A Phobia To Noise

 Mr. Popescu, a brave citizen of Bucharest, abode on a street in the slums, where a coach driving past every other day would make a sensation. Cots would vanish into the vast grounds, enabling each of their landlords to bellow to their heart's content, commit murder even in their own back yards, for no living soul would have heard them. This was a street of the cities: nevertheless, a citizen from Malaysia would not have felt more lost from heart of humanity than here. At night one could hearken the remote barking of dogs: thus one could have fancied oneself at the end of the civilized world whence exotic forests and animals begin. Not all too sensitive to poetic titillations and blessed with no imagination, Popescu Esqu. did not see much else save the inconvenience of the noise, and the dogs were warned they should live to see the flayer's snare. In one word, Mr. Popescu craved for a tranquility so perfect that even a grave could not provide. Therefore, when a suburbanite installed a radio, our citizen received the event with a great deal of horror. First he listened to the remotely distinct program in an outrage; then he dropped a hint at the inconvenience of the noise amongst his near neighbors; then he went in person to the perpetrator's porch to give him a telling-off. The man laughed at his face and went about his business. Mr. Popescu flared in a rage and, as a consequence, became rabid. Though the show was not within hearing range save on rare occasions, he could not sleep even when there was perfect silence, for terror that he could have been inadvertently wakened up by the blasted contraption. Whereupon he conferred with a lawyer, resolved to bring the rascal to justice. The lawyer contended there was no indication in the statutes that prohibited a citizen from turning a noise to good use that was provided by the state itself in return for a tax. Disheartened, Mr. Popescu – unattached in any respect to Bucharest – sold his house and moved to a provincial town. The countryside, with its array of geese, carts, cows, and pigs, is a noisy place, where living is done to the full. The street of the provincial town to which Mr. Popescu had relocated was more peaceful than an abandoned graveyard. The new citizen felt happy. He would sit on a bench in front of his house in his nightgown and draw comfort from the fact that he did not see one living soul from sunrise to sunset. When a pullet suddenly chanced to crawl up from underneath a fence, Mr. Popescu would shush it away as if it were the genius of the howling cyclones. But: happiness would prove to be fleeting. For a while the truck of a brick factory on the outskirts had been routed through his street. It would rarely drive by, once – or, at the very worst – twice a day, but Mr. Popescu's equanimity was nonetheless disturbed in its absolute profoundness. More so even, as the driver, rather out of musical instinct than out of necessity, would honk away with much spirit. The quiet-thirsty one grew irritated, once again. However: as even pain must find an end in this world, something gratifying occurred in Bucharest. In their desire to suppress the noises of that horrific city, which – to our character's mind – by far superseded New York, authorities prohibited motorists from honking their horns within city boundaries. As a result, Mr. Popescu sent a touching letter to The Universe begging that this life-saving measure be taken in his town also. Whereupon – remarkably – the mayor of the one-automobile town, in his keenness to align to the capital, issued an ordinance by which claxoning was prohibited. The driver would thence drive by without honking his horn, whistling instead to gratify his sense of music. I have omitted to mention that Mr. Popescu had never in fact seen the truck, as he would, indeed, terrified by the roaring and rattling, take refuge in the house. It chanced upon him one day as he was seated on his porch bench, that the truck come. Clearly there was no chance in the world that a motor should overrun a citizen in his own porch. However – it did. For the mere rolling by of the truck would conjure up so much torment that – in all his terror and ear-covering – he flung himself in front of it. The owner of the four-wheel was the party claiming damages. Mr. Popescu, in return, is resting unperturbedly where there is never-ending quiet, next to the mystery-laden woods of Eternity. Excerpted from An Optimist's Chronicles, Editura pentru Literatura, Bucharest, 1964(first published in 1938) George Călinescu (1899-1965), one of the classical critics of Romanian literature, a prolific and complex personality who approached every genre with more or less success, is also the author of a monumental, thoroughly documented History of Romanian Literature (1941).

by George Călinescu (1899-1965)