An audio postcard from my holidays. From relax to suffering

“You can survive ordinary torture; not music. I admit to all that I am accused of. I knew Bin Laden and Mullah Omar. I know what they were up to. If only it would stop!” So said a inmate of the American prison at Guantanamo who remembered the torture, musical torture.

If you are going on holiday, better to go somewhere quiet, advertised as family friendly. These places are not Ibiza, no crowds of feral Brits jumping from balconies into the pool, discos blaring until the early hours. You can find such places easily enough in Greece. Such as Chalkidiki or Sithonia,advertised as quieter than its neighbouring Kassandra. Google Maps shows that these centres are rare, especially at the end of an isthmus or in a forest. If it’s Sithonia,then paradise beckons.

My hotel is a picturesque complex of bungalows, not a high rise block. There’s lots of space and greenery- palms, rose bushes, olives and pine. Nearby there’s a pool , irregularly shaped of course with an island. Next to the pool is a bar. You can’t get to the beach without passing the bar, or a spread out bar area with loungers, tables and sofas. The bubble of my delusion of paradise was pricked soon enough.

From 10 am to 11 pm the bar blares out, so-called it must be said, and very loud music. All that has some sort of melody or harmony I must admit stops at Led Zeppelin with me. The stuff that comes later- metal, hip-hop, rap, industrial music or club was created to summon the police and prison services of various countries. Like a punishment in prisons and police stations to get a confession, obviously illegally.

In some categories music fans choose not to listen but to endure and they get satisfaction from the fact that they lasted the course. Let’s not exaggerate here though, this wasn’t played in my hotel bar but there was one category that beat club music and that was industrial. Listening to this changes the chemical composition of the body like the stuff that Rammstein play but very loud and for thirteen hours. Even Andrea Bocceli would be torture in comparison.

There were many quick rhythmical changes, artificial dynamism from synthesizers, automated percussion and samplers, irritating vocalists exaggerating their vocals and reminding you more of some sort of physiological rather than musical effort. This was in the pool area, because it has to be said, in the neighbouring restaurant zone it was more relaxing. There was chill out, wallpaper jazz and muzak in general- harmless music for the shop and elevator.

On the restaurant terrace, everything mingled. There was no duty to eat on the terrace but you could eat inside, but only with muzak. At certain times there were girls who took care of children on both sides of the bar and within the zone itself. I have to add here that they hauled in their loudspeakers too, from somewhere.

You couldn’t avoid passing the bar and sometimes you had to queue up as well. You can’t and perhaps you shouldn’t drink in temperatures above thirty . If you need the loo then there’s one near the beach and also in the bar. If you have emptied your plastic glass at the beach then you have to return to the bar for a refill. There’s a charming path that leads from the bar to the beach. It’s lined with trees and blooming shrubs but also loudspeakers. The last ended at such a distance that all you could hear from there were the sea and cicadas.

It was a relief that the loudspeakers were out of hearing range for the time being. Children were being noisy as they always are. Parents told them off, but in Serbian, so I could concentrate on reading. But other languages disturbed my repose- English, Russian and German. If I cannot understand anything then I am okay. From those that I heard, the best in this respect is Dutch…only not too loud of course.

A small group remained at the beach and by the pool. They were divided into two- beach and a classical poolside. Those going poolside are somewhat larger. In the first week of my stay they were loud; in the second, loud.
Chaldykiki, Sithionia, photo Mauritius images GmbH/Alamy/Alamy/Forum
One male bartender took the place of his female colleague. She was responsible for this din. She probably liked it and anyway no one at the bar seemed to mind. What’s more, as far as I could hear one guest after finding out that she had compiled the playlist was full of praise for the girl. Obviously that level of noise must have pleased him too. In the first week, you had to shout at the barman to order anything and the bar itself wasn’t that wide. In the second, week, less so.

Tourists played board games and computer games with their kids by the pool. They spoke into their telephones and even read.They looked relaxed. Any stress on their faces or in their behavior I didn’t see.The pool side and the beach were two separate worlds and had different inhabitants. If the pool wasn’t blaring out then the result would probably have been tears and the gnashing of teeth. Maybe phantoms would have started to appear if the music had died down and you would have had to smother any everyday cares.

