Sorry, friends, none of Sandy’s wonderful pictures this time. This is an auditory blog. One of the pleasant adjustments we make to living in this environment is learning NOT to be encapsulated in a house insulated from the larger world. Our windows are open twenty-four seven to admit the wonderful breezes here and keep the apartment cool. As often as not the doors are wide open as well, and it’s not unusual to have a little canine or feline visitor invite himself or herself in. How different from Piedmont North Carolina where daytime temps in late June and July and August are consistently in the high eighties or above and the humidity is oppressive so that the need for air-conditioning forces us into sealed cubicles.
One of the joys of living in contact with the outdoors is the sounds with which we are inundated. The cicadas are buzzing down in the olive grove below the terazza and one little cicale sits in a tree directly across it and sings for all he’s worth, a happy sound when it doesn’t imply oppressive heat. Magpies chatter in the trees across the terazza as well. I’d attach a photo of these handsome guys, but they’re so cagy neither of us has managed to get one. It’s not as if they aren’t in close proximity either. Our last two visits, two perched in the mulberry trees 20’ from the door and chattered while they ate, but always, infuriatingly, on the opposite side of the trees from us so that no photo or even clear view was possible. This year we were astounded to see that both mulberry trees, the black and the white variety (I never knew there were two varieties) were gone. At least so we thought until Rolando showed us their remnants, the butts of trunks some 8’ tall. Disease? No, he cut them down. They were simply too big. But there’s healthy growth from those stumps and if God grants us a chance to be here again, I’ve no doubt that we’ll get to enjoy those little jewel fruits again. Meanwhile, our magpies just perch in the olive tree a bit further away, not to eat as before, but apparently just to talk. I should explain that we’ve never seen magpies except in pairs. I don’t know if they are Mr. and Mrs. Magpie or just buddies, but they are definitely Italian because the one thing they seem not to be able to live without is conversation. They cackle to each other constantly, on the wing, while they eat, as they hop from branch to branch—it really is comical to listen to them and imagine the gossip that must be passing between them.
Perhaps the most dramatic differences, though, in auditory life here and in the States is at night when our bedroom window is wide open, though screened to keep out the zanzari. As quiet descends upon our snuggery, a regular symphony of night sounds begins.
There is, for example, CNN, otherwise known as the Canine News Network. Dogs all up and down the ridges can be heard yipping some item of news. Luckily most are far enough away that the sound is soothing. Occasionally, however, our own boys get cranked up. For several nights at the beginning of this week, for example, all three went in to periodic paroxysms of almost frantic yipping. A strange dog or other animal in the neighborhood? Perhaps. My own theory is that we had yet another donna impassionata giving off pheromones and the guys wanted to make sure she knew they were available and very manly. None of our dudes are spayed and they spend the night locked in on the Astones large front porch, where they have ample opportunity to sample the breezes and react. “Hey, Belissima, just give me a second while I unlock this *&^%$ gate and I’m your man! No, no, regazza, not that chump, for goodness sake he’s got a stumpy leg and mange, and look at me! Give me five minutes more and I swear I’ll jump this wall!” Happily, they’ve since settled down.
Not so the karaoke bar up at the top of the ridge. From time to time when the breeze is calm we get a real earful. Can I give you some advice you probably won't take? The next time you think about doing karaoke remember why you haven't quit your day job and DON"T. On one particular night there was a young woman who had no chance of following the melodic line, she was a third octave too low. But the incredible thing was she created a discord every single note! You'd think she would have hit a melodic chord just by accident on occasion, but nope. It sounded like some sort of Satanic ritual.
But there are far more delightful sounds. There’s the sighing of the breezes, something that makes me sleep like a babe at the North Carolina beaches. Here it is defined by our tramontana, mountain thermal, as it move through the trees on and around the terazza. First you hear that wonderful sound, you wait in anticipation and several seconds later you feel that caress on your skin. We’ve actually had to sleep with the coverlet up many nights since our arrival as the nighttime temperature dips into the lower sixties. Heaven.
There’s the plaintive sound of the trains whizzing by on the tracks about a mile to our south. All the trains here are electric and the sound they make, unlike the thunderous roar of American diesels, is a wonderful whirring sound. I can only compare it to the sounds of our little Lionel train sets we played with endlessly as kids, only amplified to carry over several square miles. Italian trains operate often and around the clock, so on a typical night you may have the chance, if you are conscious, to hear five or six trains. Occasionally if one is stopping at the Agropoli station it will sound that little high-pitched plaintive whistle, also strangely soothing.
