Imagine Italy and it’s hard not to visualise the colosseum or pizza or something else you’ve seen. Sight dominates our senses and it’s what we rely on most at home or when we travel. That’s too bad for the other senses, often overlooked like younger siblings in the shadow of a first born. There’s no question seeing, watching, gazing, staring and glancing are important but over reliance on these leads to missing out on stimuli that are as profound and create unique memories.
One of the most neglected senses is sound. It’s easier to recount what we saw as travellers than what we heard yet ears provide essential clues about culture and place. When that place happens to be Italy expect an auditory explosion. Everything sounds different here and North American ears are in for a treat. Just tune in and listen. Once you do travel becomes a multi-sensory experience that exposes dozens if not hundreds of distinct sounds that will transform a trip into a journey.
The Italian language is the most dominating sound in Italy however it is possible to ignore and retreat into an Anglo bubble. Avoiding contact with the operatic vowels and melodic words however is a travesty on par with visiting the Vatican Museums without entering the Sistine Chapel. Open your ears and leave any feeling of embarrassment or discomfort in your hotel room. Eavesdrop without concern for decorum and absorb the beauty of the Italian language. Listen for it on planes, trains and buses, in bars, restaurants and cafes, on TV, radio and loudspeakers everywhere.
It doesn’t matter what’s being said, what matters is the sound. There’s more though for ears in Italy, a lot more. There are ambulance and police sirens moving through busy streets, coffee being prepared, the din of a crowd, a sudden stadium roar, there are applause, motorcycles revving, car horns, train whistles and high-heeled steps on cobblestone streets. Italian sounds are everywhere waiting to be heard.
Perhaps the most gracious and beautiful of these, the one that rises above the rest, are the bells ringing from medieval towers in every Italian city, village and town. They may seem quant but are the predecessors of modern communication and once warned, celebrated and informed the people below. They still ring today, sometimes mechanically sometimes by hand, and offer ears an instant auditory connection with the past. When you hear them count the hours and feel the sound wax and wane into thin air. Bells unite Italian cities for a brief moment before the colorful cacophony returns and ears can go on listening to the beauty everywhere.
Your guide to Italy:
Moon Rome, Florence & Venice