The Sounds of Silence


Can the sounds of travel take your breath away? I am sitting on the terrace of my house in Stupava, 20 k's north of Bratislava, Slovakia. Sometimes the walnut tree, planted the day this house was finished, seventy years ago, and its 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 resonant 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.

Yes, sounds for me certainly do play their part in breath-taking travel experiences.

P.Baxter.

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