I'm mad as hell and I can't tell anyone about it.
A lively new nightclub has opened in Montpellier, which, as a university town, is a great place to open a club. There are plenty of beautiful young people on every street corner, just waiting for a new place to hang out, get drunk and dance the night away. A positive boon to the prospective nightclub owner.
There are several great nightclubs in Montpellier, if you're into dancing. The Rock Store is a huge dark space with a stage and a Cadillac stuck halfway into the wall above the entrance. They make a fine Tequila Sunrise, and the DJ plays a good mix of American hits and Euro-techno-funk-whatever-the-kids-call-it-these-days. Another club, between Montpellier and Lattes, gets a huge Saturday night crowd. It's got two stories, and if you're feeling particularly adventurous, you can dance in one of their go-go cages. The club itself is actually two open spaces with movable walls between them, so that it can expand when one side gets full. I know this because I went dancing there once and leaned up against one of those walls. I immediately found myself lying flat on my back in the other (unlit and empty) space. Ginger Rogers I ain't.
There is a problem with the newest club to hit Montpellier, however. The problem with this new nightclub is not the young drunk dancers or the enthusiastically loud music. The problem, dear readers, is that the new nightclub has both these things and it is directly under our bedroom.
Actually, that's not quite accurate. It is two floors below our bedroom, which makes it even more incredible to be able to feel the bass thumping in my chest at midnight.
Obviously, the nightclub was not there when I leased the apartment. It wasn't there last week. It opened two nights ago. I had a very bad feeling when I went to bed on Wednesday night that the music I heard wasn't just another neighbor with his stereo turned up too high and the windows open. The weather this week has been decidedly spring-like, and that seemed a possibility. But last night the thumping bass was there again.
When Dave came upstairs, I gave him a long look. He undressed, got into bed and said, in that wary voice you use when you can see your spouse is irritated, "What?"
I bounced my head in time to the bass by way of reply. He tilted his head, gave me a funny look and asked, "What?" again.
"Listen," I hissed.
He settled in and listened. Three seconds later he closed his eyes and issued a heavy sigh.
You have to understand that our apartment has never been a quiet place, except when it's raining outside. We're on the major in-road to the old city, and somebody is always yelling, driving a moped past the kitchen, or demonstrating in the street out front. We can laugh and shake our heads during the day, but the nights are still a problem. It's a necessity to keep some windows open in warm weather, and the noise levels aren't conductive to sleep. There's also a bar across the street from the front door of our building and the drunken students use the alley that our living room window looks down on for smoking, kissing and other physical activities I don't want to get into it. Suffice it to say that you need to watch where you step when you use that alley after an especially rowdy evening.
So we haven't exactly been looking forward to the summer. The new nightclub is sort of the last straw.
After about 20 minutes of listening to progressively louder music, Dave got up, got dressed and went out to investigate. I prayed it was just a neighbor, but I knew better.
When he returned, he confirmed that the newly opened Iguana Café was the culprit. Dave's quite good at asserting himself in situations like this, so he'd tried to talk to the bouncer at the door, of course speaking French. He said the conversation went something like this:
Dave: Good evening. I live up there. The music is very loud.
Bouncer: <blank look>
Dave: OK, good night then.
And here we come to the crux of the problem. How do you communicate your complaints in a foreign language when the only thing you can reliably say is so obvious as to be fairly meaningless? Obviously the music is very loud - it's a nightclub after all. But to tell someone that the music is so loud that it is disrupting your sleep requires the use of complicated sentence structure. We take this for granted in our native tongue, but saying such things in French requires verb conjugations ("is disrupting" is a verb I'm not even sure I know yet), and deciding which indirect pronoun is appropriate for "that" in this particular sentence is tricky at best. Plus you want to do all this in a short amount of time, so you're not standing around stuttering and saying, "Umm... errr...I, uh...am unable, hmmm... to sleep."
Not to mention that you can't just walk up to a bouncer and say, "The music is so loud I can't sleep" and not expect him to reply. He's going to tell you something - probably to get some earplugs or move or something helpful like that - and you have to understand what he says so you can figure out whether to translate, "Thank you for turning that racket down" or "If you don't turn it down I'll call the cops." Which is something we probably wouldn't do anyway, seeing as how calling the cops would entail complaining over the phone and if there's anything harder than understanding someone speaking French right in front of you, it's talking to them over the phone!
After 10 months of French lessons, we're only really comfortable uttering simple sentences. Like three year olds, we walk around telling people that it's raining, or cold, or the music is loud. We're relatively proud of these sentences until we realize we're not actually telling anyone anything they didn't already know. We tend to tell people it's cold or sunny or rainy when we're outside or standing by a window. And the bouncer certainly knows that the music in the club is loud, so what's the point in reminding him?
When we're sleep deprived and upset, we can't really get those emotions across in French, either. It starts out strong and peters out immediately. "If you don't stop peeing in the alley I'm going to rig an electrical wire in that corner and see how you like the shock!" is a colorful statement and sends a very clear message. But I don't know any of the words for it, in French. The best I can come up with when I'm annoyed is "Stop! Go home!" It doesn't carry the same weight, you know? Plus, there's no word for home in French, so I wind up with, "Stop! Go to your house!" Which sounds dorky.
We're not sure what we're going to do about the nightclub situation. I've located my earplugs, though, and am considering getting a white noise machine. For now, I'm tired. At least it's something I can say in French.
- KNP March 23, 01