El Sonido de la Fritanga

‘El Sonido de la Fritanga’ which sounds like the title of a salsa song, actually means ‘The sound of shit frying’. This is the sound of the Incredible Ponce’s apartment block. Every flat in Madrid has its own sounds; in a city where we live piled on top of, underneath, next door to, and above each other, it’s impossible not to be surrounded by sound. The Ponce’s house sounds like this: ‘SSShhhhhhhhzzzzzz……..’ Every single time I go round for a coffee or to watch a late night film, or to have dinner, at some point not that far after arrival, whether that is at five in the afternoon or two in the morning, I hear someone lovingly lowering a chip pan into hot fat.

The flat I shared with the Huertas Pirate sounded of old ladies cackling outside our street-level bedroom windows, or calling to each other from balcony to balcony like macaques across the jungle. In the summer you could hear the blare of gameshows or gunfights from the television set dragged out onto the balcony by the opposite neighbour, who used to sit splayed in a deck chair with a cool beer watching it all night. The flat I shared with the Tourtoise sounded of children playing in the communal garden area between the buildings and the street.

My current home has few sounds, none of them particularly intrusive. There is the gushing of water through communal piping, my neighbours’ sewerage trickling down past me all day every time someone flushes, which I choose to hear as the energetic tinkling of a water feature. Then there are the Four Horse-dogs of the Apocalypse, Carmen’s gremlins, who she brings down for a walk three or four times a day.  As soon as the front door to their small flat is unlocked they are unleashed onto the upstairs balcony and narrow stairway, and there is furious woofing and yapping, the clicking of frantic little claws, as paws trip and scramble to get down the stairway faster than the others, a spiral of barking and leaping all the way to the corrala outside my front door where they burst into the open space yapping freely, then echoing through the entranceway and out into the street. This has become, far from an irritation, as I imagined it would when I first heard it after moving in, an exuberant and relentlessly optimistic sound for me.

The final sound to register on a regular basis is the little caged bird which Carmen recently bought to keep her and the dogs company. And the rest of the corrala, by association. I haven’t seen the poor little thing yet, but can hear it.

‘See?’ Carmen whispers, smiling, cocking her head to one side, as she poises with the broom in her hand in the patio. ‘She’s calling to me, listen-‘ and she whistles, pursing her tattooed lips together to make a clear note. The bird pauses, then replies with a long, low, drawn-out warbling.

‘Isn’t that a lovely sound?’ asks Carmen.

‘Yes, it is.’ I have always loved the sound of birds singing. But from the branches of trees, not from inside cages. I don’t like to tell her it is the sound of its distress, it is singing its heart out in distress because it wants its cage door to be opened, and to be let free.

In the same way I choose to hear the trickling of a fountain in an Andaluz patio instead of toilet effluent running down the pipes, the Ponce chooses to hear something else in the hiss and ssssshhhhhhhhh of the constant fat frying.

‘If you close your eyes,’ he assures me, handing me a joint, ‘and you really listen, you can hear the sound of the sea rushing over pebbles….. in….. and then out again, back to sea……. Isn’t that great? Listen……’

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