Blog 18 Sounds

                                                      23 February 2013; 6:20 am


            Flash, boom! Boom! It is 6:20 in the morning in Juxtlahuaca, the sky is brightening with the pale light of dawn. It will be at least an hour before the sun peeks over the chain of mountains on the east side of the valley, and the first rockets of this Saturday have let the city know that somebody somewhere is celebrating something. Chickens are crowing and it is no use straining to figure out from which direction, because in Juxtlahuaca, as always in rural Mexico, they are all around us. There is a small open-air chapel two streets uphill from us, and what sounds like maybe a dozen women are reciting the rosary. “Santa María, Madre de Dios, ruega por nosotros . . .” The chapel has a loud speaker, so everyone in this part of town can follow along with the litany. Down hill, below the plaza, on the state highway, a truck shifts gears.


I slip out of bed, take care of my morning ablutions, plug in the immersion coil to heat water for my first cup of coffee, and fire up the PowerBook. The two male cenzontles in their cages on the wall of the patio of the Hotel Mixteca, are well into their morning competition of squeaks, whistles, hoots, and trills. Mexican mocking birds will imitate absolutely anything, so from my room I can’t be sure if I am hearing the whistle of the hot atole wagon in the street or one of the cenzontles. It’s 7:15, and on the concrete roof of the house next door two boys with long iron chisel-ended poles and chipping away rhythmically at the concrete. The roof leaks, Doña Aída told us yesterday, and they have to peck all the fissures clean before they can pour a new one. The chipping has been going on for a week, and in another week, she tells us, they ought to be done. Flash, boom! Boom!, and a flock of pigeons, their wings whirring, fill the sky outside my window.


Water is running somewhere. Probably our hotelkeeper feeding the trees in the Hotel Mixteca’s small patio: a mango, loaded with fruit that will be ripe in June; a lima, whose bright yellow lemons are already perfect for juicing; a jacaranda, sloughing off its delicate flowers to tinge the patio floor, and our car, with purplish blue; and bougambilia, with red and purple blossoms that entirely mask the east side of the patio. Car noises now, motor scooters, three-wheeled delivery vans. A terrier on the roof across the street has begun to bark at something, and that sets the dogs off all over the neighborhood. A garbage truck rumbles past, and a pickup loaded with planks. The rosary must have stopped a few minutes ago —I didn’t notice—, but the loudspeakers at the church on one side of Juxtlahuaca’s main plaza, in front of the Post Office, is announcing something or other. The two parrots in their cages next to the water cooler in the hotel patio are making wolf-whistles at something, maybe each other. Or maybe at the donkey that is braying somewhere up the hill. In the street neighbors are calling morning greetings to each other. Kids chattering, giggling, hollering.


Wherever people are living, the radios and TVs are on, and it seems to be impolite in this culture not to share your music with your neighbors. Every restaurant plays its TVs loudly, often tuned to different channels. Once the stores open, in another hour or so, every third establishment will draw attention to itself by blasting music into the street from a pair of enormous speakers. The street stands that sell pirated CDs and DVDs all provide samples of their wares at full throttle.


Town criers still flourish in Mexico, too: the larger stores advertise with sound trucks that ply the city streets from mid morning to closing time promoting sales and special deals. Civic announcements, too, are broadcast by sound trucks: notices of meetings, messages urging vaccination, recycling, concerts on the square. Wheeled merchants each have an audial logo that announces, from their truck or pushcart or bicycle, what is momentarily at hand for you to buy. The ice-cream cart has a bell; the knife-sharpener a horn; the propane gas truck a two-tone bleat; the elote wagon, an ear-shattering steam whistle that shouts: Buy My Steamed Corn on the Cob!


There is no quiet. There is never any quiet. Even deep in the countryside, walking on a trail high up in a pine forest, I will hear somebody’s music playing, and behind it the donkeys and chickens and dogs flecking the horizon with sound.


Mexico comes with a soundtrack. It is always turned on, always at full blast. Sometimes enjoyable, sometimes annoying, but unescapable.  


Flash, boom! Boom!