It’s over two years now since the sounds outside my bedroom window that very first night, made me think about how we react to noise, especially at night “First Night in My Casita”. Back then, in July 2012, I took a firm decision that NOISE, however noisy, was not going to bother me. The combination of dogs barking, children shrieking, adults arguing, and church bells ringing, was clearly going to be a regular occurrence, and even as an inexperienced newbie it seemed to me to be something that I either needed to get used to and push to the back of my mind, or it would grow to become something unbearable.
Since then, someone a couple of streets away has installed a cock which crows triumphantly at 7am, seemingly unaware that we have been awake until the small hours – la madrugada. A house which is quite a distance by road but across the roofs and patios is quite close, has a young goat in a shed on the terrace. And the mule in the parallel street still complains loudly and vociferously whenever he is dragged in through the front door, across the kitchen and out to his stall in the rear yard. The neighbour’s children are growing, as is their vocal capacity, and as is the audible frustration of their mother.
This is Spain, and these are the sounds of Spain. The bars keep the television turned up to maximum volume, so the old boy propping up one end of the bar has to shout even louder to join in the conversation at the other end. Often a second television competes, showing a different football match or another noisy game show. In a corner, the clicking of the dominoes is enough to drive you mad if you allow it to.
There are beautiful sounds as well. The high notes of the pan pipes float down the road, signalling the arrival of the knife-sharpener. The mournful emotional sounds of the agony bells (el toque agónico) as someone approaches or arrives at their death. The annual flamenco competition in the village, the music drifting over the rooftops into my open bedroom windows. The clatter of hooves down the street as the still-working horses head for the fields.
Missing are the sounds that filled my old life. The comforting drone of John Humphrys on Radio 4 in the mornings. Traffic outside the cottage. Aeroplanes overhead. The school playground across the road. Contrary to popular belief, I would suggest that Spain is not noisier. But they are different sounds, and they tend to be at their peak at hours when the UK is falling silent. Not better, not worse, just different.
Yet sadly, the English-language newspapers and the expat forums are full of complaints about noise. Perhaps people imagined that the noises they found charming when visiting Spain on holiday, would somehow disappear if they lived here full-time? Or perhaps holidays in nice hotels on the Costas were inadequate preparation for living in an isolated home in the campo surrounded by working farms and animals? Whatever the reason, “noise” in Spain seems to be a major cause of dissatisfaction. Recently a discussion in a local internet forum included a plea to visitors in nearby holiday rental homes “Can’t someone explain to these holiday-makers that some of us have to live here?” The complaint was that visitors were drinking on the terrace and playing music until the small hours. Goodness – how dare they! Just like the Spanish! The behaviour of Spanish children is a regular source of complaints too – “They shouldn’t be kept up late like that, it’s SO bad for them” is the cry. Perhaps “bad for me” would be more accurate – at least if someone wants to retain UK-style sleep patterns in a country which does things differently. There is a balance to be struck between being blindly uncritical of our adopted country which clearly has faults and problems, and being blindly critical of differences which have emerged naturally from a different climate, culture and history.
It’s a noisy country. The cities are modern, vibrant, loud. The rural areas are traditional, sociable, loud. Maybe one day it will change – though I’m not convinced that would be necessarily for the better. In the meantime, we can choose to grump and moan, going to bed at 10pm with ear-plugs and complaining about the children (and adults) shouting outside. Or we can take a kitchen chair out onto the street along with a mug of coffee, and sit comfortably with the neighbours in the cool of the long summer nights, shouting and laughing along with them, until eventually at 2am or thereabouts silence falls, the group of friends bid each other “sueños dulces” and the wooden chairs are carried back indoors.
© Tamara Essex 2014 http://www.twocampos.com
THIS WEEK’S LANGUAGE POINT:
I’m trying to get my head around “falta”. Easy enough when the waiter comes over during your meal to check if we have everything we need – “¿Falta algo?” Is anything missing? But then there is “Hace falta …” which seems to mean the opposite, well sometimes. “Hace falta ….” means “you have to”, a bit like “tiene que” but less personal.
So we can imagine the following conversation …
“Have we got everything for the paella?”
“No, we are missing a red pepper.”
“Right, you have to buy one then.”
This is a great example of just having to go with the flow. A direct word-by-word translation of that conversation would render it ridiculous.
“Anything is missing for the paella?”
“Yes, a red pepper is missing.”
“Right, it makes missing to buy one.”
And for months, whenever I heard “hace falta” my English brain tried to grapple with the concept of “hace” (it does, or it makes) and “falta” (missing), together meaning that you have to do something. Finally, with the help of my unofficial language guides, I have been persuaded to allow my English brain to close down, and simply accept that translating doesn’t work. You have to hear it, and you have to say it, without translating. “Hace falta escucharlo, y hace falta decirlo, sin traducirlo.”