That Whirring Noise
by Andreas Economakis
“I’m trying to figure out where that high-pitched noise is coming from,” I say in Greek, tired eyes scanning over her shoulders.
“What noise?” she asks, innocently. Her eyes circle over my head, like two crows coming in for a landing.
“That noise,” I say, pointing to where I think it’s coming from.
“I don’t hear anything,” she replies, calmly.
“You don’t hear that whirring noise? It sounds like a high pitched engine that’s out of tune.”
“No, I don’t hear anything.” She adopts the classic Greek island facial shrug, the one with that tiny, crooked smile. I can’t tell if she’s pulling my leg. “Maybe you’re thinking of the noise from the desalinization plant?” she adds.
“Ah! That must be it!” I say, triumphantly. “It kept me up all night!”
She shakes her head slowly, faintest smile still in place. “It can’t be. The plant is closed at night.”
“Then they must have kept it open last night. My nerves are wrecked,” I say.
“No, no, it doesn’t work at night. Who knows what you heard… Are you sure you heard something?”
I smile and lower my head, shrugging. Defeated. Without knowing it, I adopt the same quizzical island smile and pad away from the Loutra Spa Hotel, toward my parked motorcycle. I’m looking forward to a quiet coffee in the village square. Then, maybe, I’ll ride out to the beach for a nap. There I’ll be able to get some sleep.
Silence is rare in Greece. Greeks are by far the loudest people I have ever met. And I’ve been around. I’ve slept in fleabite hotels in downtown Cairo, stained-sheet pensions in the middle of Rome, even in small dorm rooms two meters over a rumbling and rambling Broadway in the heart of New York City. Greece is, hands down, the loudest country on planet earth. The little remote island I’m visiting is not an exception to this rule.
The whirring noise at the Loutra is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to noise at the old spa hotel. First off, there’s my bed. Any small movement and the ancient wood frame squeals like a giant redwood coming down in a windstorm. Then there’s the floorboards. They’re so old and noisy that I fear crashing through them and into the old timer’s bed in the room below. When I walk around in my room, the Pope in Rome can hear me. And as for the old geezer below, every time he gets out of bed the entire hotel squeaks like a thousand mice being stepped on at the exact same moment.
My first night at the hotel I jumped out of a deep sleep in a sheer panic, convinced that bloodthirsty Turks were fornicating in my room. Later in the same night, I thought I heard a camper-van emptying its toilets on corrugated metal. It was the old timer again, clearing his throat. The following night I was awakened once again in terror, this time dead sure that a rat the size of Lassie was nibbling on my flip-flops in the corner of the room. It was the same old timer, taking a pee in a cup or something down below. That noise has repeated itself constantly since I moved in. At the exact same hour of the night. I guess the incontinent old fellow down below is too lazy or tired to walk to the communal bathrooms. Or maybe he’s afraid he’ll make too much noise walking down the creaky hallway.
The old timer and the other nighttime apocalyptic sounds in my hotel are merely the frosting on the cake. They are nothing compared to the racket that the obviously deaf octogenarians make every morning right below my window, hollering at top volume through their missing front teeth. This starts before the crack of dawn. Every day. No exception. My window has the wonderful advantage of being directly above the entrance to the Loutra, the very spot that has shade throughout most of the day. All the ancient geezers of this famous little island spa congregate in this spot from before sunrise until after sundown.
My first morning at the hotel, I was startled out of a restless sleep by two old men plumb screaming at each other. It sounded like they were going to come to blows at any moment. I cringed, waiting for that sudden gunshot crack of rusty World war Two guns going off, or that telltale soft thump of a body landing on concrete. I tried to figure out what the fuss was all about. It seemed like the old men were screaming about the quality of water on the island. That couldn’t be right.
I sat up in my squealing bed, wondering what national water crisis had just unfolded. As I listened, drops of salty sweat rolling down my overheated neck (there was no ventilation in my ancient room), I realized that they were simply weighing the pros and cons of drinking tap water on the island. At full volume. The old geezers were soon joined by two women, who, god bless them, were even louder and shriller that their toothless male companions. Their high-pitched yells sounded like donkeys braying in a room filled with cheering, drunk frat boys. They damn near shattered my windows. Dear god, I’ve just realized that I am in a hotel for the hearing impaired! No, I am on the island of the deaf!
This piece is part of a collection of stories on Greece entitled: The Greek Paradox.
Copyright © 2010, Andreas Economakis. All rights reserved.
For more stories by Andreas Economakis click on the author’s name below.