This is going to be a bit of a rant, and without photos, because it’s about sound–specifically, the ubiquitous and irritatingly predictable popular music sound-track of European cities these days, at least some of the ones we have been in. We started to notice it Greece, and are now, in Croatia, just inundated with this blare. Why do all of these taxi, busses, hairdressers, shops, restaurants and cafes–even the t0nier ones in Dubrovnik–think we want to hear bad, or at least overdone, rock music in every venue, and at all times of the day and in the most incongruous places? My favorite juxtaposition so far was after we had returned from the stunning, overwhelmingly beautiful walk through Plitvice National Park and went to the Park’s rather nice restaurant. When we sat down at a window table, admiring the view, what did we hear coming out of the loudspeaker in the dining room? Kurt Cobain! ”Smells Like Teen Spirit” in the heart of Croatia!
Sometimes the music is at least momentarily amusing, because it is a localized version of either Beyonce/Brittany Spears light–sung in Greek or Croatian–or the most popular local singer just back from the Eurovision contest. But all of this gets old very quickly when it is played constantly while one is trying to sample local cuisine or getting your hair cut. The other day in Bosnia, we went to a fantastic rustic kind of restaurant with great food and nice service. In that kind of setting, it is at least understandable that they would be broadcasting across the tables a kind of local pop-folk figure’s traditional music–very oompah polka-like. All the songs sounded the same to us, and the singer wasn’t that inspiring, but the innkeeper was singing along with him, and on the tape, the audience clapped and cheered wildly at the end of the performance. The background instruments were also fun to hear. But why does anyone want to hear Kurt Cobain in Plitvice?
I am also astounded at how widespread is the influence of American street culture. We saw Greek kids performing hip hop/bad rap, complete with amps and pants down off their butts, right next to the Roman Forum in Athens. We haven’t heard many thumping bass lines emanating from cars driving by as we do at home, but the constant stream of sound coming from every building is enough. Even the CHURCHES–including Sagrada Familia–often use prerecorded piped in music, at least appropriate to the religion and the space, but still….
And then there’s noise of an other kind. We have been in a few places where the nights have been still and tranquil, but more likely, we have had street noise and clamor right outside our bedroom windows. And now, apparently, is the season for all tourist venues to start getting ready for the season. I can’t tell you how often we have sat down for lunch in a cozy place, only to have a drill hammer or other internal combustion engine start up. We have left or avoided several restaurants because of the machines.
And now, here in Mlini, this seemingly idyllic bay along the Dalmatian coast, in an architect-designed house, we have just been listening to the construction site next door setting off dynamite to make an even bigger hole in the ground! Then the large pile-driver will start banging away so heavily and loudly that the entire house will sway. The single road up the hill is a tangle of grading equipment, earth-moving machines, and tar-making implements. As another friend of ours says, this is a sign of popularity and prestige, just like New York or Berlin or other cities becoming the in places to be! So much for the tranquility of once-undiscovered places. At least the construction workers aren’t playing bad music–but of course, they wouldn’t, since the only way they could hear it over their machines would be through earphones, which they, too, are wearing, to listen to the latest Eurovision song contestants, I assume.