Listen to the Sounds of Life. I am all ears. I listen with my eyes. I hear what I see on advertisements, newspaper headlines, posters and signs. I move through a city of voices and words. Voices that set the air in motion and pass through my inner ear to reach the brain transformed into electrical pulses. Words that I hear in passing or if someone stands beside me talking on a cell phone, or that I read everywhere, on every surface, every screen, wherever I happen to look. The printed words reach me like spoken sounds, like notes I read on a musical score, sometimes trying to distinguish words that are spoken simultaneously or to infer those I cannot hear because they are whisked away or lost in a louder noise. The shapes and fonts give rise to a ceaseless visual polyphony. I am a tape recorder, switched on and hidden away inside the futuristic phone of a 1960s spy, the iPhone in my pocket. I am the camera that Christopher Isherwood wanted to be in Berlin. I am a gaze that must not be distracted even by the merest blink. The woods have ears, reads the title of a drawing by Bosch. The fields have eyes. Inside a dark, hollow tree glow the yellow eyes of an owl. A pair of large ears dangle from a burly tree as from an elephant, nearly touching the ground. One of Carmen Calvo’s sculptures is an old wooden door studded with glass eyes. The doors have eyes. The walls have ears. Electrical outlets can hear what we say, according to Ramón Gómez de la Serna.
Perfection May Be Closer than You Think. I go out as soon as it grows dark. It is the late dusk of the first night of summer. I hear the rustle of the trees and ivy in neighborhood gardens. I hear the voices of people I cannot see, eating outdoors on the other side of fences topped with creeping vine or mock-orange, sheltered from the street by thick cypress hedges. The sky is dark blue at the top and light blue on the horizon where the rooftops and chimneys stand in silhouette as in a technicolor diorama. I want to be aware only of what reaches my eyes and ears at this very moment, nothing else. The street is so still that I can hear my own footsteps. The rumble of traffic is far away. In the soft breeze I can hear the rustle of leaves on a fig tree and the slow, swaying sound of the high crown of a sycamore, like the sound of the sea. I hear the whistling of swallows flitting through the air in acrobatic flight. One of them touches the surface of a garden pond so pristinely as it swoops to catch an insect that it does not cause the slightest ripple. I hear the clicking of bats finding their way through the air by echolocation. Many more vibrations than my crude human ears can detect are rippling simultaneously through the air at this very moment, a thick web of radio signals spreading everywhere, carrying all the cell phone conversations taking place right now across the city. I want to be all eyes and ears, like Argos in the myth, a human body covered in bulbous eyeballs and blinking eyelids, or in the bare, lidless eyes on Carmen Calvo’s door. I could be a Marvel superhero: Eye-Man. Or a monster in a 1950s science-fiction film. I could be a random stranger or the Invisible Man, preferably the one in the James Whale movie rather than in the novel by H.G. Wells. It is the film, more than the book, that really attains the height of poetry.
Technology Applied to Life. I read every word that meets my eyes as I walk by. Fire Department Only. Premises Under Video Surveillance. We pay cash for your car. There is a kind of beauty, an effortless fruition in the gradual coming on of night. The word Libre, lit in bright green on the windshield of an approaching taxi, floats above the darkened street as if clipped and pasted on a black background on a page in a photo album. A glaring, empty bus rushes from the mouth of a tunnel like a ghostly galleon in the high seas. Its entire side is taken by a large ad for gazpacho. Enjoy the taste of summer now. Words fall into a rhythmic sequence. We buy silver. We buy gold. We buy silver and gold. Donate blood. We buy gold. At every bus stop there is a glowing panel advertising a new film. Gods of Egypt: The Battle for Eternity Begins. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows. There are invitations, commands and prohibitions that I never noticed when I walked down this street before. Do not place plastic containers outside the trash bin. Closed to pedestrian traffic. Enjoy our cocktails. Celebrate your event with us. Long before you walk past the sidewalk tables outside a bar you are met by a murmuring choir of voices and of tinkling glasses and the sound of silverware and china. I go through the thicket of voices and smells without stopping. Roast meat, animal fat, fried fumes, shrimp shells and cigarette smoke. Try our specialties, lamb cutlets, grilled meats. Try our lobster rice. There is a lavish verbal succulence to the lettering on the signs that is not unlike the splendor of a Dutch still life. Croquettes. t-bone steak. Gambas al ajillo. Callos a la madrileña. cheeses. Eggplant and gazpacho. Grilled sea bass. Tuna fritters. Paella. Entrecôte. On a June night, the sidewalks of Madrid have a languorous seaside calm like a beach filled with families on holiday. As I drift along, I realize that this is the last night I will live in this neighborhood where I have spent so many years. A man and a woman, white-haired but youthful, press their faces together and smile in the window of a store that sells hearing aids. Old people in advertisements smile with a certain optimism. Young people laugh and laugh, opening their mouths wide and showing their gums and tongues. I never noticed that particular sign before, its invitation or command, the white letters on a blue ground, the joy of retirees wearing invisible earbuds: Be all ears. Hear the genuine sounds of life.
