I’m what you might call a romantic, and since moving from a small northern town into Vancouver, I like discovering anything about the place than can be remotely romanticized: “Oooh, look at that beautiful graffiti!” My roommate, on the other hand, is one of those no-nonsense, small-town, northern girls – what you might call a pragmatic. So when she began complaining about a guy who sings up and down Tenth Avenue, my ears perked up.
“I mean my God he’s so annoying!” she exclaimed one day, taking her runners off.
“Who? Who is?” I asked desperately.
“The guy who always sings at the top of his lungs in Italian. You’ve heard him.”
“No, no I haven’t,” I replied, practically frantic at having missed so rare a specimen.
“Well you will,” she predicted darkly, walking off to her room, “I mean, how much attention do people need to draw to themselves?”
I could have answered that one, but her disdain for the singer only made me want to hear him more. And she was right, I did. His deep, resonant voice filled the air one summer night as I was lying on my bed reading a book. I stared out into the dark, transfixed, wishing I knew what the song was. From then on, I heard him all the time. He sang in the rain, he sang in the sun, and he definitely sang by twilight – which seemed to be his favourite hour.
I tried to cajole my roommate into liking him. “Maybe he’s from – you know – the old country or something,” I suggested. “Like, maybe they walked around the streets of the little town singing and drinking espresso and red wine.”
“Well that’s ok in his village or whatever, but in Vancouver, people drink their espresso quietly!”
I didn’t mind so much. I wanted to see him, this phantom.
And then one unexpected evening, balancing too many bags of groceries from my limbs in a most un-romantic way, I spotted him – a small elderly gentleman, chest out, literally vibrating with the notes. He tipped his hat and kept going, leaving the milk and eggs and me in a wake of music.
It was one of those rare moments when the city rewards you for believing in it.