Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The sounds of Brazil

So much is made of the sounds of Carnaval, samba, or a neighborhood pagode as the typical sounds of Brazil.  I’ve come to recognize a few more that remind me where I am.

OK, I won’t go so far as to say they are the sounds of Brazil.  Naturally, I mean the sounds I have come to recognize as ambient and daily in nature while living in our small corner of this expansive country.

Every morning at 7:00 a.m. I hear a low rumbling sound like distant thunder that slowly swells until it clarifies into what it is: 10 to 15 Niterói Clin workers freshly dressed in their bright yellow uniforms dragging their plastic trash bins along the road under our bedroom window.  It’s like a daily wake-up call.  The bins make their raspy rolling noise while the men and women starting their street cleaning morning shift chat with each other. (This reminds me of Shelly's crash in the night sound.  Once you know what it is you can sleep soundly again.)

Other morning sounds include the guy who calls out, peddling propane gas tanks for kitchen use or the knife sharpening guy who screeches out familiar tunes on his grinding wheel to let you know he is nearby.

Throughout the daytime hours you can hear the sound of caged songbirds.  I used to be really bummed to see the birds locked up, hanging from the wall of the auto repair shop or on the tree in front of the produce market – and this popular form of pet definitely drives Luiz crazy – but now I find myself smiling when I hear some of the incredible songs they sing.

All through the summer months there is a nonstop, quiet whooshing sound in nearly every room of our apartment: ceiling fans.  Whether they are gently exhausting air up or briskly blowing air down, they are on nearly all the time.  What we do not hear is the electric whine of an air conditioner.

Whether we are in our apartment, visiting Luiz’s mother or spending an afternoon at a friend’s apartment, there is the sound of a television on either right next to us or in the adjacent room.  Classic Brazil background noise.

And of course the beep, beep, beep, beep of moto boys scooting in between cars and trucks in traffic.  Those guys are fearless (or just plain stupid).  I used to utilize moto boys to get me across town quickly when I worked in Rio.  I can’t tell you how many times my knees bumped into truck fenders or my elbows hit car side mirrors.

Perhaps my favorite sound of Brazil is the cacophony of a family gathering where everyone is practically screaming to be heard over everyone else; everyone talking at the same time – and everyone hearing what is being said by all.

The ambient sounds of my life here are definitely different (and louder) than I experienced in San Francisco.  It’s a constant reminder of the cultural difference.


Stephanie said...

I have a couple to add.. the sounds of cicadas (cigarras) at dawn and dusk, sometimes it's the siren sound and sometimes they sound quite electric, and boy are they LOUD! We have very loud wild parakeets that fly around and usually it's them who wake me up each day. And of course, the sound of the guys in the kombis and small trucks with the loudspeaker asking for "ferro velho"...or your old stuff to take away. They make their rounds several times a day. Must not forget that at 9am sharp the sound of obras commences in the neighborhood, clink, clank, clunk. I don't even notice all this noise most of the time anymore but whenever we have visitors they're always like "wow, is it noisy here!" Sounds like home to me! Silence makes me feel weird, almost lonely now.

Jim said...

Stephanie - I love the sound of the cigarras. Sometimes they start as early as 4:00 a.m. When I was young, living in Michigan, my mother called them the "hot bugs" because if we heard them it was sure to be a hot and sunny day.