Sounds and scents of Italy

by Cheryl Alexander; Italian Excursion

Senses are such powerful memory makers. I’m often asked to describe my impressions of Italy and what keeps me traveling there season after season by those seeking to travel with It isn’t just the typical, cliche answer referring to the topical beauty that I want to convey because those are easily found in the many thousands of books, blogs and works of art that come from the experience of Italy. The other senses also pick up impressions that can be revisited time and time again.

It’s quite lovely for me to be in my office or my car, home in California and have a brief moment when a particular memory inserts itself to remind me of an Italian moment I’ve had. Some of those memories have been captured like a snapshot and embedded deep inside my brain or soul or who knows where. Sounds of a thousand song birds, as Italy seems to have more birds per square foot than any place I’ve ever been. Or the melodic sound of old men sitting on a bench discussing something in their native tongue. It’s so soothing to stop my mind and listen to an Italian conversation, which sounds to me more like a piece of music than plain speech.

Landing at the airport, time and time again, being welcomed in Italian by the customs agents, collecting my luggage and finding the train to my final destination, I start my collection of sensory memory that rings so familiar.  The smell of jet fuel at the airport, not pleasant but familiar; the sound of the little shuttle train, clicking along through the countryside, excites all my senses as I take in the deep greens of the pastures we pass.  And all the time I’m listening for the Italian conversations, testing my own ability to speak so musically. Cell phones chirping and the greeting “pronto” upon answering.  There is the inevitable smell of cigarettes wherever I go which somehow seems far less aggravating in Italy than at home.

The weekly farmer’s markets have the fragrant smells of fruits, with a bit of rot showing up here and there, or the earthy scent of truffles and porcini when it’s well into the fall season.  Late September is heavy with harvest smells from the grapes, which can be very musty as well as sweet.  Grape harvest collects memories of special wines that have left their impressions in my memory bank.  I love the smell of heavy mold in a wine cellar that offers the promise of special wines in the future.  Springtime scents are full of the many flowers and grass smells that evoke the beginning of all things new.

It is so uplifting to enter a church during Sunday service and hear the ancient litanies that bring worshipers to gather.  An even more special moment if the church is blessed with a choir.  Oh and street musicians, what a joy to run across a young person playing a solo on her cello or violin in the midst of everyone’s meanderings in the square.

The brilliant red poppies of May aren’t scented but have such amazing color that the memory can almost be tasted. Sometimes I like to just take a walk in the countryside to hear the sound of the insects doing their work and take in the perfume of the flora I come across.   All this I will take home with me to relive Italy when I am not there, adding dimension to my experience and keeping me connected to the beauty that is Italy until I return.


Cheryl has been traveling to Europe, particularly Italy, for more than fourteen years. Her interest in Italy, its history, art and rich culture led her to purchase property near Orvieto, allowing her to spend more time there. Cheryl’s exploration of Italy include the regions of Tuscany, Umbria, Lazio, as well as the areas around Venice and south towards Sorrento. She continues to travel into Italy’s less traveled regions, and enjoys sharing her discoveries with others. Relaxed, leisurely tours are her specialty with an emphasis on the comfort of her guests.

Cheryl spends the rest of her time near the beach in San Diego, cavorting with her two small grandchildren. She’s an avid reader, health advocate and community volunteer. Her career as a social worker brings an understanding of people’s needs to the tour business.

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