When you come to beautiful, historic Seville, whether for a brief visit, a medium-length stay, or to live permanently, you will have certain preconceptions about this vibrant city. Its atmosphere, its colour, its buzz. In short, its noise.
In the warm, welcoming climate of southern Spain, you expect life to take place en la calle - people sitting outside in cafes eating tapas on balmy evenings, drinking cañas of chilled Cruzcampo beer, but above all, chatting animatedly until the small hours, possibly even breaking spontaneously into song. Having said that, when I lived in the centre, I do remember being kept awake by groups singing in the street - merrily making their way from one bar to another.
This street life is what makes Andalucia its charming, inimitable self, and is one of the reasons why I personally love it so much, after years of living in (mostly) cold, dark London, and why expats fleeing from the cloudy skies of Britain and northern Europe still flock here in droves. All Sevillanos love to be out, watching life, being seen, meeting friends, talking about the weather, the beach, the Feria, the children. In the street, literally, the lively, human, in-your-face intensity that is a city of energy, colour and excitement.
Which is why, when I first read about the city's new anti-noise law, I honestly thought it had to be a wind-up. Sevillanos, being told not to make noise outdoors at night? That's like telling Parisians to be scruffy, or Italians to be subdued. Ain't gonna happen, not in their culture. In their genes. In their nature. But a petition of 4,000 Seville residents (out of a total 700,000) last year demanded action be taken against excessive noise levels in the street, in the city centre. Some native, or adoptive, Sevillanos can't take the late-night ruido which prevent them from sleeping any more - El Arenal and Alfalfa are two top areas for wee hours disturbance.
As I scanned through the initial parts of the news reports - which mentioned games of dominoes and dice being banned, as they're so notoriously rowdy, and so is eating or drinking while standing up while outside a bar - I thought the heat had got to the Mayor and his delegados. But when I reached the part about TVs outside bars being turned up too loud, then I started to believe it could actually be serious. Anyone who's tried to have a drink in a bar when a football match is on will know what I'm talking about.
Under the new law, anyone having an "excessively loud" conversation on the street can now be fined, as can bar owners who set up televisions on their terraces or who serve patrons who are standing up outside.
Other activities which are prohibited include playing loud music while driving, having a car alarm that goes off for more than three minutes, or revving car engines unnecessarily. Fines for those caught transgressing the law, in all its intricacies of exact noise level and time of day, could be fined from €300 to €300,000, as well as - in the case of bars - the closure, either temporary or permanent, of the establishment. From boy racers to old men to friends chatting, it is as randomly sprawling as it is, in this writer's opinion, ill-conceived.
Further evidence of its ad-hoc nature is that those charged with imposing the fines at night, a small number of police officers, will not carry technical equipment with which to measure the noise levels. Doesn't exactly inspire confidence, does it?
So why? What's behind this new law (since there's always a motive)? There are several theories - in a dire economic situation such as we have currently, filling the coffers is always a priority for politicians. Any new infringement of the law, any means of relieving the public of some desperately-needed euros, will be seen as a legitimate means of extra income. One gallery owner, who often holds events in his city-centre space, told me it was about so-called "quality tourism" - too many terraces, to meet tourists' demands to eat and drink outside.
Personally it strikes me that there are many, many more Seville residents who want the freedom to go out at night and enjoy a beer, a tapa and a chat outside (the temperature here in summer doesn't dip below 30 degrees until after 10pm), than those who are bothered by such activities.
One notable omission to which many have drawn attention is the fact that religious processions and festivals, such as Semana Santa , El Rocio, and the many other Virgin Mary outings which take place throughout the year, with their loud boom-boom bands and deafening early-morning rocket explosions, are exempt from this law, as are karaoke bars and nightclubs, where people often gather outside to smoke, chatting loudly in the street.
Neither is there mention of botellones, the street parties where hundreds of young people gather in an open public space; drink all night, shouting and singing, naturally; relieve themselves where they fancy; and then leave all their rubbish behind. Nice. Another glaring gap is the Feria, where music plays and high spirits keep the party going till 4 or 5am every night for a week in April.
Such anomalies makes a laughing stock of the law, as no one in a position of power in Seville would ever restrict the city's most popular, traditional - and noisiest - events. Why? Because those are their preferred celebrations. Normal people can't enjoy themselves outdoors in a bar, but We, those who govern, will continue with our regular revelries. Perish the thought anyone would try to prevent us from doing so. Double standards.
It seems to me there a vast, difference, nay chasm, between a crowded square packed with people talking at the tops of their voices, which is obviously going to disturb those living around, and a few people having tapas at a table in the street. How on earth will the police be able to keep track, decide whom to target with fines and even closures, implementing this wide-ranging, illogical law?
What do you think? Should people be banned from eating and drinking while standing up on a bar terrace? Does it seem reasonable that the right of those living nearby to sleep should be protected? Or is it draconian and over-the-top to protect people's wellbeing when it impinges on the enjoyment of others?