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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

Landfill Harmonic

People are valuable, and often do wonderful things.

That’s not the impression I get reading about the wonder of a classical orchestra springing up out of a landfill like a daisy in a graveyard. Everyone’s fascinated with the trash. I don’t know how to break it to you, but in general, a violin is made from the structural fibers found in the boles, branches, and roots of trees. I can open the windows of my house, reach out, and touch trees. I can go out to my pile of firewood and get fifteen-violins-worth of tiger maple in one five gallon pail and bring it inside and get to work. Trees are even less valuable than trash. And I saw plenty of animals in the video, and if you have animals, you have glue.

That’s real recycling, red in tooth and claw, you see going on at the Cateura landfill. Not the smug dump of your Dasani bottles in a bin on the curb. Trash has to go somewhere, and someone has to deal with it. If what you dump is valuable, people or machines pick through it and make money. The people in Cateura are there because they know that the trash is full of what for them is treasure. It’s funny that most of the instruments are made from metal, which is the most high-value stuff in the dump. They should sell that, and get a load of pallet lumber and make better violins. But who knows how transparent the economy is in Paraguay? I offer no advice to the Cateurans, except perhaps: Keep going.

Paraguay’s had a very lively history. “Lively” isn’t often good in politics. From the fifties to the present it’s been at least fairly stable, and as recently as 2010 they’ve enjoyed a 14.5% GDP growth rate, third in the world behind Qatar and Singapore. How’d your 401k do in 2010? Just asking.

So things are getting better in Paraguay, and there are lots of children, and the children need things. People, being clever, make those things for their children out of what’s at hand. It’s obvious that someone loves the children in the video, because even though they live in a dump, they’re well-turned out, clean, and learning Mozart instead of Eminem. I can’t say the same for the children I saw at the Walmart near where I live.

Paraguayans have children and make violins for them out of next to nothing, both signs of hope for the future, and are celebrated by childless first-worlders obsessed with their trash who talk endlessly about the end of the world. A Paraguayan seems to know that people are valuable. Do you?

(Thanks to reader and commenter and friend and artista especial Casey Klahn for sending that along)

10 Responses

  1. A friend in Mexcico city was the lawyer for the garbage pickers' union there. Big money in that. Turf wars. Body guards. No need for blue bins, people there fight over the throwaways.

    I've never used a recycle bin since moving back to the U.S. It's such a waste.

  2. I had a similar reaction upon seeing this story. Sure, it's not the career choice I necessarily would have taken, but all things considered they seem to be doing okay. Someone had time to make an orchestra's worth of instruments, and someone has time to teach them, and their lives aren't so filled with just surviving that they don't have time for classes and rehearsal.

    It may not be what most modern Americans consider "rich," but it works for me.

    Joan, I use 'em, but only because there are rare occasions (such as the upcoming festivities) where it's nice to have the extra place to put trash.

  3. I knew I could count on you, Sipp, for some reason in this. Buy palette wood with scrap metal? That is a keeper and way too intelligent for our culture. My neighbors make big, fat office desks from absolute scratch: oak, poplar and cottonwood.

    My college roommate grew up in Paraguay as an American. After English, he speaks both Spanish and GuaranĂ­ (pronounced: goo-ah-da-nee). When the Indians in the De Niro movie Mission sang incredibly beautiful choir tunes, Randy knew better. The Guarani suck at singing choir tunes.

    I was skeptical at this video, too. Those garbage violins and cellos are awfully well tuned! I have a tin ear, anyway.

    My heart's not tin, however. These are beautiful kids and sometimes the soul is all in the packaging, even when the discarded package is the thing, as in this case. I wish them well, and from Manila to Asuncion garbage is treasure for many people. I'd rather survive after the mythical apocalypse with a Nicaraguan teenager than a hipster housewife or metro man.

    I don't know how to tell you this, dear readers, but in America we pay money to dispose of our garbage. Our fore-bearers just threw it away. Who is smarter here?

  4. This one certainly brings to mind the old saying – "Play the music, not the instrument". Those kids seem to have discovered how to do that.

  5. Wait… you burn tiger maple for firewood? It's precious as jewels out here… in a way it's the same thing the video's about. Bet a violin isn't worth more than a house when it starts raining…
    I know! Let's send them "real" violins and destroy their culture of conservation and craftsmanship!


  6. OK so I know how much the Zep is loved and admired (dare I say ADORED) at La Casa Sipp so I wanted to make sure you knew about these guys:
    who are from all over the world, video and audio recorded their parts and then assembled it all together. Just a wonderful representation of multitrack technology taken to the next level.Here in the first world we have so many wonderful unimaginable opportunities and yet most of us hardly get anything done at all.


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