1/16/2006

Under Construction [JANUARY 15, 2006]

I had had quite a few drinks the other day so when I woke up abruptly the next morning with a pounding headache beating relentlessly through my skull, it came as no surprise. As I slowly managed to open my eyes, I rolled over and saw that my girlfriend had just woken up as well.
"Good morning, honey," I whispered.
She smiled in silence, her eyebrows a bit furrowed.
"My head is KILLING me... It’s like there’s a drill coming through my skull and it just won’t stop."
She looked at me perplexedly, yawned, and asked, "Are you serious?"
"Well, yeah, of course I am. Thanks for the sympathy though..." I added sarcastically. "You wouldn’t believe the banging."
"Sure I would. The whole building can probably hear it. That’s not your hangover. They’re doing some construction next door again."
"Really? So the drill that’s now going through my..."
"Is the drill," she interrupted, "that is actually going through the wall behind us. The thing woke me up too. You’d have to be deaf not to hear it!"
I paused for a moment, concentrated all my day-after-boozin’ powers on listening to what was going on behind the bed’s headboard and, low and behold, my girlfriend was right once again. It wasn’t a mental-drill brought on by a now forgotten mix of liquor that was causing my headache, but a power-drill being operated by some sweaty Spaniard named Miguel, Rodrigo, Diego, or God knows what.


Just another street-corner "Under Construction"

Fortunately, the unidentified laborer on the other side of our bedroom wall knew what he was doing and didn’t drill a clumsy hole completely through to our side of the building. But the entire morning’s events did bring one thing to mind: the Spanish are construction freaks. You can see it all over Cádiz every time you go for a walk as buildings to the left and right, down each and every street, avenue, or alley, are covered with scaffolding or debris-catching nets. They love digging, building, banging and drilling. But most of all, they especially love doing these things when it’s connected with knocking things down. A Spanish demolition team can take down a building or strip a room bare quicker than you can say ¿Que pasa? but can take months, if not years, to even begin to put something back in its place. I can’t really blame them because, I mean, what kind of guy doesn’t like to knock things down and take them apart. It’s a basic male instinct that goes back to that first time we saw Dad using a drill or hammer and asked, "Oooo... Can I try? Pleaasse!?!"


Another littered lot waiting...
"If they can bring 'em down, why can't they put 'em up?"

The thing is, most men outgrow that drill and hammer phase in their mid- to late- teens or, at the latest, early twenties. We realize that there are other, more interesting tools that can bring about utter havoc, chaos, and complete destruction – such as the power-saw and gas welder to name a few – and others that call for a more delicate touch – such as the screwdriver or caulking-gun. We quickly incorporate this wide range of accessories into our handyman repertoire and, for the most part, succeed in getting the job done unless our wives are inevitably right and, at the end of the day, we have to suck it in and call for the professionals... a local plumber or electrician. Now those guys have really interesting tools. In Spain, however, it seems no one ever outgrows the drill and hammer phase. If there’s a problem, bang it with a hammer. If that doesn’t work and, as a last resort, try drilling it. Re-tiling the bathroom walls and floor? Bang it. Fixing that leak coming from the kitchen sink? Bang it. Oiling those squeaky door hinges? Bang it. TV reception not too good? Bang it or, after a few tries, drill it. Something’s bound to happen. The noise pollution from all this banging and drilling in the name of construction can drive you mad. Anyone who has ever lived in Spain knows what I’m talking about and, if you don’t, count yourself lucky.


I'd hate to be a tenant in that middle building!

My girlfriend and I are one of the lucky ones this year because we live in a pretty old building (the plaque outside says 1856) and the walls and ceiling are thick enough to deter most of the neighborly construction sounds. That is, unless of course someone is actually drilling into the bedroom wall itself. We’ve also been, for the most part, very lucky because despite the age of our building, we haven’t really needed any work done on it... Well, that is if you don’t consider the time our ceiling collapsed on us while we were sleeping (see ¡El cielo ha caido! (The heavens have fallen!) [MAY 22, 2005]).

