Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Tranquillity jamquillity -Turn up the volume, whatever the hour

Swans in the lakes of Palermo's parks
It’s a weekend in the countryside, a supposed break away from the ear-splitting craziness that is the city of Buenos Aires. The telly is blaring with its daily round of embarrassingly childish celebrity arguments, music is being pumped out on the stereo, there is drumming out in the plaza, and as if that wasn’t enough, the people sitting with you are having a conversation in that typically out-shout each other Argentine fashion. If you do hear the odd bird chirp in between it all, count yourself lucky.

Of course there are some tranquil spots to be found in and around Buenos Aires, but out and about with family and friends, loudness is often the choice of many.

At my own weekend spot two hours west of the city in the countryside near Moreno, it can sometimes be hard to hear yourself think, let alone speak, scratch, swallow or sigh. The stereo especially just doesn't seem to know a reasonable volume. Though at least the cumbia music is rhythmic enough to keep your knee bouncing, and the plug can be pulled if ears really need a rest.

Back in the city, there is no choice and there is no escape.

A recent study here has supported World Health Organisation findings that Buenos Aires is the noisiest, loudest most deafening city in South America.

One of downtown's daily and noisy protests
Construction racket, loud music, old beaten-up buses racing around bumpy streets, the daily marches where protesters bang drums and let off fire crackers at will, the exceptionally heavy traffic on chock-a-block avenues and a national obsession with horn honking (and it is an obsession – when traffic is at an absolute standstill, leaning on your horn achieves nothing other than piercing the ears of passers-by; and you only need ask poll-booth workers on the city’s motorways what it’s like when they’re pressured into lifting the barrier for free by angry horn thumping drivers looking to take advantage of the one minute maximum wait rule).  

It all combines to regularly push city noise levels above double the WHO recommended limits for your health.

Studies suggest that excessive noise can lead to serious problems. Stress, lack of sleep, annoyance and speech intelligibility are all possible symptoms of the barrage on your ears. And Buenos Aires ranks as the fourth loudest city in the world behind New York, Tokyo and Nagasaki, but do people here care?

Probably not.

Because in a weird way the loudness of Buenos Aires is part of its charm. There is always activity here, noisy, lively activity; and quite frankly that is just exciting. It’s not only a city that barely sleeps, but is one jacked up on energy supplements keeping it active and raring to go at all hours.

Getting caught up in the crowds at 11pm as you queue for a table outside one of the city's restaurants for dinner. Hitting the cinema for a late night 1am movie; or necking a few beers at a bar as you wait for the nightclubs to open at two in the morning where you can dance till the sun comes up.

Whatever the time, whatever the day, whatever the event; the city will be loud and buzzing with people from all generations. Yes, all generations, not just the effervescent youngsters but the elderly too. There's no 9pm bedtime with a cup of Horlicks for them as they'll be out and about until the early hours like every other porteño (all be it wired up with hearing aids after years of the fully charged onslaught of rock concert proportions).

Because the noisy energy of this city energizes all its residents. It can cost you some peace and quiet now and again and tweak the odd nerve from time to time, but when it comes down to it, tranquillity jamquillity can be shouted out at the top of your lungs, because real city living calls for the noisiest of loudness and Buenos Aires is truly a city in every sense of the word.   

1 comment:

  1. I think you're right.Buenos Aires can be a crazy place but that just makes it fun.I've been there four times and loved every minute of it. Its energy and everything...