sons da diversidade

If there’s one thing in Santiago that never ceases to amaze me, it’s the sounds. The sounds. The noise of life that can be heard so clearly throughout the city…

Last night, on the north side of Santiago, in a large concert hall, the sounds of Algerian pop music pulsed from the stage where famed singer Khaled was performing. There was a mandolin and the wailing of Arab prayers and French pop music and the cheering of the crowds and the clapping in unison of an audience moved to dance, all at a volume that could have broken barriers. It was a big party.

In front of the Cathedral, the sounds of voices rose and fell as a group of Eastern European students stood in front of the monument, and, with nothing more than an acoustic guitar and their own voices, sang their praises to their highest god in the middle of a crisp spring night. The uplifting hymn crosses briefly with the sound of a gaita (the traditional Galician bagpipe) sounding mournfully from under some stone archway nearby (sometimes it’s a harp or an accordion, but today it’s a gaita), and then the only sound that’s left is the clicking of shoes on cobblestone streets and the voices of passersby thrown into sharp relief.

Down a narrow street lined with the illuminated windows of restaurants bearing traysful of seafood and fish, a piper, dressed haggardly and almost always accompanied by an entourage of dogs, pipes a merry tune as he waits for tourists to throw money into the hat at his feet. The tune, reminiscent of the Scottish songs I heard so many times in Glasgow, fades as techno music takes over (the beat of which can be felt long before it is heard), spilling out of a cheap souvenir shop in an attempt to attract tourists. Then there is the traditional Galician music, trendy Spanish pop, and Caribbean reggaeton, all flowing over and under one another, creating a cacaphony of noise that assaults the ears of pedestrians, while at the same time creating a symphony of human life.

Father away from the city’s bustling center, on a deserted street in the middle of the night, the sounds of living echo across empty alleyways. There’s a baby crying, a dog barking, people laughing in time to a well-told joke, a bottle (most likely full of beer) breaking on a nearby sidewalk; the clinking of spoon to cup in the still-open cafes, the roll of gates being locked and curtains drawn, the mechanical creaking of the garbage truck, lifting heavy containers towards its mouth, the soft sweep of the street cleaner with his tree-branch broom, and the scrape of his shovel against concrete, the indinstict hum of a hundred televisions.

These are the sounds of the city. Sons da cidade.

Freedom of the press

It used to be that, if I crossed the plaza in front of my house between 9 and 10am, there would be a lady in an orange vest and hat handing out free copies of the Metro newspaper to passersby (though I must hasten to mention that in Santiago, we don’t have a metro). This was okay, because sometimes I would read the latest gossip (Britney’s shaved head) or local news articles (like the man who killed his wife and mother-in-law, claiming to have imagined that they were ostriches that were attacking him in his sleep), and sometimes there were sections in English that I could use with my students. And if I happened to walk by there late, or early, no one would bother me and that was fine. And everyone was happy.

Then one day, a new newspaper, 20 Minutos, showed up. They stood in the same plaza right next to the Metro lady and so you would get TWO newspapers, both with the same, if not ridiculously similar, articles, and they started to pile up in my room, unread. So I started to politely refuse when they offered me copies. I always got a glaring look like, “Hey man, why can’t you just take a damn paper and be on your way?” while my opinion is, “Hey listen, I’ve got nothing against your newspaper, but I don’t have time to read it and I don’t want all that crap in my apartment!”

Well. NOW, in my five-minute daily walk from Carlos’ apartment to mine, there are FOUR newspapers. There are two 20 Minutos distributors (though I think “hander-outers” is the correct term), one from the Metro, and one from a local Galician gossip-newspaper called Luns a venres. It’s gotten out of hand. Now they’re there for hours, offering me papers every few feet, and if I happen to pass through the plaza more than once during the morning, I will get offered papers so many times that I will eventually take one out of pure exasperation.

If I had a job where I was required to be at my desk for eight hours straight, these papers would come in handy. However, I don’t, and so they don’t, and I generally just find it irritating to start my day by having papers thrust in my face (which, through the rest of the day, will be followed by having fliers and pamphlets thrust in my face). I suppose if this is the biggest thing I’ve got to complain about, that’s probably pretty good. But still, it makes for an entertaining story, so I thought I’d mention it. Who knows, maybe this post will appear in the next issue of 20 Minutos. Maybe not.