  “I can take ordinary torture, but not the music. I admitted to everything that I was asked. That I know Bin Laden Mullah Omar. I know what they are planning. All of it. Let it just stop”: the words of a Guantanamo Bay inmate as he recalled the torture by music. Incarcerated Islamists were played metal, hard rock and other heavy styles. That wasn't all either. There was the signature tune to ‘Sesame Street’, advertising jingles, the Bee gees, Christina Aguilera, Britnet Spears. As well as Metallica and Marylin Manson there was the classic rock of Bruce Springsteen

After a few hours of listening to Dr. Dre (apparently some sort of rapper) I would have confessed as well that I knew Bin Laden. To get something out of a Pole in my case, some Disco Polo would have done the business. The first doubts as to the veracity of confessions obtained by torture was given by the Holy Inquisition. They didn’t reach the Pentagon. They didn’t need to reach the poolside either as it was a holiday zone. My way is to swim and read in peace. I relax from reading by going into a gently rolling and warm sea. I start to swim straight in front of me then turn right. No turning left as from the point of view of the beach there was a campsite and bar. Woofers boomed out their monotonous noise…no melody. They carry over the water and you have to flee.

Everything has its pros and cons. Even the pool has its advantages. I swim far from the shore, something that stops me from starting my day with a brandy and coke or tequila sunrise. I’m afraid to do this as I want to test myself. The pool doesn't have these limits and the deepest point is 1.4 metres. The most sober i among us in this area are the children, which explains why the poolsiders like the noise.

You can do what you want in the evenings. Here’s a good point. You have to suffer the noise when ordering drinks at the bar and get to your room as quickly as possible. Our chalet was at the end, and as we had asked for a quiet one we couldn’t hear anything from the balcony. The way the poolside works prevents any alcoholism as in order to get the next drink you have to walk a distance from the quiet zone and you’re once more in the din. So you have to sip your drinks as long as you can. Meantime, they shut the bar and its bedtime.

Summer vacations with LGBTQ

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The fight between peace and quiet and the ever present din is like the one between carnival and lent. Nothing wins forever. In the communist Poland of the 1970s, beaches were full of youth with portable radio receivers. Radios with their aerials disappeared in the era of the Walkman and now you can’t see those either. The victory of peace and quiet was also temporary. The vanguard and pursuit elements of noise appear here and there and more often.

In shopping malls, and in accordance with the concept of muzak, if you play harmless music the customer will buy. Every shop has its particular muzak and particularity. All mix together and create a cacophony within a common space. It’s better though as this silences the sound from the shops within the common areas; though I’ve not been for ages, nothing plays.

In an age of earphones or buds an attack can arise from unexpected quarters. For example, in the Polish Radio building on Malczewski Street, urinals have started to play music. I was only there once and maybe they don’t play there anymore, at least not the Lambada. The aim to make all this more pleasant is clear- don’t leave us in silence and in the sounds of nature. You only have to ring up any institution and wait for your call to be answered and wait for your call to be transferred. What a noise.

They play on the television too. They broadcast a soundtrack to any report or a documentary. It’s a kind of muzak for news programmes. It’s as loud as the report itself.

It’s just me being picky, so long as I can relax by the sea. But the fight between customs and habits is getting stronger. In the above mentioned beach if you aren’t playing anything, the hotel at least isn’t doing it. One day two men came along and set up a couple of loudspeakers (they had their own tent) blaring out electro music. My request to switch it off was answered with a curt “no”. On the way to the reception my wife called me back and said that she threatened to call the police. The magic words worked. They couldn’t know whether the police would have come and from nowhere, to deal with them at least. The internationally recognised sign- a hand to the forehead, before I could react verbally was enough for the next couple of men draped in gold chains. Who knows what it may be like next year?

– Krzysztof Zwoliński

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

– Translated by Jan Darasz
Main photo: Greece, Stomio Beach in Kymi Bay, photo Agnieszka Zawistowska/Forum
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