Not Quite Soundproof

Dearest Rachel –

Last night wasn’t the soundest sleep I’ve ever had in my life. Sometimes I forget that, while hotel rooms are built to individualize each guest’s experience, they aren’t completely soundproof, either.

Thankfully, that isn’t to say that other guests have disturbed my sleep. I will hear the occasional knocking about in the halls, but rarely has there been the loud chattering of a family with a group of noisy children wandering past, despite my relative proximity to the elevator. And I certainly haven’t been aware of any couple in the next room over (in either direction) doing, ah… what couples do in a hotel room. Back when it was the two of us in a hotel room from time to time, that wouldn’t have phased me; I’d just realize, “well, that’s probably only fair,” and indulge them as I would hope they would have indulged us. These days, I don’t know how I’d react to those sounds.

No, the sounds I was hearing were seeping through the thinnest barrier around any room: the window. And generally, that shouldn’t be something to complain about or to keep one awake (which admittedly, is a redundancy on my part, but whatever). Every city – indeed, every place, but a city that much more so than most – has a certain level of ambient noise about it, wherever you may be. Mostly, it’s the traffic going by of one sort or another – the sound of different engines as vehicles rush by, along with the friction of the tram across its tracks and the occasional ringing of its bell to warn of its approach; an odd siren from time to time (although despite being across from the police headquarters, it’s actually a rarer sound than back at home, where we live on a all-too-well-traveled hospital route); and of course, the now-and-again crowds that come by, some even as they queue up in front of the HQ for service of some sort or another (admittedly, I’ve no idea what’s going on there, but I will be making my conjectures soon enough).

Even though these sounds continue rather intermittently throughout the day and night, you learn (as an urban/suburban dweller) to tune those out for the most part, especially when you’re attempting to sleep. In fact, I understand a certain level of ambient noise is almost necessary to human life; there are places where sound has been muffled through architectural and other means, and it is almost impossible for a lone human being to bear being in one of these deliberately-engineered ‘quiet rooms’ for more than an hour. Anyway, my point is that it wasn’t any of that usual stuff that got my attention.

In fact, it wasn’t what woke me up in the first place. Apart from Monday night, when I slept straight through until just after nine, my sleep has been fitful, with an interruption some time between three and four. I’m not certain as to the cause; it may be my illness, it may still be my inability to quite adjust to the time zone, it may be the effects of my apnea – or it may be a combination of all three to one level or another. And after a bit of time spent checking my phone for news or messages (more on that at another time), I settle back in, do what I can to make myself comfortable, and go back to sleep.

But last night around four was different. The sounds on the street were nothing like I’d gotten used to hearing (and I should mention that Basel isn’t any more like New York than our suburb is; they may not roll up the streets – the trams keep running into the wee hours, for instance – but there isn’t much going on outside that late at night). It sounded like… shouting?

I had to grab my glasses, and get up to see.

Now, outside of the police headquarters, there is a post standing perhaps a meter and a half high. I can see a couple of electronic lights on it, and I would conclude from my distant viewpoint that it’s probably an intercom system, for someone to announce their presence before being allowed inside (I imagine they would not want anyone inside who might cause… trouble, unless they were being brought in for that very reason, at which point such a miscreant would already be subdued in some way or another).

This… gentlemen, and I use the word in the loosest possible sense, was yelling at the post, standing there for a moment, and then shouting at it again, occasionally making as it to turn away from it before spinning back around to continue to argue with it. I couldn’t make out any particular words – it isn’t as if I’d recognize a thing he was saying even if I could make it out, as I don’t know a lick of German – but I was amazed how his voice carried, ringing up to where I could hear him well even from my bed on what we’d consider to be the sixth floor (technically, it’s the fifth, but that’s because here in Switzerland – and maybe throughout Europe? – it seems they consider the ground floor to be the zeroth floor, and count up from there).

If there was ever a response from the post (or the intercom thereupon – otherwise, this fellow could simply have been doing his civic duty of turning himself in for being drunk and disorderly – and while I understand the Swiss have a reputation, like Canadians, for being polite, this seems a bit excessive), I could hear none of that side of the conversation, which is another reason I was so surprised to be able to hear this man’s voice. It shouldn’t have been that loud; it certainly didn’t need to be that loud, and yet here he was, and here I was listening to it.

My guess is that he was trying to report a crime that had just happened to him – perhaps a mugging, although he seemed unharmed for having had something like that occur to him – only be frustrated by the fact that headquarters was more or less dark. In retrospect, it does seem odd; one would expect more crime to occur at night, in the dark, and that the police precinct would be open to address such emergencies when they might occur. Of course, I speak as an American, and you know our reputation for crime. But I would imagine that humans are going to human no matter what continent they are on, and no society is exempt from its malefactors.

The fellow eventually appeared to give up and walk away; actually walking toward the hotel, although I don’t know if he was going towards it or not. It’s one of those stories I’m never going to actually know the end of, anymore than I really understood what little of it that I observed. But, since it disturbed my sleep, I figured I’d relate the story to you as I saw it unfold, and you can draw your own conclusions just as I drew mine.

Take care honey; love you.

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I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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