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The Bells are Ringing

Watercolor: Ian Carter

Feb. 5, 2023

Dr. David Fialk, Editor / Publisher

I've lived here, behind the church in San Antonio, since moving to San Miguel 11 years ago. I found the place my first week in town and moved in immediately. My ex-wife had been putting me up, and putting up with me, in her house in Independencia. Her mother remarked at the time, "He found a place in one week?!" Motivation moves mountains.

My little house includes a room which was the first building, besides the church, in what would become our beloved Colonia San Antonio. Literally beside the church, it was built to house the church's velador, the guy who carries the candle, vela, the caretaker.

When I first came across it, I also came across a neighbor, exiting his door right across the alley. I introduced myself and asked if the noise from the church was a problem. He answered, honestly enough, "Sometimes they have a loud event in the backyard. You get used to the bells." Of course, those were the days, six years ago, before they installed the PA system, four tinny speakers, two on either side of the dome, one pointed in my direction.

Since then, they have used those loud-speakers to pump various melodies, every hour, more or less, on the hour, out into the neighborhood, and beyond. All of them have been distorted. It's not just due to the poor quality of the speaker; it's that they play everything much too loud. I've heard those distorted musical selections well above Colonia Guadiana.

The worst of it was a period of years when hourly, between 9am and 9pm, a different musical selection would be broadcast. There was Ave Maria, but very few others had any religious significance. Adding insult to injury, the maddening thing was that some of these melodies, already 10-15 second snatches, were, for absolutely no reason whatsoever, repeated a second time. When you suffer through one playing, distracted from whatever you happened to be thinking or talking about by a distorted rendition of the main theme of a popular tune, and then are treated to a gratuitous encore, well, it takes a moment to get back your concentration. The worst of the worst, based solely on length, was the ditty played at 11am, clocking in at one minute and 11 seconds.

Mexico is excessive, especially when it comes to noise. But these hourly serenades were torture delivered like clockwork; not like clockwork, actually by clockwork.

Every Yuletide, holiday melodies are substituted for the regular fare. Say what you will, listening to White Christmas, a Christmas song written by a Jew, in a country where snow is unknown is bizarre. The hiatus between the stopping of Christmas tunes and the reinstatement of the regular melodies was a hopeful few weeks when I was allowed to imagine that the PA system might be silenced forever.

I really don't remember what was in place before the current musical regime; human beings have a wonderful capacity to forget suffering. But currently, gracias a dios qqq, music is broadcast only every three hours: 9am, 12pm, 3pm, 6pm, 9pm, and nothing is repeated, or almost nothing.

Our 9am holiday offering, White Christmas, before, during and after the festive season, played one time, and then, inexplicably, repeated just the melody's first seven notes: "I'm dreaming of a white Chis-".

I thought that song would stay on the bill into February, but I was wrong. A week ago, on January 24, it was replaced by an actual recording of the bells of Westminster Abbey, complete with nine booming strokes marking the hour. That will wake you up.

Imagine living with a distorted Big Ben in your backyard. When I first heard it, I did. I panicked, fearing that those oversized chimes and booms would thunderously occur each hour. Ten o'çlock remained silent. Eleven was also mute. And, when it played as usual at noon, Ave Maria never sounded so good; music to my ears.

I say that the intermediate hours are silent, but that's only relatively true. The church here in San Antonio plays a full set of strokes on its tinny church bell twice each hour. It chimes the hour, and then, five to ten minutes later, it chimes the hour again. Take your pick. Then, as an added inexactitude, at 9am, both sets of of those hourly strokes sound ten, not nine times.

When I was a boy, the band Chicago had a hit that asked, "Does anyone really know what time it is? Does anyone really care?" With my unscheduled life, practically speaking, when it comes to time, more or less is good enough for me. But I wonder, philosophically, does anyone else in earshot notice when the hour strikes ten minutes early or late, or that White Christmas plays seven gratuitous notes before coming to an abrupt, awkward end?

Sometimes I feel trapped in a meaningless universe, all too cognizant of its absurdity. But something changed when one week ago they replaced White Christmas with Westminster Abbey. I thought, "Somewhere out there, someone else is paying attention." It was like a cast-away finding other human footprints in the sand; another sign of intelligent life. It was a month late, but someone took down the Christmas song. I know it is a trivial thing, but please, don't rain on my parade.


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