Byline: Hugh Dellios
MEXICO CITY _ The new neighbors have proved quite generous in their welcome. Not that we have met many of them, but almost everyone has been kind enough to share their musical tastes with us _ full blast.
On the left, the teen-agers threw a dance party one Saturday. We couldn't see over the wall to determine what kind of supersonic sound system they rented, but the thumping woofers were so loud they rattled our windows until 10 p.m.
Okay, we thought, it's just one neighbor on one Saturday. But then our neighbor on the right matched the decibels with his own rock `n' roll party. He is a professional balladeer who adds a bit of class to the neighborhood.
More persistent is the aspiring drummer behind us who pounds on his trap set into the night. By day, he and his buddies party on the roof, cranking up a full repertoire of CDs ranging from Mexican reggae to Neil Diamond.
In a city of about 24 million people, the close quarters are too close to avoid discovering precisely how expressive the people of Mexico City _ known as chilangos _ can be. No matter the high walls that otherwise allow you to think you are all alone in your vine-cushioned oasis.
Dancing, laughing, cranking up the volume _ festejando, or partying, they call it. It's all part of drowning out the trying urban conditions _ congestion, pollution, fear of an "express kidnapping" when you hail a cab.
Psychologists attribute the party to a self-defensive satire, a masking of reality that allows people to cope. They say it is quintessentially Mexican, as old as the smiling chinelo conquistador masks the Indians wear at festivals to poke fun at the criollo brethren who subjugated them five centuries ago.
Satire or not, it can be a lot of fun, and in the years to come we are looking forward to learning all the dance steps. Not only the mariachi, ranchera and banda tunes, but also the narco-corrida ballads that extol the heroics of drug lords and the pirekua laments of the Purepecha Indians of Michoacan, where many of Chicago's Mexican-rooted families come from.
So far, it's all been pretty uplifting, although to be honest, sometimes the volume is so uplifted that it makes my family nostalgic for the pin-drop quiet of a Sabbath afternoon in Jerusalem, from where we recently moved after three and a half years.
The sad laments of some Israeli or Arab music, so freighted with time and struggle, have nothing on the Mexican balladeers. Nor, for that matter, on the doleful sound of an out-of-tune calliope played by the man in front of a 16th Century church in Coyoacan.
On the flip side, these cultures share a love for fireworks. The Israelis light them after festivals, no matter how jangled their nerves from the bombings. The Palestinians have their celebratory gunfire at weddings and other parties. The Mexicans celebrate on saint's days, which are often.
The chilangos joke about having to share such noisy space. There's one about the husband who makes the mistake of using more than a whisper to ask his wife if she wants to make love, only to have half a dozen neighbors in the apartment complex answer through the walls.
At a construction site, it's not the noise of building that can grate on the neighbors, because often it's just a shovel-and-wheelbarrow operation. No, it's more the worker's other essential tool _ the boom box _ that keeps the whole neighborhood hopping to the same tune.
As we become acquainted with a culture that often likes its music loud, it comes as no surprise to learn that the trumpet was a belated addition to the rhythms of the mariachi band. But sometimes even that gets drowned out.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, nearly every fourth boat on the crowded Aztec canals in Xochimilco had a mariachi band on board to entertain the picnickers on family outings. From time to time, the occasional two-man marimba would float by.
But trumpets or not, none of it could match the enthusiastic volume of the Dad-cum-balladeer in the next boat. To entertain his family, he had brought along his twangy guitar and was belting out bluesy ballads at the top of his lungs.
Although we might not have selected him on a jukebox, it was nice of him to share.
Hugh Dellios is the Tribune's Central America correspondent.
(c) 2002, Chicago Tribune.
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