Listening to the City

I wake up to the shouting of seagulls. They have a lot to yell about in the early morning. By ten am, they’re either quieter or farther away from my hotel room window. I find their calls pleasant to listen to, a reminder that the ocean is nearby. In the middle of the day I hear music. Someone is busking with a horn instrument. My ear isn’t attuned enough to be certain, but my guess is either a trumpet or a french horn. Though when I’m out and about I see a person with a saxophone. I wonder if they’re the same person I heard from my room, but I don’t know for sure. At night when I return to my room, I hear the sounds of people in the alley and parking lot that my fourth floor window looks over. Sometimes it sounds like two angry people. Once there was a large group cheering. Occasionally it is a lone voice wailing or yelling. In all cases I’m glad for the walls between me and whatever is going on.

To be in a city is to be adjacent to homelessness and people making desperate decisions, or criminal ones. Which is why I’m grateful for my friends playing tour guide when we go out. I can watch my friends to decide whether behavior I observe on the street is a risk to me or not. Mostly it is not, though once or twice we’ve crossed the street for a block or two. It amazes me that the “safe” block and the “dangerous” one are only ten feet apart, but that is the reality here according to my friends.

Underneath the sounds of the gulls, or the music, or the people, I can hear the dull rush of vehicles, the drone of fans, the buzz of electricity. They combine into a low level mechanical roar occasionally punctuated by sirens. It is all new to me who has not spent very much of my life dwelling in cities. I’m enjoying my visit and I’m curious to know what I’ll notice differently when I go home tomorrow.

Addendum written after returning home: In the afternoon I hear the sounds of protest, a large group of people is chanting. I try to make out the words, but the only one I’m sure of is “freedom.” I can’t see the protest, but it can’t be more than a block or two away. The interior alley of my hotel seems designed to catch this sound and amply it to my window. Part of me wants to go see, find the protest and discover whether it is a labor dispute or a demand for human rights against police brutality. I decide not to be a tourist at someone else’s passionate moment, but I do also spend some time thinking about the causes I should show up for, even if my showing up is virtual instead of standing in a street chanting.