We noticed it the first night we slept in our upstairs apartment in the Accademia dei Nobili. It started subtly, then ratcheted up, up, higher, until it sounded like a wagon full of tin pans rolling unsteered down a bumpy hill.
It was the windows in our bedroom rattling as vaporettos (Venetian water busses) passed by four stories below on the Canale della Giudecca. We had the convenient luck to be a ball’s bounce from two different vaporetto stops – one at La Palanca, the other at Santa Eufemia. But unfortunately for us, vaporettos are driven by bear-throated diesel engines that broadcast on a sub-bass frequency finely tuned to vibrate Venetian window panes.
Did I mention that it was loud? I immediately thought of the sound I heard that night in Santa Monica in January, 1994, when the Northridge Earthquake reminded me of my mortality by relocating my refrigerator to the dining room and stirred my worldly possessions into a huge gumbo on the floor.
Our apartment’s previous occupant was an old lady. We know very little about her, but I have concluded there is a strong possibility she was fully deaf, since a hearing person could not possibly have cohabited with the noise. Despite everything, that first night, we actually managed to snag a few snatches of sleep between vaporetto runs, since they operate at a mercifully reduced schedule in the early morning hours – every 45 minutes or so. Still, something had to be done.
In the light of day, I was assigned the job of solving the problem. After a couple of strong coffees, brilliant inspiration struck: I would take pieces of newspaper and jam them in the cracks between the frames. Smug with my resourceful originality, I stood on a chair and went to work.
Someone had gotten there first. About half the panes already had wads of paper holding the glass in place. One yellowed slip fell to the ground, so I opened it. It was a piece of the newspaper, La Nuova Venezia, and you could still read a date from 1972. If I’d checked, I imagine I would have found newspaper crammed in there dating to the dawn of diesel vaporettos after World War II.
While the paper cramming method solved the rattle problem, there were two new bedroom sound challenges we would eventually discover.
I was able to overcome one– the squeakiest bed I have ever encountered – by pouring extra virgin olive oil over a wobbly, dried out joint (a crack-pot idea that Lorraine said would never work, and for once, actually did).
The other problem never got solved. It was Dour Undershirt Man, our next-door neighbor, and his high-decibel, cartoon snoring. We came to accept it, bitterly at first, but ultimately, found it had a gently lulling effect, kind of like the ships passing on the canale below.
POSTED AT THE TED 2004 CONFERENCE, MONTEREY, CALIFORNIA