Monday, January 3, 2011

Sounds of Valparaiso

Many a morning I have laid in bed cursing the streets of Valparaiso. To be clear, I love this city. These are the damnations made by the recently and rudely awakened. Each morning I have the distinct pleasure of enjoying, from my own bed, the symphony of obnoxious noises that make up the street life of Valparaiso.

It is mainly due to location. The next-door church clock tower, the busy street below and the fire station across the street are relatively discreet. In this case, relative is the operative word.

Across the street is the headquarters of the Santiago Wanders, which, despite it’s name, is Valparaiso’s home soccer team. The Wanders and their fans are unanimously recognized as “flaite”, a Chilean socioeconomic category characterized by poverty, low education, an aggressive demeanor, a vulgar vocabulary and a fierce love for playing reggaeton from their cell phones in public. On game days, the die-hard fans line in front of the building to drink cheap beer and yell. They chant fĂștbol cheers, holler at passing women, harass passing men, argue loudly about sports statistics and probably even remark on the weather at an elevated volume. On special days they remember to bring the drums. This all begins at the godforsaken hour of 9 am on a Saturday.

During the week, the noises of the street take a more academic turn. The local schools regularly fill the streets with marching bands from the military academy, drum lines from the alternative school, even German heritage pageants from the German language school. Non school-sanctioned activities include mass walkouts protesting the government’s education budget cuts.

Other sounds can be heard throughout Chile. There are the ever-present car alarms, which I can now imitate from memory. There is the man who is selling 7 kitchen towels for a dollar and announces this incredible offer by repeating it rapid-fire through a static filled megaphone. (Thankfully the Wanders fans have not yet been so inspired). There also is the lazier and more-tech savvy salesman who plays his spiel from equally static boom box. The wares change but they always are of poor quality and dubious utility.

The source of the most obnoxious and prevalent sound—a repetitive metallic clanging that goes on for minutes—remained a mystery to me for a month. Turns out, it was the propane man. Most of these door-to-door salesmen yell and some have rhythm but they all push a cart full of tanks and bang a stick against the metal to announce their presence. It feels like it is banging against your own eardrums.

Finally, there is a strange moaning call I hear some mornings whose source I have avoided discovering. The pitch and rhythm is always the same but the words are indiscernible. I have decided to imagine a mythical creature that wanders the streets of Valparaiso, undetectable besides its call. Of course, it is searching for long-lost love. It probably looks like Sasquatch.

Perhaps I entertain this fantasy because I am in between dreaming and waking. Or perhaps because surrounded by the reality of the junk salesman, gas tanks, drunk soccer fans, uniformed drum lines and protesting students, I don’t want to know the truth. Or perhaps it is that I simply I want to preserve the mystery of this city. I want to leave some of it unknown, left to be discovered. Or, I don’t want to get out of bed to find out.

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