Symbiography of Whistling Pedagogies
Bird-call sounds weave through my family lineage. My great grandfather and my great grandmother used whistling to call each other. They would whistle-call in the middle of a multitude or in a loud party or as they looked for each other in their garden. I recall growing up with my mother and my aunt Berta using the same whistle to call each other, to announce that they have arrived to the house or to call my grandfather who had a different coded whistle with my grandmother.
I remember the first time I tried to mimic the calling-whistle in a supermarket, as I was trying to find my mother. I remember my surprise when I heard it echoing back and bringing me into a profound feeling of complicity. But above all I remember the coming home short-sweet bird sound that my mother would make—as soon as she would step through the door’s threshold of our house. That whistle announced that she had arrived and that she will not leave again. Every time I heard that whistle my breath was less heavy, the gut in my stomach relaxed dissolving away the gastric juices of my anxiety.
The house where I grew up is between my two sister-cousins houses. We grew up enmeshed in the symbiotic womb of our family. My sister-cousin Susana learned an extremely loud and squeaking whistle that she used as the ritualistic call to go out to play. For months Susana taught me this whistle. Her whistle call demanded a whistle response. It took me a long time until I mustered the ability to twist my tongue, allow small and just right amounts of saliva in my mouth; place my fingers in the exact gap between my tongue, my lips and my teeth and utter that particular bird-sound call. I still remember the wrinkled tip of my fingers after being soaked in saliva throughout my stubborn early attempts. Over the years, this whistle has allowed me to stop taxis in loud streets, call my husband’s attention as he is leaving with the car, protest in Portuguese environmental manifestations, whistle-applauding in concerts or just using it for the sake of feeling a little bit like a naughty girl.
Enrico—my heart father—used to speak the whistle language as an act of what today I would call his resistance of logocentrism. Enrico will whistle talk, I would cling to his gaze and listen; and then gaze back, as I decoded what he was telling me. I was very proud of my ability to decode his whistling language. Maybe this ability was what allowed me years later to read his gaze as his lungs violently reduced the rhythm of being, and air absented his body and only soundless whistles finally were possible.
A recording of bird whistles repeating again and again was one of the strongest life-living invitations I listened to for many years, from CD given to me as I was finding my way out from the dark enclosures of indefinite fear.
Enrico and my mother had a love-calling-encoded whistle that no one else could use but them. After Enrico died, my brother and I kept the love-encoded bird sound alive and whistled it to my mother in remembrance of one of the greatest loves I have encountered in this earthly living. We were never able to reproduce the mystery of that whistle. We were not of that love. My mother taught my children this love-encoded whistle. One day in the middle of a Nordic city filled with the roaring buzz of capitalism I heard my son using it for the first time to let me know where he was, to pacify my voidless and haunted anxiety to lose him. My son taught my daughter this love-coded bird whistle. She whistles away, she gives it as a gift given outside any logic of exchange, or communication. She spreads it around; she gives it back to those from whom we learned it. She whistles as she walks alongside birds that we encounter in this massive colonial, concrete and enchanting city. I see her walking. She walks the kind of walk that symbiotic human-bird generosity allows.
Cristina D. Vintimilla