Is every city like this? I’m standing on my balcony, looking down onto a busy car park where a space costs €8 per day. The car alarms are beeping, howling and wailing. It spreads like a virus down the street. Nobody seems to mind. Young men and women stand around in business suits, smoking and chatting in the sunshine. Maybe they’re already deaf. But who owns all these noisy cars? Presumably people who live or work here. Presumably most of them know hoe their car alarm sounds. Presumably, they couldn’t care less if it beeps, howls and wails all day or night. As a result, my neighbourhood sounds like a video arcade, 24/7. Is every city like this? I walk back inside my apartment and sit at my laptop. After a few minutes surfing, I find the answer: no. In New York, there is a pressure group called Noise Off: The Citizens’ Coalition against Noise Pollution. Members cite car alarms high on their political hit-list. They stage silent demos – hundreds of residents marching on City Hall. Plus, they know their rights: laws dating to 1992 require alarms in New York to be turned off after three minutes, or the car owner can be fines up to $700. I gaze at the screen of my laptop, wondering how to organize a demonstration. No way. After a few more clicks of my mouse, I’m surfing a site about noise pollution back home in the UK. There, it seems local councils can break into and silence a car after 30 minutes, and the owner has to pay for any costs. Next click: Russia, where even Moscow City Council has banned car alarms because ‘people cannot protect their property at the cost of sacrificing the peace and health of others.’ Something to do with sudden surges of adrenaline in our blood, it seems. Another website claims 30 Italian cities have banned car alarms. Who knows? I move away from my desk, while yet another high-pitched tone reverberates around my block. It sounds as if Bucharest is being invaded by UFOs. It’s time to escape, time for some air. So I walk downtown, taking the backstreets, where there is less traffic. Young kids play happily under stumpy trees and dogs pad about sniffing for scraps. The noise soon fades and after a few twists and turns, I find an old monastery. It’s late afternoon and the place seems like an oasis of tranquillity. I find a wall to sit on and gaze up at the fine red brickwork, wondering who built it and when. Two monks dressed in long black robes and bushy black beards wander around, chatting. It seems like a nice life, away from the hustle and bustle: just you and your mates and God. It’s around 4.45 in the afternoon when the clacking starts. It sounds like someone is tapping wooden sticks together. After a few moments, I notice a little old woman walking towards the monastery. She wears a brown coat and pink bonnet. Next comes a middle-aged man with a walking stick, stiff up one side of his body. Soon there are more and more people, coming to pray. As they enter the church, they make the sign of the cross, heads bowed. The clacking grows louder and faster. Soon the rickety noise is echoing off the walls of the modern blocks around the old monastery. A bell booms from the tower, clanging its deep sonorous voice across grey metal rooftops. It’s a wonderful sound, mystical and ancient. But before long a mangy street dog decides to pray, howling like a wolf. Somewhere else, another dog barks and soon the blue sky resounds with the moaning and yapping of a dozen hounds, all keen to chase cats in heaven. Soon they’re running up and down, barking like crazy and dodging between the dusty trucks, big vans and shiny saloons, all parked in a row. Then the car alarms start. from Mike Ormsby, Never Mind the Balkans, Here’s RomaniaCompania, 2008

by Mike Ormsby