Sounds are everywhere in Italy, some of them familiar, some not. If I had to choose one word to describe the sound of Italy I’d choose bells. Church bells are everywhere you go. A single town may have many churches and many bells. You don’t need a watch in Italy. The bells ring on the hour and half hour. In some towns they even ring at the quarter hour. I grew to love the bells. For me they signaled a more relaxed way to measure time. One night, while we were staying near Massarosa, the bells stopped. In the morning, I realized I had no idea what time it was. When I went down for breakfast, I was surprised to learn that my friends were also disturbed by the lack of bells—we’d grown so accustomed to using them as our measurement of time. The bells didn’t return for a couple of days, and when they did ring again we were so excited. Bells are Italy.
If you’re in a city, traffic noise is high. Motor bikes/scooters/Vespas race along the narrow streets like angry bees. Cars don’t honk much. I found this strange in a city where traffic and near accidents are part of each day. Again, the Italian good manners come into play. Italian drivers are very civilized, even while driving with no speed limit! After all, in Italy Stop signs are only a suggestion!
I remember hearing rapid, sometimes angry Italian. Italians sounded angry to me, but they were not. I came to realize it was just their natural passion for the language and each other.
While in Italy, nature surrounded us. At one point in our trip we had a bullfrog outside our door. This bullfrog sounded like a cross between a bullfrog, a cow, and a pig. We called him our frog, cow, pig. I’ve never heard a sound quite like this. At first, it was a little unsettling, like something was being slaughtered, but I got used to it and grew to like our strange Italian frog. Birds sing in Italy just like they do at home, delivering sweet songs in the morning. Giant bees buzz, and I mean giant! The biggest bees I’ve ever seen. Cicadas roost in the trees, their constant whirring sound deafening at times. The whirr was so loud I had trouble reading. I’d look up into the trees, but never saw a cicada. Around three, each afternoon, the wind would kick up. I lived in fear that one of these insects would be blown out of the tree and on to me. Yikes.
On the coast, I remember the gentle sound of waves lapping at the shore, the roar of powerboat engines, and the questions from the beach venders, “Do you want a foot massage, lady?”
The excited chatter of the open air markets brings to mind the many venders trying to sell everything from leather goods to spices. Market day in Italy is fun, both in the big cities and in the small towns. Although, the small towns are more challenging. You really need some Italian or you wind up buying everything you point at!
On the flip side, I also remember the silence in Italy. We spent a lot of time in churches. Silence is absolute and brings with it a peace I’ve never experienced anywhere else. Each church in Italy holds so much history. I’ll never look at a church the same way again.
Italy was, at times, a crazy cacophony of sounds. As writers we need to bring sounds into our stories. Let our readers hear what we hear, experience what we experience. Let’s make our stories as active and alive as we can.