Condemned To Noise

Newspapers have recently brought to us the information that Bucharest is one of the noisiest cities in Europe. When it comes to bad things, few people do a better job than us at reaching the superlative. As far as I am concerned, I did not need the press to identify the sound inferno in which I live day and night. And I am very skeptical about the possibility of cleansing this inferno. Because its roots are multiple, and, in the short term, impossible to reform. There is no law to protect us against noise pollution, and, even if such a law existed, it would not be able to impose, here in the Romanian world, more order than any of the other laws in force, which are just means for the talented criminals around us to do con-job slaloms around. First, we would need to deal with education. Not only the "institutional" one, but, most of all, the education given to pre-school children. Romanians have learned as early as at their most tender age to speak loudly. Their voices no longer have variable registers, discretions, modulations, or nuances. Everything is spoken monochromatically, in merciless percussion. They only say what they can yell. Laughter has been replaced with donkey-like hiccups, and the ceremony of communication has been reduced to some kind of a snapped derision. It is as if the vocal cords of everybody have become monotonous ropes, unable to reproduce more than two or three steps of the sound. This degeneracy is accompanied by the psychotic feeling of some of our fellow countrymen that they are alone in town, in the street, or at the restaurant. That, therefore, they can play their favorite music at maximum volume, they can vociferate without taking into consideration the presence of other people, or they can cheer at three o'clock in the morning, as if they were out in the fields. Today's Bucharester is a sovereign. He feels good. He walks through the city as if it was a yard for private use: he bellows, engages the car gears the virile way, swears, and euphorically lolls in a sea of decibels. Those who have not "adjusted" to this must resign themselves: they have to listen to the "live" Gypsy songs called manele, which explode out of convertible cars; they have to eat while hearing, at the next table, some industrious manager distributing orders via his cell phone, playing tricks on his mistress, or telling jokes to his friends far away; they have to wake up very early in the morning in the merry screams of those who go to work early and are struck by a hysterical volubility. You are not allowed to get upset. This is freedom. This is democracy. Elitism and being picky are over. But, apart from education, there is also something else: an obstinate spirit of the time and place. Disinhibition, offensive superficiality, and plebeian egalitarianism are "fashionable." Men must speak like stable hands, women must speak like boys. And children must speak like hooligans. Clothes must be a jazzy mess, the language must be licentious, and hairdos must be rebellious. Plus, the city has been filled up with rich people coming from slums, who are savoring their wealth, flabbergasted. The jeep, which was originally a car for rough terrain, has ended up dominating this city as a symbol of luxury. Also, some insect-like vehicles have emerged – I do not know their name – mixtures of motorbike and tractor, which make no sense on the large avenues, except to produce a deafening noise. At night, they organize acrobatic races of angry, very expensive cars: everything indicates that those cars are driven by insane kids of rich parents, whom nobody can discipline. During some of those drills on Paris Street – I have written about this before – people have died. One is forced to sleep in between noises, terrorized by the generalized uprising of engines. The police are definitively absent. They simply seem to work with the extremes: they only show up on the brink of road catastrophes or in order to deal with people who commit petty misdemeanors, speeding by 5-kilometer-per-hour over the legal limit. The cohorts of juvenile low-class women who insure the insomnia of Bucharesters both in the city center and on lateral streets have nothing to fear. And one is not even allowed to get upset. This is freedom. This is democracy. Otherwise, they will say you are old, out of touch, or spiteful… To all of the above are added the interminable construction sites of a capital city subjected to the most foolish urban harassment, alarm systems that go off any time, day and night, and keep on whizzing for a long time until somebody is found to turn them off, the whistles of people staging strikes in front of the government headquarters, the barking of dogs, and the battle of bumping words in television talk shows. How can one hope that all these inescapable achievements of the post-1989-revolution era will be revised, adapted to the human scale, or even eventually abandoned? We are condemned to noise. For life. Dilema veche, 27 July 2008 Translated by Monica Voiculescu

by Andrei Pleşu