Madeline Blount
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The Sound Barrier

May 15, 2009 @ 8:32 AM | Permalink

 "Did you hear it that time?"

"No, I can't hear any--"


A long, barely audible, extremely high-pitched, beep.

"Yeah, yes, I got it that time!"

And then I haven't stop hearing it since, every night in old Nicosia.

We were sitting in the square near my most-frequented coffee shop and the church, under a citrus tree, waiting for the beep.  It was late and the square was quiet.  Where does the beep come from, we were musing.  The nearby military watch towers?  Greek/Turkish/UN?  Someone's security system?  Some electronic-sounding nightbird?  Once you hear the beep, you continue to hear it, it's within your soundscape.  Before that, you're simply unaware, as I was, as the sound waves float in and out of your ears.  So many people wandering through town, then, not hearing what is surrounding them.

The sounds of Nicosia present a gritty urban symphony -- swallows dive from the balconies, mourning doves (or morning?  they are both sad-wailing and early-risers, and I never remember which), honking horns, yelling market stallers, chatters on cell phones, jazz or Greek pop or Arabic music from bars and cars, speeding mopeds.  Now the beep rides on top of it, a piccolo, tiny but somehow audible over booming trucks that barrel down the streets.  The trucks fitting down the alleyways sometimes remind me of someone desperately trying to force themselves into a too-small pair of pants.  I know I harp on the cars here a lot, but I do fear for my life when I take a walk, so I guess it weighs on my mind.

One sound beats the beep even, and that's the call to prayer, the adhan.  An aural reminder for Cypriot Muslims to pray, and a reminder for the Greek Cypriots of the presence of the Turkish and Turkish Cypriots.  There may be a border here, but there is no sound barrier; I can hear the muezzin's microphoned tones from my balcony as if they are coming from my own personal radio. 

I love this sound.  It marks 5 times a day, and combined with the church bells in the city, I can see myself not needing my watch.  It starts out tin-like, grows into a wafting vibrato, and you can hear the singer stop for breath as his voice carries across the city.  It's pausing; it makes me pause.

There are limits, of course, to how far this sound can travel.  Another special aspect of the old city of Nicosia.  In the suburbs, where 80+% of Greek Cypriots actually live, the layered cacophony of the old town is stripped down.  In those neighborhoods I've mainly heard the mourning doves.  And the trucks.

It makes me wonder if the Greek Cypriot suburbs, beyond just a middle class leaving the center (as has happened most everywhere), are more about turning away from the gash of the divided old city.  Maybe there is an architecture of sound.  In the suburbs you don't have to hear the Muslim prayer, just as you don't see the minarets.  You can live your day forgetting the Cyprus Problem, the Question, the Situation.  The city continually stretches away from facing itself.

You also miss the mystery of The Beep.  

the suburbs. miami?  athens? nicosia?

the Greek flag and the minarets, old city nicosia.

if a tree falls, and you scream, but it's in the suburbs (this picture is not), do you make a sound?




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Loved the ending on this. Related: I find that sometimes I remember a meeting or moment but can't recall what country it happened in. I also find that if I ...

Saleem Reshamwala on Upon Waking, and Placelessness 2009-03-23

Thanks Saleem -- I've also experienced that tonguetied delirium from speaking multiple languages in the same conversation. . . interesting to think of meaning separate from words, does meaning require ...

Madeline Blount on Upon Waking, and Placelessness 2009-03-26

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