Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Noises: The Series

If you've followed my blog, you know I like to comment on the ubiquitous noise of Mexico City. If I had to categorize them, I would place the noise into two categories: 1) harmony and 2) discord. In the category of discord would be the following noises: trucks, cars, dog-beating, abusive neighbors, neighbors that play Tracy Chapman on repeat at 4am, sirens of all sorts, honking horns, and people who yell "Pinche, cabrón" and/or other sordid profanities in front of children. Did I really just forget to list Shania Twain at 6am?? In the category of harmony would be: the tamale vendor's cry, the sweet potato man's steam blower, street musicians, the ringing bell of the garbage collector, and my latest discovery, the knife sharpener's whistle. 

Unlike the sweet potato vendor, the mysterious whistling sound is heard in the daytime, usually in the morning. I have always attributed this bit of noise to the music school across the street, but while going about my morning chores today, I heard that faint whistle out my window. Of course, in accordance with my noise-y obsession, this required voyeuristic investigation.

On a bicycle with a sharpening stone attached to the back was the the sacador de filos, the knife sharpener!! Oh, was I elated to have finally found this man! Everyone I know seems to have one in their neighborhood, and I was beginning to feel a little left out. No one told me about his distinctive whistle, but honestly, it was very pleasurable to have discovered him and his noise all on my own. Given that he was on a bike, this fella was quick and almost out of sight once I put two and two together. And no way was I going to gather all my knives in the fist of my hand and run them down like a crazy woman just to get them sharpened. As crooked as the cops are here, I think they know a crazy when they see one. So this time next week I'll carefully bundle them up and hope he comes again.

Listen to this NPR podcast to hear the knife sharpener's whistle and learn more about Mexico's informal economy of street food vendors and tradesman. Hmm..this makes me a little interested in starting my own informal economy of homemade Asian delights.

A knife sharpener in Oaxaca who props his back wheel up while pedaling backwards to turn the sharpening stone.
(Courtesy of


  1. I would totally support your informal Asian Delights economy.

  2. Gracias! On the menu so far are pot stickers and spring rolls.

  3. This is a great post, I keep watching for the same dude in our area and haven't seen him. Im thinking there isn't one around here. Who knows he may get drowned out by all the other sounds and I just haven't spotted him yet.

  4. He's quick and I think his whistle is a little under-rated. He needs a blow horn or something to that effect to stop us in our tracks.