Go as Far as You Choose. I close my eyes on purpose so that the sounds can reach me more clearly. I sit down on the subway and close my eyes as if I had fallen asleep. I try to keep them shut all the way from one station to the next. I notice the weight of my eyelids, the faint quivering touch of my lashes. When I open my eyes to look around, the faces are even less familiar than they were before I closed them. There is a book in my satchel but I do not read it. I only read the signs I encounter, each in turn, from the moment I hurry down the stairs and push the swinging door. So many things that I never noticed or that I read without being aware of them. Entrance. Shorn of articles and verbs, the phrases become crude robotic indications. Estación Cobertura Móvil. Some subway official believes in bilingualism and in literal translations. Station Coverage Mobile. No smoking anywhere on the subway system. Insert ticket. A Public Announcement from the Metro de Madrid. Don’t forget to take your ticket. A group of multi-ethnic, multinational youths, grinning in an advertisement. Join the largest design network in the world. One of them is Asian. He wears glasses and looks at the camera. Another is black, with a pierced nose and his arm around the shoulders of a girl who is clearly Spanish. Turn this summer into something unforgettable. Use it or lose it. Exclusive opportunities for those who act quick. Going down the escalator I close my eyes though not completely. For your own safety hold the handrail until you get off. An emergency intercom addresses me with an almost intimate suggestion: Use me when you need me. The city speaks the language of desire. Instead of instantly looking at my phone while I wait on the platform or searching for something to read, I stay on my feet and squint my eyes for a few moments. ‘Use Me’ was the title of a song I used to like many years ago. One thousand cameras are watching over your safety. At each step there is a new instruction or command. Break only in case of emergency. Don’t be afraid to use me, the song said. Commanding voices join the written injunctions. Next train approaching the station. The lack of an article or even a verb heightens the sense of imminence. This is a public announcement. The ground shakes a little as the train approaches. Do not enter or exit subway cars after the sound signal. I look at people’s faces and listen to their voices. I am all ears. I move closer to someone who is talking on the phone. Nearly every person in the subway car is absorbed in a cell-phone screen. A tall, serious girl is reading a Paulo Coelho book. Her choice in books is a discredit to her beauty. ‘I’ll tell you everything,’ someone says, right behind me. He leans his head against the glass and he lowers his voice, so I can no longer hear him over the automated message that begins to announce the next station. ‘Alright, perfect, OK, alright. See you soon.’
Parrot Could Be Key Witness in Murder Case. Wearily, a woman turns the pages of a free newspaper. Beyoncé unveils outfits for upcoming tour. The train is moving more slowly and quietly now, and I am better able to hear the male voice talking on the phone behind me. He is so close to me that I have no idea what he looks like, this man who now begins to laugh. ‘His mother is eighty-seven and she just went to the dentist to get braces.’ The Montaigne book is in my backpack but I do not open it or even look for a seat. I am alert, waiting for whatever new instructions will be addressed to me in an imperious or enticing tone. Each passion will take you somewhere. This seat reserved for people with disabilities. Beneath the noise of the train there is a murmur of voices, almost all of them talking on the phone. ‘You have no idea how many years I have lived in England.’ The voices of people I cannot see seem especially near. ‘Neither you nor your siblings must sign anything until you know for sure.’ A TV screen hangs from the ceiling. A young man with a shaved head and a black beard moves his lips and the words appear below. I am gay. Then another man, younger, beardless, wearing eyeliner and also moving his lips. I am trans. The face of the man with the shaved head appears again. They flicker back and forth so quickly that their features are superimposed. I am me. And then a third face. I could be you. Live your difference, a purple screen finally says. Another invitation. Another command. Someone must have measured the minimum time required for the faces not to become indistinguishable. A woman is speaking softly but very close to me in a tone of warning or censure. ‘He says he’s changed, that he wants to come back. But that’ll depend on how he behaves.’ I try to inscribe in my memory the phrases I hear, the bits and pieces of conversation. Words flow together, blurring and disappearing as soon as I hear them. Forget-It-Fast, says an ad, though I am not sure for what. Words are drowned by the noise of the train or by announcements on the intercom. ‘So he’s changed? We’ll have to see. I don’t believe 20 per cent of what he says.’ Emergency hammer. I read everything, even the headlines on the pages of the free newspaper that the woman holds right up to my face.
Police Will Know When You Use Your Cell Phone Even When They Cannot See You. Salamanca man beheaded by his eighteen-year-old son. Emergency exit. The great Arctic adventure. I barely notice the faces, just the voices and the printed words. Ringtones. The sharp trill of a text message. Every person is connected to something or someone who is somewhere else. ‘I’m on the subway. Just in case the call drops.’ When the train comes to a stop, the doors open in front of an advertisement that reaches up to the curved ceiling. For the best family holidays. First-time ocean dives. A new landscape at every turn. A group of young people are jumping off a cliff joyfully into the sea. Some are about to plunge fearlessly and others are already floating against a deep blue. All the fun of summer within your reach. Click for incredible prices. Some reservations cannot wait. Book now. Find out more. Find out now. Buy it now. Try it now. Different messages seem to come from the same voice, the same source, and to be addressed to the same person: me, you. It’s me, but it could be you. You, yes, you, says a lottery ad, as if pointing a finger to single you out in the crowd, a face that can see you and has chosen you from a TV monitor. You can be a millionaire. Master the elements with your fingertips. Find the perfect class for you. The woman who was reading the newspaper left it on the seat when she got off the subway car, a mess of crumpled sheets. Join the leading brand in hybrid technology.
Track Your DNA. Get There Sooner. Let nothing stop you. Don’t wait until you’re down. In just a few years, printed newspapers have lost all their material dignity. Madrid sets a world record in the hunt for Pokémon. They crumple and they fall apart immediately, squalid and superfluous, especially now, in summer. An entire page can be scanned as quickly as a screen. Enjoy a fabulous gourmet experience by the sea. I close my eyes again to hear more distinctly as I let myself be carried along by the motion of the train. The city makes a thousand simultaneous promises. Choose everything. Enjoy it whenever and wherever you like. It is no longer necessary to choose a particular thing and forego what was not chosen. Save while you spend without regrets. Lose weight by eating. Create your custom trip today. I have an old, irresistible addiction to cheap newsprint and the smell of ink. Cannibal fight between hammerhead and tiger shark videotaped at sea by tuna fishermen. We move heaven and earth to bring you the best.
Take a Bit of Our Taste with You.