Sunday, 19 March 2017

Soundscape - San Telmo


I am sitting on a roof in San Telmo in the sunshine; above me not a cloud, save for a paleing* of the sky towards the River Plata. Otherwise as blue as you have ever seen.

March is progressing and the season slips towards a Buenos Aires autumn. It is still warm, Europeans might say hot, but no longer the intense heat of previous months.

So I sit in the sun, close my eyes; and this is what I hear.

The opening strains of 'Cumparaseta' rise from San Lorenzo. The first few bars are louder, as if to announce a presence, then they subside, to be carried away on the breeze that ruffles the leaves of the banana plant. A Yamaha motorcyle roars along Independencia. A cartonero - the street people who recycle cardboard and plastic - wheels his rattling, squeaking laden trolley in Defensa.

Music on a transistor radio competes momentarily with Cumparaseta, before reverting to a scramble of Castillano. Somewhere at a distance, a workman uses something pneumatic, but too far for reverberations to interrupt the soundscape. Now a lift door closes - the old type with a lattice of riveted bars that open like a bandoneon, and close with a 'clack'. 

There are voices down at the corner of Independencia and Defensa - two men seem to be speaking about something important, or about where they should go for coffee. Bottles are being recycled, or simply thrown into a bin, for glass recycling is not high on the agenda here. Of course there are car horns - not as you may hear in India or the East, but occasional, out of recognition and frustration.  Beneath the whole soundscape is the hum of traffic and the occasional air conditioner unit. Lorries grind at a distance as they progress along Av Ing Huergo, and nearby a race starts with the changing lights  on Independencia. 

In San Telmo (unlike Monserrat) there is little birdsong. Perhaps our building is too high (we are on a 5th floor roof), or maybe the density of buildings and dearth of open spaces takes its toll. Below I can just hear a single street pigeon - but not the accompanying chirrup of the sparrows that perch expectantly at cafe tables.

There is however a sudden explosion followed by the sound of drumming. Elsewhere in the world this would be of concern, or at least significance. In Buenos Aires we recognise the sound as a firecracker launched by the protest marchers that each week protest about something different. The bang is loud enough to send the pigeons flying, but is ignored by the Portenos that walk to work along Defensa.

A light helicopter makes its way along to Aeroparque Jorge Newbury via Puerto Madero docks with more of a presence than a noise, its rotor blades compressing the air. Van doors slam, iron apartment doors clang, and footsteps clack on marble stairs.

There is always sound here in Buenos Aires. Both the day and the night air is never silent. After a while, it becomes part of the city's pattern - to be ignored and then unheard. Unless, that is, you are walking on a narrow footpath being passed by deafening colectivos, or hearing their air brakes released as they set off across the grid of San Telmo streets.

Up here, the quality of noise is different - distant - diffused, enabling a disconnection from the busy city. And so I sit with tea and ' drink in' the city sounds.