Posted from Aticama, Nayarit, Mexico.
For someone whose ears have worked hard for many years to hone in on every sound, from the slightest whisper to the most tumultuous din, my hearing has been on sensory overload in this new country. Our time in Mexico is saturated with new aural experiences. I may not be a performing musician right now, but my listening and discerning capabilities are involuntarily keeping themselves in shape.
Life on the farm has its expected sounds, such as the rattling of the sprinklers, the chirping of crickets, and the individualistic barks and howls of each of the seven dogs whenever someone arrives at the gate. And then there is the gate itself, which has a rusty, strenuous, throaty squeak regardless of the direction in which it swings. Birds of course are not unexpected, but the songs of these Mexican coastal dwellers are new for us and very entertaining, except when the assertive and halting staccato of one of the farm’s visitors belches forth at 3:00 a.m., which occasionally happens.
The farm is up on a hill, a little outside the small town of Aticama in Nayarit. But despite the perceived isolation, we are well within earshot of the village noises. For instance, there is almost always music blaring from someone’s pickup truck in town, usually parked in front of a store, restaurant, or worksite, with all the doors wide open for everyone’s listening “pleasure.” Usually it’s authentic Mexican folk-style music, which has its charm even if we are suspicious that we are hearing the same song in repetition, and because of the high decibel output we have no choice but to experience it simultaneously with the townsfolk. One Christmas celebration in town went long into overtime as the outpouring of radio music didn’t cease reverberating until 4:00 a.m. on the morning of the 26th. And since the house in which we are staying has no solid front door for us to close (our front door is a double screen door) nor walls to block the invasion of uninvited clamor, we heard it all.
Twice or thrice there has been a live mariachi-type band hired to gig at an event, and at those times it’s rather cool to get a free ticket to the performance of the motley collection of almost-in-tune brass instruments and guitars. There have also been two quinceañeras during our stay (the traditional celebration of a girl’s fifteenth birthday, which signifies her entrance into womanhood) which blasted an array of prerecorded music, from Mexican folk to American pop. But the dance floor hits always include the same unending medley of Johann Strauss, Jr. waltzes (seriously, it’s at least 20 minutes long) to which the young woman dances with her patrons. It was easy for me to identify each of the different waltzes, because for as loud as the music was it might as well have been from next door. (But I must admit I’d rather listen to that than to the musical fumblings of the garage band that actually was coming from next door our house in Saint Paul.) Oh, and then there’s the roosters. One of the little darlings in town usually begins his day around 3:30 every morning, and then all others in the area, from big and robust mega-crows to fledgling squeakers, contribute to the cock-a-doodle-chorus.
But the crowning glory of noise makers in Aticama is the woman who lives in town and has one giant speaker on the roof of her house, pumping out her voice far and wide. She has made herself the unofficial town crier, albeit with the aid of electronic enhancement and from the comfort of her own home. Think of a local radio station in a small town but without the intimacy – or volume knob – of a radio. She usually demands our attention before 8:00 a.m. (today was 6:30!!!) advertising local specials (Clothes for sale! Lunch specials! Soccer try-outs!) and announcing anyone’s birthday or any other special event. Sometimes, on a slow news day, she will literally make the exact same announcement three times in a row before signing off. She interrupts our day at least four or five times with the same announcements for that day. Occasionally, for an unknown reason, her small children are allowed to use the microphone; whether you are fluent in Spanish or not, what they are saying is anybody’s guess. Sometimes she plays a tune from a CD that no one in particular requested. We haven’t met anyone in Aticama yet who didn’t roll his or her eyes when we inquired about her practice, although we are assuming she must get paid for the commercial announcements she makes for stores and restaurants. But it must make her happy, and so why rain on her parade?
Being in a new land is fun for countless reasons, including the food, the culture, the scenery, the plants, the people, etc., and it really excites the senses. But the sounds of Mexico are what have really grabbed my attention so far. Despite any perceived inconvenience to my personal sound space, I am really digging it. And then there are those moments, if we are lucky, sometimes late at night when the cacophony of all the birds, dogs, roosters, fiesta-goers, and loco women with microphones is silent, and we can hear the deep, thunderous crashing of the waves of the Pacific Ocean, just down the hill and a few minutes away, and we are genially reminded that we are 2200 miles from Saint Paul, Minnesota.
And then the first rooster crows.