LE_Se Bota El Tanqueby Vincent Andrisani
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The following is an audio portrait of water moving through domestic spaces in a neighbourhood in Havana. It’s the filling of a rooftop reservoir that provides inhabitants of a small apartment building with their water supply. This sequence of events occurs twice daily: first, in the early morning before dawn, and then again in the mid-afternoon.
It begins with a ground-level motorized pump, which propels water upward into the reservoir that sits atop the roof. Once the reservoir is filled, almost without fail, the water overflows and spills out onto the roof. Eventually, it pools in a corner of the rooftop, and spills over the side of the building. Travelling along the exterior wall and through drainage pipes, the water falls back to ground level. The problem is that it floods the laneway, which is the front entrance to someone’s home. To make matters worse, the falling water often lands in the precise spot where they hang their clothes to dry.
The overflow is a daily mishap, and it’s a terrible inconvenience to those whose home opens up into the laneway. But the ways that residents creatively and collectively mitigate this interruption is inspiring. The ground-level neighbour often whistles three times before yelling “¡Oye, se esta botando!”, which means “Hey, its overflowing!”. The upstairs neighbour, who’s in charge of filling the tank, is alerted of the overflow, and immediately turns off the motor. Just in case he didn’t hear, other neighbours who are also aware of the situation will chime in, and will make their voices heard by yelling into the acoustic spaces of the neighbourhood—even though they are still physically inside their homes.
The following is the dialogue heard in the composition, which is an example of the dialogues that take place there almost daily:
Laneway resident: Whistle! x3 “Ven pa’aca, a Yoni.” “It’s coming toward me (referring to the water), Yoni.”
Upstairs Neighbour: “Fue Pampi el que lo puso.” “It was Pampi, he turned it on.” (referring to pump)
Laneway Resident: “Oye, se esta botando…” “Hey, it’s overflowing…”
Other Neighbour: “¡Oye, llevo dos horas avisandole!” “It’s been two hours that I’ve been saying that!”
Laneway Resident: “¡Esta cayendo de alla arriba el agua pa’aca y esta mojando toda la ropa aqui abajo!” “The water is falling from above and it’s getting all of my clothes wet!”
Upstairs Neighbour: “¡Oye Pampi!” “Hey Pampi!”
Laneway Resident: “Ven Jorgito, sal de ahi. ¡Ven Jorgito!” “Come Jorgito (her grandson), get out of there (the flooded laneway). Come Jorgito!"
Although the moment is very brief, in it, we find an ocean of meaning about what it means to live in present-day Havana. That the water overflows can be attributed to the apartment building’s malfunctioning infrastructure. In a city where more than half the water supply is lost before it even reaches residents, this neighbourhood mishap symbolizes a concern of a much larger order. Yet, residents have learned to negotiate these circumstances—much like many of the others that they face in the city—both collectively and creatively. They look out for the best interests of one another in spite of (or because of) the challenges that are for the most part, beyond their control.
And they do so with a sense of humour. The term choteo is used to describe informal humour that explicitly targets authority with the aim of undermining it. When the neighbour says “¡Oye, llevo dos horas avisandole!” (“It’s been two hours that I’ve been saying that!”), it’s of course an exaggeration—the entire sequence lasts only about ten or fifteen minutes. But, what it does is it momentarily aligns her with the struggle of the laneway resident. It expresses a cynicism for a daily disruption that neither of them can control, and it does so with the aim of mitigating the inconvenience as quickly as possible.
And all of this happens in sound and through the act of listening.