The Sounds of Silence

Do you ever wonder which one of your senses you would miss most? Travellers would probably say sight. But then I got to thinking about the sounds of travel. Does anyone else have some favourites?
I am sitting on the terrace of my house. Stupava, 20 k’s north of Bratislava, Slovakia. Sometimes the walnut tree, planted the day this house was finished, seventy years ago, and it’s attendant pines, fill with birds and they get this crazy call and answer conversation going. When the rush hour hum of the motorway two k’s away (only during the week) isn’t there it is magical. And then there are the speakers in the streets in towns and villages all over Slovakia. Hangers-on on since communist times, these are used to announce town events, deaths, marriages and the like. But when not even a mouse stirs elsewhere in the house, and it is evening, you get this curious echoing effect from the speakers in streets all around the town. Goodness knows what they are saying. They start with a sort of jolly country accordion jingle and then the echoey call and answer tidings mingle into a jumbled mess of announcements. And tonight my thoughts take me back to one post-poker night echoing in the early morning streets of Amman six or so years ago.

Swaying homeward, floating on exhaustion and Amstel beers, the Mosque call begins all around me. The streets were so empty in the first glimmers of sunlight that morning, silhouetting some of the mosques against the rising golden dawn, that the apartment blocks are acting as sound deflectors. So the timeless chant that somehow always managed to give an “everything is ok” feel to life here, the reminder to come to pray, starts to envelop me from every side, a three dimensional, melancholy colliding of calls. Some of the Imams are shrill, some passionate, and some deep. Here they all combine, and it is beautiful.

But we are still on my terrace this evening contemplating the sounds of travel over a cigarette. And now the thought train travels to Africa. Who can forget the sound of the African bush when camping at night? Or the distant hum of the Smoke That Thunders (Mosi oa Tunya – otherwise and more ridiculously known as Victoria Falls)? And talking of Zimbabwe, what about the clashing of metal panels over potholes, raucous conversations, goat bleating and the glorious static ridden Zimbo pop radio stations that together make up the signature tune of African buses? Or maybe even waves on the beach in Bali backed with hotel voicings? Carnival in Trinidad? And we haven’t even started on Indian train journeys. I think that sounds have all the colour of sights.

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One thought on “The Sounds of Silence”

  1. 18th February by JayR

    A very evocative piece of writing, wheatypete. I’m with you there with all those sounds. Love the sounds of the African bush at night, and of Mosi-oa-Tunya. The sound of the muezzin calling always reminds me of my life in Brunei – the mosque in Bandar was my alarm call. And talking of Trinidad Carnival, I’ll be there next week among the boom-boxes and the craziness. My favourite sound though has to be dusk in the tropics when the frogs and insects begin their symphony of squeaking and scratching. Jean

    18th February by hmoat 01

    Love this piece, Pete. I definitely think travel is as much about the smells, sounds and tastes as much as the sights.

    20th February by FarawayVisions

    Wonderful focus on sounds WheatyPete.

    20th February by steve48

    Some interesting thoughts, wheatypete. I’m with you on the importance of sound in our travel memories, and with the view that sight is the sense I would least like to lose, but you lost me on ‘Bloom’s Taxonomy’. However, I googled it and I’m back on track now – I thought it must be a teaching ‘thing’.

    Going back to the sounds of Africa – 10 years ago I stayed a few nights in a hostel in Nairobi which was next door to a sort of community hall. Every night I went to sleep to the sound of this amazing African high energy music coming from the hall. It was so invigorating even though I still managed to fall asleep listening to it. For the rest of the trip I tried to track down the music – but all I’m left with is a pile of cheap CDs which aren’t quite ‘it’.

    1st March by allbranali

    Nice article Wheaty. I’ve really enjoyed your pieces – particularly your adventures in the lovely ‘Peaches’,

    I used to have an old VW campervan with which I trotted round Europe with my wife and daughters. I had to give up driving due to my failing eyesight, so your article on the aural elements of travel really resonated with me. It’s a pity that it’s taken my blindness for me to fully appreciate the wondrous sounds of silence.

    I look forward to reading (or hearing) about your future travels.

    1st March by allbranali

    Nice article Wheaty. I’ve really enjoyed your pieces – particularly your adventures in the lovely ‘Peaches’,

    I used to have an old VW campervan with which I trotted round Europe with my wife and daughters. I had to give up driving due to my failing eyesight, so your article on the aural elements of travel really resonated with me. It’s a pity that it’s taken my blindness for me to fully appreciate the wondrous sounds of silence.

    I look forward to reading (or hearing) about your future travels.

    2nd March by steve48

    You’re right wheatypete. I must admit I don’t often think about it, but I’m surprised at how much of what I do enjoy about travel doesn’t have to involve sight. Like the sound of different music, the sound of different languages and accents, the taste and smell of different foods and cooking, experiencing how everyday life is done differently, and just generally mixing with people from a different culture.

    It would be fascinating to read some experiences from your different perspective, allbranali – the sounds, tastes, and smells of travel.

    Like

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