Broken eggs and broken boundaries

A by-product of residing in a fairly typical neighbourhood in Lisbon is living and breathing the highs and lows of those that inhabit the immediate environs. A certain degree of mutual tolerance is required: we occasionally carouse late into the evening on our terrace, whilst our neighbours variously barbecue sardines (lending a fishy aroma to our laundry), loudly chastise their children, or choose to work out their domestic disputes for all and sundry to hear. It’s all about give and take.

I can’t pinpoint exactly how long ago our noisiest neighbours moved in, but for many years now, they have made an intrusively rowdy contribution to the community. This is primarily because they insist on going about their lives with the kitchen window wide open all year round. And even when they aren’t shouting, their clanging pots and pans and the TV permanently on at full volume, remind us of their presence. Their apartment is situated behind ours, on the other side of a long, deep alley that runs between our road and a main avenue.

I first became aware of this family because in the early days, when I overheard their exchanges, the only words in Portuguese I could pick out and understand were the obscenities. I was morbidly fascinated by how they’d abuse each other verbally, as casually as I’d ask my husband if he fancied a cuppa. The lady of the house has a particularly shrill tone and sounds like the verbal equivalent of a machine gun. The son subjects his parents to mournful character assassinations in monologue form. The father is gruff and monosyllabic, except when he’s using expletives – but this is only because these words require the use of more than one syllable. Added to which, he also has the unsavoury habit of hocking noisily while enjoying the view from his balcony. They are impossible to ignore.

Over the years I’ve ascertained that the grown son lives permanently with his parents and a daughter and her offspring visit often, in order to pick a fight. There is also a pet cat, which I’ve occasionally spotted perched precariously on the kitchen window ledge, presumably contemplating escape or suicide. All this, and repeated confirmation that all the male members of the family are called João.

A small blessing is that this family tends to go to bed early and I’ve never heard them rowing into the night. Despite often feeling mildly irritated by their continual bickering, I was genuinely concerned one evening, having overheard a particularly lengthy disagreement. Communications were drawn to a close by a final screech from mother, after which, the lights were turned off abruptly and a curtain of silence fell. I couldn’t help wondering if someone had finally turned homicidal. Prompt resumption of normal service the following day left me feeling relieved, but only slightly.

Two separate events one spring evening last May were cause for celebration in certain quarters. Not only had Salvador Sobral secured victory for Portugal in Eurovision, but the Lisbon football team Benfica had won the Portuguese league. Compared to usual, there was quite a hubbub on the streets. One household close by was so excited by the turn of events that they responded by playing Salvador’s winning ditty on loop, very loudly. As I say, tolerance is key.

Despite the noise they make, the family across the alley are not night owls, and all the commotion evidently left João Senior unable to sleep and grumpier than ever. I have to conclude that he considered the main irritants to be the Salvador/Eurovision fans a few doors up on our side of the alley. He opted to make his displeasure known by throwing three or four raw eggs from his kitchen window at them. His aim was terrible, failing completely to achieve the correct trajectory to assail the Eurovision-loving culprits. However, in the process he did succeed in narrowly missing my husband’s head as he was enjoying a night-cap on our terrace and also in sullying Dona Olinda’s freshly laundered undergarments, which were drying on her veranda upstairs. There was egg on Senhor João’s face and, quite literally, egg all over the place.

It took a while, but noise levels eventually returned to normal, after what can only have been a shame-laden hiatus in family friction.

I actually feel sorry for them all; it’s a highly dysfunctional set up and it’s clear that one or more of them needs to move out. I doubt we’ll ever know the root cause of Senhor João’s misery, nor indeed the source of his illogical decision to start flinging eggs at his neighbours. I’m speculating that in light of his futile attempts at shooting and scoring, he might be a Sporting Lisbon fan, and Benfica’s win tipped him over the edge. Either that, or (unlikely, surely?), he hates Eurovision.

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