastly people upstairs? Oh, la!