Friday, February 17, 2012

Sounds Of San Miguel

It's probably four am. as I lay wide awake in bed listening to the dog next door growl and bark at something in the dark. It aggressively barks in rapid succession for several minutes before quieting down long enough for me to believe he's finished, and sleep slowly creeps back in to fill the void. Suddenly, the barking starts up again for several minutes followed by a stillness and I begin again to drift. This pattern is repeated until I finally give in and reach for my greasy ear plugs that wait patiently on the night stand. I twist them deeply into place as I curse my false belief that it would have eventually come to an end.

While I listen to the dull, far off sound of the dog through the compressed foam, I think about how loud Mexico is. Generally speaking, it's a noisy place and being in a busy city like San Miguel seems to only amplify this truth. During the day, it's the sound of diesel busses and taxis that compete with the cars and trucks on the narrow cobbled streets that run between the dimpled concrete surfaces of ancient buildings. Throttled motorcycles, engine noise and backfires echo back and forth like giants in a tennis match lobbing hubcap filled garbage cans at each other.

A man walks through the neighborhood clanging two heavy pieces of iron together, a warning that the garbage truck is coming, so bring out your trash. High pitched flutes indicate the knife sharpener is nearby. He rounds the corner with a hand powered grinding stone slung over his back. Sometimes it's another man on a bicycle and the grinder is wired onto the handlebars and powered by another set of pedals, still he uses the same flute so you know what he does. There's a symphony of multiple sounds and they often overlap in a cacophony of brutal noise. As I sink deeper towards sleep I picture a pie chart that represents the world of sound. A huge section reserved for the country of Mexico and a much smaller slice that represented all of the sounds of the rest of the world combined.

The propane gas truck plays a catchy tune and drives by slowly, followed shortly by a pickup truck piled high with scrap metal. A loud speaker is attached to the roof and a commanding voice broadcasts forth with the harsh demand that you bring you metal out for them to recycle. And later, on the corner, busy pedestrian traffic pass a street vendor who calls out his products in rapid succession and with a voice that is unmistakable because of its unique resonance, cigaros! chocolates! puros!...

Garbage collection bell ringer

Ranchero music drops down from the open window of a second story apartment, as a man below calls out 'elooooteee' (corn) for those that may want corn on the cob or a scoop of garbanzo beans from a plastic bucket. Children scream and laugh as they chase each other through the park while the different neighborhood churches ring out calls to prayer from bell towers that rise above the fray, trying to override all others. These sounds, this 'voice of Mexico' is constant. A normal part of the culture, a condition as automatic and innocuous as breathing in and out. It's beyond tolerance for the average Mexican, it doesn't register for them and they pay it no heed and in fact, seem to be oblivious unless it serves an immediate need like the sound of the water truck.

For me, finding sanctuary within the cool thick walls of home is an anticipated if undeliverable relief from the barrage. Even late in the evening there's no finding complete silence, though sometimes simply lowering the volume is enough, at least that's what I tell myself as I lay awake in the still of the night with nothing but the barking dog next door.

But wait, now I don't hear even the muffled sound through the ear plugs. I remove them and it relieves the itch and discomfort. Finally, the peaceful quite takes me down towards deep sleep.  I float in the thick atmosphere of another planet, far away. Then, from nowhere, a firecracker jolts me back. A sound so loud it's as if someone lobbed a glob of nitroglycerin against the wall to the bedroom. I'm back in Mexico.

Listen to the sounds here
Plus Mariachi bonus track

By Mark

1 comment:

  1. Very entertaining...I don't know if I. Could take all that raquet, too used only the sounds of the owls and coyotes here in coralitos.


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