Drumming, discord and din

"Oi Jorge, let's start the loudest drilling for 6:30am."
"¡Sí jefe!"
Mexicans are early risers, and they tend to work at a plodding pace until late. This gives them a reputation for being on the slow side even when they work the longest hours in the world. They might technically be the hardest workers, but if there's one thing that they're the worst at, it's being considerate with noise. There are very few mornings that I'm not woken up with a bang. It might be the bang of a hammer, the slamming of a door, or the bang of a drum in a passing marching band. Yes, I'm serious, marching bands often strike up the music at 6 a.m.

Mexico's love of fireworks is well documented so I won't go into that too much today. Needless to say that the bangs from them are bloody loud, frequent and bafflingly incongruous with any celebration or reasoning. I must say that I became very nervous when in the dentist's chair as some local lay-a-bouts started setting off bangers right outside the surgery. Have your fun fellas, but don't scare the crap out of the dentist when there's a drill in my mouth! 


'El ruido' here is particularly bad for the Tall Traveller. I'm bad enough at procrastinating already. This blog post has been sitting in my drafts pile for months, so I don't need any audible distractions when writing it! The brain does indeed need silence and calm to focus the thousands of random thoughts and memories into something useful. follicly challenged 19th Century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer wrote an interesting short piece on concentration and noise. You can read the full article here if you are interested, although the gist is, it's bad.



Conversation or commotion?

It's not that people here are rude, or that they don't care about other people's right to quiet, it's just that they have little concept that loudness can invade personal space (and personal sanity). Remember Mexico is a rapidly developing country, so it's buy now - pay later or more accurately build now - think later.
Students beware

People here shout into their cellphones about their latest love conquest or what mum is cooking for dinner with no concept that they might like to keep the conversation private. Most people seem to have the key tones on their twit-machines turned up to full volume because obviously you want to know every time you've successfully pressed a button. I'm surprised they don't have voice recognition:

"Congratulations Pepito, you've successfully pressed '3'".

My landlady loves to order everyone in her family (and her army of maids) around from the comfort of her own living room. She shouts down ask for the washing to be taken in, the door to be shut or the water turned on. This prompts her minions to shout back to her thus disturbing the quiet enjoyment of my lunchtime cheese and onion toasty. She even shouts down to her son to stop kicking his football against my flatmate's bedroom wall and come upstairs. The little tyke continues diligently damaging the brickwork though, as he can't hear her above the din of the imaginary crowd at the Azteca Stadium as he whacks in the winning goal. Put a sock in it Chicharito!

I guess it's good that people aren't embarrassed about living their lives, or shouting at their friends and family. I remember when I transferred here I took my cat on a long bus journey and was embarresedly trying to stop him meowing on the bus. Just the next week I took the same bus and there was a woman ignoring her whining and barking puppy with another girl actively encouraging her parakeet to squawk louder in Spanish. I swear, there is a conspiracy amongst Mexican animals to not allow a guy a moment's sleep.


Class caterwauling:

My classes aren't much better on the sound level front. They screech at each other and talk over me all class long (apart from during speaking exercises when they maintain a Monk-like muteness). I'm not much of a disciplinarian, after all they are adult students and not school pupils, if they choose to talk and not listen it's their prerogative. Sometimes I do get a little miffed and bellow at them to shut the hell up instruct them to listen in a commanding voice. It's pretty funny when this happens as they all switch to absolute silence and look at me with watery little eyes like a dog having been caught after destroying a cushion, or with a string of half-chewed sausages dangling from its mouth. "Tranquilo teacher . . ." one of them meekly offers.


Oaxaca Good Friday procession
Frequent fanfare:

Some of the more common cacophonies here are reserved for special occasions. Yet these 'special' occasions are suspiciously frequent. Mexicans love a procession - School processions, religious processions, municipal processions, funeral processions. I could go on. Obviously each of the processions come equipped with seemingly impossibly sized sousaphones, drums, pumping speakers and piercing trumpets. If only they knew how to play them well! One can't really moan too much about these occurrences, at least they are interesting to look at, it's just . . . it's just the . . . oh boy those trumpets are LOUD.

Rhythmic rumblings: 

Loud music is another very common form of noise here in Oaxaca. A local colleague of mine was moaning to me that the old family traditions for Day of the Dead are starting to die out due to the young people in the town trying to create bigger gatherings around huge sound systems. And just the other day, a friend told me about a professional DJ who had turned up his mixing desk to full creating a cacophony of distortion and awful sound. A sound engineer that he knew asked the DJ to amend the levels so as to cut the distortion and maintain the same volume level. The DJ looked at him blankly and pointed to his sound desk . . . "Maximum!" As alluded to in my Istmo de Tehuatepec song, jukeboxes can be a menace too. They tend to be installed in small bars and restaurants and turned up to hideous levels. There is no thought for the common consensus here, if one customer wants loud music in a small space, all of us have to suffer it. At least put some Lighthouse Family or easy listening on the playlist, not those bloody trumpets again!


Whilst I'm not always the biggest fan of blaring Banda music, I don't mind people's tunes playing too much. After all, it is part of the culture here, and the lyrics are often entertaining Cartel stories. Georgian literary buff Samuel Johnson once said:

"Of all noises, I think music is the least disagreeable"

and with that, I most certainly agree.



 I'll leave you with a nice video from Pink Floyd, whose ambient sounds and soaring melodies helped me to overcome my incessant lethargy and get this post off the ground.

Shine on you crazy diamonds . . . and keep that racket down.