Friday, January 23, 2015


Just a few random thoughts on noise and personal space...

Here in Granada, life is LOUD. Granada is known for being the noisiest city in Spain, and Spain is known for being a noisy country, so I don't think I can be far off the mark by assuming that I'm in the noisiest location on the planet. It's not just the unmuffled mopeds buzzing about everywhere, but there is construction and renovation in every street. The sound of manual and air hammers and other implements of mass construction is everywhere, all the time.

And then there are the celebrations that happen like clockwork, each one seemingly accompanied by the firing of cannons or fireworks or both and the ringing of church bells.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm not complaining. First of all, I came here voluntarily knowing it was a noisy country. And mopeds are a very practical means of transportation in a city where most of the streets, at least in the old part of town, were laid for horses. Many of those streets are barely wide enough for two horses. There are some streets where even two horses would have to get awfully chummy to pass each other.

Renovation is pretty much a given when you have a stock of buildings that's centuries old. Thank heavens the building I live in has been retrofitted with plumbing and electricity. I'm in an old area -- I don't know the age of my building, but just up the street from me are two wells; one dates from the fourteenth century, the other from the twelfth. Many of the houses have been here that long and longer. So, thank you, noisy construction workers, for heat, electricity, and a flush toilet.

As for the frequent celebrations and fireworks, this is exactly the kind of thing that drew me to Spain in the first place. Spanish culture takes the time and trouble to show appreciation and gratitude for their history and religious beliefs. It hasn't taken any time at all to become accustomed to the festivals here, and I, for one, am completely in favor of taking every opportunity to enjoy life.

One thing I'm not yet accustomed to, though, is the volume of voices. Not that it's an all-the-time thing, but it's common enough to be able to call it the norm. People talk loudly. Even in situations where you'd think they'd want to keep their conversations to themselves, in restaurants, bars, and most recently, in the health club locker room. They speak as if they're on stage and want to ensure that the little old lady in the back row with a hearing problem doesn't miss a word.

Just yesterday I was in the locker room of the health club, a tiny space, barely large enough for half a dozen men to fit into. Two of the three other guys in there were talking. I suppose "yelling" would be a better word; when I left my ears were ringing. The idea of "inside voices" seemed to be as foreign to them as I was. It's that way in any public space. With a voice that barely carries beyond my nose and a barely middling faculty with the language, sometimes I feel completely unable to communicate here.

Another mannerism common to southern Europeans -- Italians and Spaniards as far as I know, although I'm inclined to think it would be the same among Greeks -- is the "reduced personal space," for lack of a better term, that they allow when talking to you. We of a Northern European heritage are used to an imaginary bubble around ourselves extending out at least arm's length, and we don't like others inside it, unless there might be some romantic designs in the near future. A Spaniard will be twelve inches away from your face as he talks with you. I have to force myself to not back away. This will take some getting used to.

But at least I had (had) a peaceful place to come home to. In the Albaycin, the oldest part of Granada, you'll hear all types of music playing through the narrow streets, but only on occasion and usually it's kind of nice, especially when the music is flamenco. But it's winter and I can shut my windows and all is peaceful. Even when it was warm, the volume wasn't so high that anyone's music was distracting or annoying.

I have no idea if this is what she looks like,
but she expresses what I've been
listening to the last several days very well.
All that changed last week when someone new moved into the building just across the hall from me. He is apparently an aspiring rock guitarist and singer, and, being serious about his art he practices daily for hours. I suppose with rock music you don't get the full effect without the volume, so he turns his amplifier all the way up to "11." (If you haven't seen "This is Spinal Tap," it's still not too late.) If that weren't enough, his Italian girlfriend seems to have come for a visit. Either that or she moved in with him - I'm not inclined to try to find out which. At any rate. she fulfills the stereotype of an emotional Italian woman because it seems every day she's yelling at him about something. They yell in Italian, so I have no idea what the arguments are about. Suffice it to say, that she, or rather, they don't seem to care that the entire Albaycin knows of their relationship struggles. Today's argument was complete with much anguished crying and gnashing of teeth on the part of the poor girl. Actually, it's continuing as I write. If she's so unhappy, there are plenty of rooms for rent in the area.

I met the guy when he moved in. Many of the apartments in this building are rented out to long-term vacationers. He said he didn't know how long he was staying. I can only hope it's not much longer.

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