Sounds of San Miguel
By Lou Christine
There are certain sounds most of us can immediately identify: a rolling bowling ball smashing into pins; the flushing of a toilet; pool table balls dropping from the coin activated mechanism; jet planes; trains; whistling teakettles; even people having sex, etc. There are too many more to mention.
There are distinct and prominent sounds in San Miguel. They vary. Ringing church bells and pre-dawn fireworks are a gimme, two sense arousers that are not always embraced by all, especially light sleepers and jittery canines; yet most adhere to “When in Rome….” The clanging kettle bell signaling the trash truck is close by can also startle a late sleeper.
Sometimes, after being away for a spell, those familiar sounds insure my psyche that I’m back on dry land once again.
Sanmiguelenses, oftentimes along with visitors, can differentiate those certain noises rising from the calles. Ever hear that shrill-sounding whistle? It’s not Zamfir’s pan flute; it’s the knife-sharpener. And there’s the certain sound of a pick-up truck with a horn signaling the delivering of unpasteurized goats’ milk. If you reside on the pathways to schools, there’s the chirping of commuting students coming and going. Just before or just after class, the pounding of the drums and flurries of bugles indicates marching drills are going on, remnants of past Spanish and French Colonialism.
Up in the Jardín, study the adventurous tyke charging a flock of foraging pigeons; the flock flies away. There’s that flapping in unison. Sit on the cast iron benches and hear the pleasantries delivered by the residents of this town, mostly in Spanish. Later, during early evening hours, if there’s any doubt you’re really in Mexico, the mariachis in spiffy outfits break out the brass. Violins merge with trumpets as exuberant male voices serenade jardinenitos. Yet across the Jardín, perhaps in front of the Parroquia, dressed in 16th century Iberian style, lively and smiling estudiantinas, in sashes and accented by valor sing out toward those gathered. The players strum their vintage stringed instruments to the delight of onlookers. With “mi casa, su casa” generosity, they pass out samples of complimentary wine.
From late June until early October, decibel-wise, fireworks can be trumped by the thunderous thunder we get in San Miguel during pre-sunset or pre-dawn storms.
Walking on some of the main thoroughfares, we’re all subject to the growl of the urbanos bullying their way across town from Mega to the road going towards Dolores. It’s often difficult to continue conversations over the grinding engines. Reside near the caracol, and there’s the roar of 18-wheelers down shifting to brake their descent.
How about the hombres trudging the streets with the Pavarotti voices calling out, “Elote! Elote!”
We did have a standout voice selling papers up in the Jardín, but sudden death has silenced him. Yet the long-time standing dude on the corner of Hidalgo and Mesones’ patented, “Chicles! Puros! Cigarros! Chocolate!” is as familiar to me as is a “call for Phillip Morris!”
Roosters “cockle-doodle-doodling,” near the break of dawn? We got ’em. Roof top dogs a-yelping? We got ‘em. Teenage hot rods, packed with young dudes and dudettes, moving at a crawl and cruising Hernández Macías with the recorded voice of José Alfredo singing about heartbreak with cry-in-your beer sadness, have their autos’ audio systems heavy bass vibrating, perhaps shaking the foundation of the Bellas Artes.
There’s that sound, too, of vehicles tires going over both cobblestone and adoquín. Now and then horses’ hooves clippity clop through town. As for car horns, we’re pretty laid back except for taxi drivers. I don’t know where they get their edginess. But have a heavily followed fútbol team kick their way to an important win, at any time day or night, fútbol fans explode from casas jam-packing themselves in vehicles and motoring around town beeping horns and waving their team’s colors. Our tránsitos (traffic cops) employ a foghorn sounding beep to get attention of drivers.
Then, folks, there are instances both in and out of town when it can get really quiet and really peaceful, and one can admire the postcard picturesqueness of the cityscape with spot lights reflecting off churches as a starry sky calls out for the sound of silence … maybe my favorite kind of San Miguel sound.