When I was living in Madrid though, in a relatively new building and on the eighth floor, my roommates and I almost went crazy from the noise of a next-door complex that was nearing completion and only had the bathrooms left to be done. Bang! Bang! Bang! all day long for half a year. We were puzzled – What was taking so long and what kind of a plumber uses a hammer that much? We eventually even started joking that Spanish plumbers had no other tools at their disposal but dozens of hammers neatly arranged – according to size – in their fold-out tool boxes and, depending on the task at hand, would take out the appropriately sized hammer and begin banging away. "Hmm, faucet problems. This looks like a job for the 9-centimeter (3-inch) hammer." Every morning, starting at six, the banging would begin. It wouldn’t let up (as I later found out when I stayed home sick one day) until about ten or eleven, when most people were at work anyway, and would start up again during lunchtime and siesta, when most people would once again return home. Then the construction workers would take a second break during the entire afternoon and start up the banging again in the evening, continuing until eight or nine o’clock. It was as if the construction crews had specifically designed their work schedule to coincide with the time when most people would be at home and trying to relax. If it was likely to be a time of the day when people were busy at work and there was no one to disturb, then they’d be smoking cigarettes, chatting away, or taking a coffee break. I’ve heard the same type of stories from friends who live in new buildings here in Cádiz too.


There's the equipment, but where's the crew???


"Screw work, did you guys see the football game last night?"

I do have to admit, though, that despite the fact that there appear to be so many easy-going, hammer-wielding construction workers who seem to do nothing but bang and drill early in the morning, they do get the job done quite quickly once they set their minds to it. At least here in the old city they do. Don’t get me wrong – The amount of empty lots scattered with litter and rubble proudly displaying an "Under Construction" sign are immense in Cádiz and, in some cases, stay in the same state of disrepair for years as housing shortages and rising property prices cause residential issues that desperately need addressing here. But once construction does eventually start, as they’d been promising to do since those signs first went up, the job often gets done in record time. I’ve seen lots that have laid empty since the first day I stepped foot in Cádiz and had apparently been like that for years but, once the first load of concrete foundation was poured, a new four-storey home stood in its place in just a few months. And trust me, that’s no mean feat considering all the buildings in the old part of the city must be built with bricks and mortar which occasionally means using older construction techniques in order to ensure that the historic central district retains its distinct architectural heritage. Of course this isn’t always the case and some buildings have had that scaffolding on the outside for ages, but I think they’re more the exception than the rule.


When's the construction gonna start? We've been waiting for years...


...but only three months after they laid the first brick!

The only thing I can’t figure out is how this construction, when it does eventually occur, can be carried out with just a few hammers and a drill every now and then? And why do Miguel, Rodrigo, Diego and every one else in their posse have to be so damn noisy when they go about doing it? But I’m confident that, one day, they’ll all learn to use such other fascinating tools as the power-sander, the jackhammer, the blowtorch, and even a simple plumber’s wrench. After all, this is the twenty-first century and there are a lot more noisier tools out there that the Spanish construction crews could easily adopt. I’m sure they’d be happy to at least possess the ability to get the job done more quickly while, in fact, inconveniencing the entire population even more with their early morning banging and drilling decibel-fests. Hopefully, I’ll still be living in my virtually soundproof apartment by then... and one of those jackhammers won’t make it through the bed’s headboard while I’m sleeping either.

7 comments:

Phil said...

that's right. GC PHILO yet again live's in the dream world he likes to call "euro-world". Where everything that happens is either better than or strangely unique to it's counterparts.

Well we have construction where I live. We have construction workers that drone on forever. We have loud noises that go bump in the night. We have UNIONS that stretch jobs out infinitum (yea, I said it).

You think your so SPECIAL living in a foreign country with it's peculuarities and "special people".


psssshhhhaaaaa.

GC PHILO said...

That wasn't very nice...
You made me cry... :(

Lori said...

This happened to me one time on vacation....VACATION....Can you believe the luck!!!....it sucked!!

Watch out for the jackhammers...kinda a scary thought!!!

Have a great day!!!

christina said...

Ouch - is that Phil guy a friend of yours? He's really mean. Or jealous. And check out the improper use (or non-use) of apostrophes. :-)

Actually, when I think about it, my husband is usually the one keeping the neighbours up with all his loud power tools. We always warn them first, though.

euro-trac said...

Hi... Thanks for your comment! I love that pic of your
'guard' dog!:-)
*************
This may seem like an odd question.. but is Cadiz a little on the breezy side?
*************
Phil - it's not nice to make people cry!

Franje said...

Hey GC!
Does your woman have a twin sister? A friend? :):)

Anonymous said...

You suprised me.