Last Friday, Liam and I had a date with the pediatrician to rule out an ear infection. The appointment was at 12:15 and we were, for once, going to be a little bit early. Just as we were walking down the last block to the office, the bells atop the church across the narrow street began to chime noon. Moments later, on the next block down the hill, another set of church bells began to chime. The sound of the bells is so loud that conversation is temporarily impossible, and it’s almost like you can feel the vibrations resonate in your body. Liam wanted to stop and listen, so we did, and as the first set died out, I could hear, from further down in the valley and up the hillside, echoes of more church bells — dozens, or more — chiming the arrival of mid-day in Vienna. They followed us all the way down the stairs and into the building.
No noon passes unnoticed here. Wherever we are and whatever we’re doing, as long as we’re in Vienna, we know when it’s noon. Time to pick Benjamin up from school, time to make lunch for the family. It’s another lovely piece of life here. I love it.
Vienna has a lot of churches (the saying is that there is one for every day of the year). And those churches have bells, and the bells are rung a lot. It’s actually one of my favorite parts of living in Vienna — hearing those bells ring every day. We’ve gotten accustomed to the regular schedule of church bells — many ring at noon every day, one nearby church rings at 5:45 each evening, another (a little further away) at 7:00. And then, on Sundays and on the major church holidays, there are extra bells, before and after the church services. (We’ve gotten so used to the “regular” schedule that I always notice when there are more than usual.)
And then, this evening, shortly after 7:00, the bells started — all over the city, from all of the churches — and they didn’t stop. They kept ringing, and ringing. After about 10 minutes, Jo and I noticed and commented. About 10 minutes later, we figured out what they were celebrating — there must have been a new pope elected. The bells in Vienna rang for over half an hour, celebrating the selection of the new pope.
Living in this city, where the music of the many church bells has become commonplace (if no less magical), it seems perfectly appropriate to have learned about the election of a new pope by hearing the bells chime with such enthusiasm. The news spread from the Vatican to Vienna and then to the people by the sound of the bells. It is a moment of my history here that I don’t think I will ever forget.
One of the best things about where we live in Vienna is that we get to hear church bells ring every day. They ring at noon and 5:45 p.m. every day, and then on the weekends they also ring just before 9:30 in the morning. (I find the times themselves a little random, but I’m guessing it has something to do with church, and if I actually went, I’d probably know.)
We are within hearing distance of at least three sets of bells, maybe more — I’m not even sure which ones I’m hearing at which times. I absolutely love to hear them, and I’ve already grown accustomed to telling the time by them. The boys are usually down for their naps by the time the noon bells ring, and Dan gets home right after the bells ring in the evening. On the weekends, if I hear the morning bells and I haven’t gotten myself in gear to get some things done, I’m probably running late.
Some days, my routine with the kids feels so familiar, it’s actually easy to forget how far from home I am. No matter how wrapped up I get in my day, I hear the bells and I stop what I’m doing for a moment to listen. Although I’m used to hearing them, I don’t take them for granted (yet). They’re magical to me: anachronistic and yet so perfectly appropriate, so much of Vienna. It’s like snow on Christmas — it belongs, but its belonging doesn’t diminish your delight when you find it.