And the night birds: goshawks and owls and doves. We had a little dove that would settle in the palm tree right outside the bedroom window two years ago and twitter away along about 2 am. At first it woke me, but soon the subconscious, genius as it is at maintaining deep sleep, had incorporated her twitter into my dreams. But as long as she woke me she evoked powerful memories of childhood. When I was a kid living in Martin, Tennessee, our little house on University Street had a driveway right outside my bedroom window. Now, any youngsters reading this must understand that there was a time in the distant past (gulp) when even in the South we lived without air-conditioning, and keeping the windows open at night was the only hope you had of not sleeping in a pool of sweat. That combined with window fans and attic fans which created a powerful draft and artificial breezes, since this little town in the Mississippi flood plain was way short on natural ones in the summer. Outside the window and across the driveway from my bed was a large mulberry tree where the mourning doves loved to perch and coo. Unless you’re of a certain age you’ve probably never noticed, but these birds are aptly named; their coo sounds something like “Ooo-OOO-ooo....ooo....ooo...ooo!” and it could just as well be a bereft mother mourning her lost child, it’s such a mournful sound. At least to a nerdy little kid like me, terrified of almost everything. My friendly old closet, my favorite hideout which my imagination turned into everything from fort to rocket, was across the room at the foot of my bed, but somehow at night if the door was left open it managed to transform into the very wellspring of every terrifying goblin in the universe. Look, I know darn well they were there, I could SEE them moving about, ready to jump me! And that prospect combined with that mournful cry outside the window was just a little too much! Somehow I would finally muster the courage (desperation?) to sprint across the room, slam that closet door (my ogres were stupid and didn’t know how to open a door), then zip back to the bed and under the covers with the pillow over the head to block out those banshees outside the window.
In the early morning I was often awakened by a different sound, the sound of my dad cursing those same birds who had been eating mulberries all night long and leaving evidence of it all over his pride and joy, his 1953 slate blue Plymouth, before he took off to make rounds at the hospital. I’ll not go into specifics of the discourse, but I learned at an early age that my normally restrained father had a large and colorful vocabulary. I’ve now made my peace with mourning doves and love to hear their gentle coo, and I hope he has as well, there in the other world.
But I have to tell you, there is one Italian bird I can never forgive, dead though he now is, may he rest in everlasting torment. Our first summer here I consistently woke up at four am and was awake for an hour or so before I drifted back into lovely oblivion. Don’t know why I awoke, it made no sense at all as far as biorhythms are concerned. Italy is 6 hours ahead of the States and so 4 am here is 10 pm Stateside. Why 10 pm? Can’t tell you. At any rate, more often than not when I awoke, there was one overachieving rooster several villas down the ridge who felt the need to protect his job security by crowing. All night long. On average, every 13 seconds. No, I’m not making that up, friends, I did a highly scientific survey to determine his average rate of crow. As I sat there fuming because I couldn’t sleep. But the really demonic thing about the little devil was that he was a master of suspense. Hitchcock was absolutely right, suspense is not the viewing of violence, it is the anticipation of violence. Or obnoxious crowing, as it were. From time to time, just to infuriate his audience, Mr. Rooster from Hell would delay his performance. Imagine Dave in the bed, stewing because a stinkin’ rooster is keeping a hick like me from sleeping. And counting, “One...two...three....Wait, I’m already up to 26 and he hasn’t crowed. Could it be, could it possibly be that he’s finally shut up, that he’s gone to...” “COCK-A-DOODLE-DOOO!!!” “Noooooooo!”
Well, I’m happy to say Mr. Rooster has gone off to the perdition he so richly deserves. And I like to think before he left this mortal coil he wound up in the stew pot of some irate Italian farmer. And that the mode of his demise went something like that of another obnoxious rooster, a renegade who tormented Sandy’s Aunt Madge for several months by running around her neighborhood in the Tennessee mountains randomly crowing all night. Until one blessed night when Madge heard through her own open window, “Cock-a-doodle-BLAM!” And that was the end of another pestiferous rooster. Am I being purely vindictive if I pray that he, too, found his way into the stewpot?