Every city has it’s own sound. Melbourne sounds like trams chortling along rickety tracks. London sounds like the never ending screeching of bus breaks. Edinburgh, so far, sounds like fireworks (seriously, any excuse will do). And Ostuni? Well, Ostuni sounds like a boisterous family get together.
People talk about Italian communities being close, and after my week in Ostuni I think they don’t just mean in the family kind of way. I really do think they mean the ‘everybody knows everybody else’s business’ way. And how could you not? It’s probably the same in many cities, especially the ones with warmer climates, ones where since it’s hot, you leave shutters, doors and windows open. And since the houses in Ostuni are virtually piled on top of each other, this means your house often seems like there’s a few large, loud and invisible families living in there with you too.
Mostly, for me this wasn’t a negative. It was simply another element to life in Ostuni. And that’s what I was there to absorb anyway. Well, that and some sun.
The first night I arrived in Ostuni there was a party going on next door. The happy sounds of a group of people being entertained by a live pizzica band (that’s pizziCA, not pizza, a traditional Southern Italian folk music) made me wander to the back windows to see what was going on. Being surrounding on all sides by apartments, I couldn’t tell exactly which ‘next door’ it was and when I stuck my head out the tiny window next to the dining table, all I could see was a patchwork of open windows and the soft, orange lights from within. The music could have been coming from any of them. It didn’t really matter, but since it felt like a band and twenty revelers were in my lounge with me, I thought some added visuals might be nice. At midnight the music stopped, they sang a spirited version of happy birthday and then the neighborhood and I all went off to bed.
I spent my mornings in Ostuni looking at properties, so afternoons began by sitting on the roof terrace eating lunch, reading a book or just listening to the sounds of the town below. Surprisingly, the only day I saw more than one person on their roof was Saturday. That day it occurred to me Italian roof top terraces are sort of the equivalent of our backyards. People were hanging out their washing or watering their plants and one even painted the roof of their (non sanctioned) wooden awning. According to my real estate connection, only fabric constructions or ones that are not permanent and can be easily dismantled are allowed on rooftops in Ostuni. But being Italy, nobody really takes much notice of this rule and looking around, it cetainly didn’t seem like anyone enforces it.
The first time I sat on the roof, the sounds of the town below erupted; neighbors
yelled at spoke with each other through windows, people ran errands on the streets, plates clanged and families chatted inside their houses while they ate lunch together. Loudest of all though were the sounds coming from of a a little three wheeled van (a Piaggio Ape – that’s Ah-Pay, Italian for bee). A couple times a week, you could hear what I at first thought were some kind of political rally-cries booming through a megaphone as the Ape snaked its way along the streets and alleys of the town. I later found out this was just the fruit and veg man, and much like the ice-cream vans of my childhood, with their screaching, awful loop of hideous muzak, loud enough to make your ears bleed, the Piaggio Ape would stop at a corner here and there, giving people time to come out of their houses and buy their ‘treats’.
But soon all those sounds just became background noise and I enjoyed my daily sun worshipping. I couldn’t quite manage to block out the crying baby though, coming from who knows which window on my right. Every day, no matter what time I went up there, the baby would begin to cry, eventually sending me indoors or down to the streets to explore. Which, when I think about it, wasn’t a bad thing. After all, there was this to discover…