When I first moved to Italy seventeen (God, was it that many?) years ago, I noticed church bells all the time. They sounded exotic to me. Haunting. Indisputably beautiful. I never found them offensive or “polluting” or any of the adjectives that were ascribed to them by people who debated (and continue to debate) their presence. They were part of Italy. Part of the past. Part of a culture that was opening its arms to me. A soundtrack to a new life on foreign soil.
In our second apartment together, we heard them particularly loudly and clearly. Our building faced onto a beautiful park which was situated between two basilicas, Sant’Eustorgio and San Lorenzo. We had a labrador, Luna, who sang whenever the bells rang. (Or was that lamenting? Or was it something more desperate?) We never figured out if the pealing of the bells hurt her ears or tugged at her heart, but we think the latter. She would throw back her head, lay her ears flat and relaxed down the back of her skull and form her doggy lips—try to picture this—into an O-shape. Ah-Oooooooooooooo, she sang with more and more dog-emotion each time the tolling repeated.
Now, for some reason I cannot explain, I haven’t heard bells in a long, long time. I don’t know if the sound-pollution camp are winning their war, or if I’ve simply, with time, grown inured to the heart-rending, clanging plea. But yesterday, as if being awaked from a 100-year dream, I heard them! I was in the middle of Piazza dei Volontari, and the sound surrounded me completely, bouncing from wall to wall to wall, finally fading fading fading into the low-vibrational, constant thrum of the city.