And so the volume has incrementally risen, the imbecilic din encroaching on one place after another — mass transit, waiting rooms, theaters, museums, the library — until this last bastion of civility and calm, the Quiet Car, has become the battlefield where we quiet ones, our backs forced to the wall, finally hold our ground. The Quiet Car is the Thermopylae, the Masada, the Fort McHenry of quiet — which is why the regulars are so quick with prepared reproaches, more than ready to make a Whole Big Thing out of it, and why, when the outsiders invariably sit down and start in with their autonomic blather, they often find themselves surrounded by a shockingly hostile mob of professors, old ladies and four-eyes who look ready to take it outside. – “The Quiet Ones,” Tim Kreider, NYT 11/18
I enjoyed this piece about the Quiet Car on the Amtrak NYC-to-Boston train; it reminded me of a recent encounter I had in the public library’s Quiet Room.
I was working there the other day in the company of a few other “professors, old ladies and four-eyes” (I occupying at least two of those three categories, perhaps more in spirit) also scattered around reading & writing. A cell phone went off loudly– the owner turned it off right away and ran out of the room to answer it. That’s the Quiet Room protocol, and you will get seriously glared at if you play it any other way. It’s considered slightly bad form for the phone to go off in the first place, but as long as you answer in a choked whisper on your way out of the Quiet Room, it’s OK. (Answering it and having a quick sotto voce conversation in the room itself: definitely frowned upon.)
In any case, the guy’s ringtone played for a second or two, and although I couldn’t place it at first, I knew I recognized the song. I thought for a minute trying to remember and then it hit me. The guy, whom I thought might be Hispanic, came back and started clearing his things away. I went up to him and in an apologetic Quiet-Room whisper said, “excuse me… your ringtone…” (I could tell he was worried I’d scold him for Q.R. protocol-violation…) “Was that Tinariwen?”
It took him a second to understand what I was saying, but then he beamed a mile wide. We whispered about Tinariwen, the fantastic Malian “desert blues” group formed in a Libyan refugee camp, for long enough to risk some glares. It turned out that this guy is himself Toureg, of the same Berber Saharan ethnic group as the band members. He saw them in Chicago once and we agreed that it would be great if they could make it to Bloomington.
On his way out he turned back to me and said, “Very good!” with an impressed grin. I did think it was a pretty damn good I.D.
It was this song, “Imidiwan Winakalin”: amazing, with an eternal, hypnotic bass line and ullulations:
If you don’t know them, Aman Iman (Water is Life) was their breakthrough album from 2007 and is the one I first got really into. They won a World Music Grammy for 2011’s Tassili, which does sound good, but not as intense as Aman Iman.
Occasionally even the Quiet Room benefits from a little noise.