On La Gomera, children learn to whistle in elementary school. One of the Canary Islands, La Gomera is a mountainous land off the northwest coast of Africa. Its 378 square kilometers include 17 designated nature sanctuaries. Long before the Spanish took over, the people of La Gomera communicated across the steep valleys by whistling. This language, called Silbo, has two vowels and four consonants. Whistles of different tones or duration denote each letter.
Here in Murray, I drive to the post office every day, reverting to the era when communication and transportation were the one and the same and media technology was limited to printing presses and quill pens. My mailbox is stuffed with catalogues, and the trash cans overflow. You can't do that with E-Mail.
Did you ever notice the little red tags on catalogue items that read: "As Seen on TV?" What difference does that make? Once upon a time, TV stations, like Good Housekeeping magazine, vouched for the credibility of the goods and services on their airwaves. But greed got the better of 'em long ago. Now you're liable to see Bob Dole shilling medical marvel marital aids, or Monica Lewinsky trying to launch a line of lipstick. And in case you haven't heard, the folks who bring you MTV are about to take over CBS. But not to worry; we've got the V-chip to exclude all this rubbish from our living rooms.
Not that our magazines are any better arbiters of taste than TV. Some of them are still trying to squeeze a buck or two out of the Kennedy corpses. One rag in particular has a special commemorative issue devoted to JFK Jr.'s late wife. In many cultures, necrophilia is taboo.
Even the newest medium, the World Wide Web, offers no respite from the inane, the tasteless, and the trivial. Why you can now join the world's largest Tupperware Party online. Is this the best we can do after a century and a half of electronic mass media technology?
Silbo almost died out 50 years ago when much of La Gomera's population emigrated to find work. Now eco-tourism has brought the people back, along with seasonal visitors to the forests, mountains, and secluded beaches.
Under a new curriculum, the Canary Islands require every elementary school student on La Gomera to study the code of peeps, whirs, squeaks and hoots that makes up Silbo. In this way, within a generation, the people of La Gomera will not only be able to put on a whistling extravaganza for the touristas, but they will also recapture a lost attribute of their culture. What a charming idea.