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Mexico is a noisy place

Stan Gotlieb

Mexico is a noisy place. Unless your cave is very high up the mountain, far beyond human habitation, noise is an integral part of your life.

Certain kinds of noises are universal, occurring with equal frequency and comparable decibel levels in both urban and rural locations. The chief among them is church bells, which ring out several times daily, calling the faithful to mass, summoning the villagers to gather, announcing an emergency, or displaying the high spirits of a drunken parishioner who, at five in the morning, wishes to share his happiness with his neighbors.

Fireworks run a close second. In Mexico, everything is celebrated with a loud bang, the louder the better (there are cannons that cannot rival the volume of some commercial cherry bombs), and an early start is considered lucky. Most of the time, one is hard pressed to know if the bang that one hears at 2:00 a.m. is the start, or the finish, of someone's percussion extravaganza.

Third place goes to automotive noises, although their character varies with location. If you are in the city, it's car alarms, orchestrating their computerized wails at the merest glance from a passing stranger; in the country it is more likely to be faulty or nonexistent muffler systems. Squealing bus brakes are common to both places. So is the neighbors' radio, playing at full blast.

Man's best friend, stationed on the roof of most houses, joined together in choruses of frenzied barking, provides the moon, the casual stroller in the street, and the insomniacs among us with examples of his devotion to duty.

The rest of the noises vary, depending on location. Animals, particularly burros and chickens, are more common outside the city, and ghetto blasters less so. Also more to be heard in the country: little cars with big speakers mounted on the roof, advising the citizenry as to how to vote, where to shop, or when the workshop on sanitary latrine building begins.

In the urban milieu, we have a surfeit of television, and street advertising is less needed. Always rushing in to fill a vacuum, our citified neighbors replace town criers with big city criers. The chief among these are the schools, each of which has a super-decibel sound system installed in the exercise yard. Every morning, we are treated to the cries of the p.t. teacher, exhorting her students: "manos ariba" (hands up), manos afuera (hands out to your sides), uno-dos-tres-cuatro, uno-dos-tres-cuatro".

The Church also contributes. No matter how poor the congregation, how old or how disheveled the building, each and every church boasts an amplification system. Thus, without leaving the comfort of one's living room, one may receive the homily from the nearest house of worship.

Not to be outdone by the religious sector, the secular too offers aural delights. Festivals, birthday parties, weddings and wakes: all call for music, and there are hundreds of bands, troupes, trios and other assorted day-sleepers who live to play from dusk 'til dawn.

Unless you are as fortunate as I when it comes to the ability to sleep in the middle of a battlefield, don't forget your earplugs. It's not done to ask your neighbor to turn down the noise, whatever its origin. Don't like your neighbor's choice in music/news programs/punch presses? Just turn your own radio up loud enough to drown it out...

 

Monomaker Image "Monos", which are worn by street dancers, performing to tinny, syncopated brass band music, are a feature of any "calenda" (procession) or fiesta. Mono is the spanish word for monkey, but nowadays monos may look like anyone from Darth Vader to Carlos Salinas. Photography by Diana Ricci


If you have comments or suggestions for Stan, you can contact him at:
http://www.realoaxaca.com/email-realoaxaca.html

Published or Updated on: January 1, 1997 by Stan Gotlieb © 1997
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