George Orwell, the guy who wrote, “1984” and “Animal Farm” also wrote a book called, “Down and Out in Paris and London”. I am always leery of books that claim to describe poverty and homelessness, regardless of the author. Most people, even when looking directly at poverty, still don’t have a clue of what is poverty and homelessness. Yet, at the very beginning of “Down and Out…”, Orwell had me convinced that he knew what he was talking about. The book opens with the following passage:
THE rue du Coq d’Or, Paris, seven in the morning. A succession of furious, choking yells from the street. Madame Monce, who kept the little hotel opposite mine, had come out on to the pavement to address a lodger on the third floor. Her bare feet were stuck into sabots and her grey hair was streaming down.
MADAME MONCE: ‘_Salope! Salope!_ How many times have I told you not to squash bugs on the wallpaper? Do you think you’ve bought the hotel, eh? Why can’t you throw them out of the window like everyone else? _Putain! Salope!_’
THE WOMAN ON THE THIRD FLOOR: ‘_Vache!_’
Thereupon a whole variegated chorus of yells, as windows were flung open on every side and half the street joined in the quarrel. They shut up abruptly ten minutes later, when a squadron of cavalry rode past and people stopped shouting to look at them. I sketch this scene, just to convey something of the spirit of the rue du Coq d’Or. Not that quarrels were the only thing that happened there– but still, we seldom got through the morning without at least one outburst of this description. Quarrels, and the desolate cries of street hawkers, and the shouts of children chasing orange-peel over the cobbles, and at night loud singing and the sour reek of the refuse-carts, made up the atmosphere of the street. It was a very narrow street–a ravine of tall, leprous houses, lurching towards one another in queer attitudes, as though they had all been frozen in the act of collapse. All the houses were hotels and packed to the tiles with lodgers, mostly Poles, Arabs and Italians. At the foot of the hotels were tiny _bistros_, where you could be drunk for the equivalent of a shilling. On Saturday nights about a third of the male population of the quarter was drunk. There was fighting over women, and the Arab navvies who lived in the cheapest hotels used to conduct mysterious feuds, and fight them out with chairs and occasionally revolvers. At night the policemen would only come through the street two together. It was a fairly rackety place. And yet amid the noise and dirt lived the usual respectable French shopkeepers, bakers and laundresses and the like, keeping themselves to themselves and quietly piling up small fortunes. It was quite a representative Paris slum.
Although today’s poverty and homelessness has points that make it unique from other time periods, the nature of the people who live in such circumstances seems to stay relatively the same. I’m talking about the noise, the cacophony of sounds generated by the poor and unfortunate people. It is a peculiar thing, indeed!
When in a situation that demands a quiet and composed demeanor, the homeless are able to rein themselves in, and behave accordingly, but as soon as they are free to do as they please, they are more than likely to stir up a tempest of sound, mostly verbally. It is as if being noisy is their natural state. It could be because so many of the poor and homeless also suffer from mental health issues. It could also be because poverty and homelessness is very stressful and many people deal with stress by venting their feelings verbally. It’s more than likely a combination of the two.
Still, not all poor and homeless people are loud. But the quiet ones still must suffer the burden of being in this environment of noise. For them, the noise adds to the confusion of life.
Last night was Friday night, but on the streets you wouldn’t need a calendar to tell you what day it was. There was a significant change in the people in my “neighborhood” – the increase in the noise, over the rest of the week, was obvious. Being that today is Saturday, another weekend day, I expect tonight to be much the same as last night. At least the mornings have been quiet so far.