She had packed her cabinets full of wine and I didn’t have a sip. I slept for three days because it was so quiet.” -Peter on staying at the one of the world’s top vineyards for a weekend.
There we were in the cantina, a wine cellar, eating a 3-course Italian meal deep in the heart of Tuscany at a Brunello wine vineyard, surrounded by huge barrels with silver spouts stacked one on top of the other that extended far down a long room until it disappeared out of sight into the dark stone corners. This was Bruna’s home on the vineyard-one of five-and we were listening to our tour guide Peter tell us his Tuscan tales of a deep, three-day sleep induced by the quietness of the Italian countryside. We were in Montalcino, Italy. It’s smack dab in the center of the boot-shaped country and lies only tens of kilometers southwest of Florence.
It’s no surprise that Peter had zonked out as heavily as he did. Montalcino is all vineyard and farmland and it’s quiet enough that a monastery of Gregorian friars have set up shop around the corner. As we ate and listened to him talk we were inside of Bruna’s home and hadn’t yet experienced fully what he meant. When we stepped outside of the dark cellar and into the blinding white sunlight we walked around mouths agape taking in the scenery. I walked around to the side of the house and up a stony path where I saw a ledge to sit on. Behind me were rows of toiled soil and rolling hills. In front of me was Bruna’s patio and more rolling hills. To the left of me were farms and rolling hills and to the right were some trees, a hot spring pool…and rolling hills. Overhead the sky was a robin’s egg blue, small clouds drifting lazily along, and they met with the horizon far ahead, the sky’s blue edge just kissing the tops of the small Tuscan mountain peaks. It was quiet. As quiet as you could ever imagine it to be. It wasn’t the type of quiet that weighed on you heavily, no, it was the kind of quietness that ensconced you and wrapped you up in it until you became quiet too.
In this moment I thought about the quietness of the nighttime that I hear when I’m in bed at my home. It is an uncomfortable silence that usually has strange ringing sounds somewhere off in the distance, probably from electronics, and I go through periods where I absolutely hate it. I hate it so much that I have to have a sound machine to cancel out the white noise and unbearable soundlessness of my room. Montalcino silence was different. In its absence of noise I felt so warm and welcomed. I wanted nothing but to swim through it and touch it and taste it and be a part of it. I wondered if I had ever really experienced this quietness before? I’m sure I had gotten close to it but this was different, or at least, I was noticing it. But how could you not? The sounds of my native surburbs were relentless and ongoing. We would never have this by us. I don’t think we want it. I don’t even think we can really understand it. We would shove it away by making all the noise we possibly could before we would ever turn off our radios or televisions in the background, because, “it’s too quiet in here”. We just don’t like it. So I thought of why?
Quietness can be so disturbing to us because in it we have lost the power to make our own sounds. Sounds which we convince ourselves to be bigger than life, bigger than the quietness; but in the overpowering silence of the natural world the only thing we can hear is our smallness.
Perhaps we stay out of the silence because it’s easier to keep pretending we’re in control. If we make enough noise, if we are the loudest, if we are the biggest than by our standards we’re in charge. And we don’t like to not be in charge. In the face of silence we beat our chests and honk our horns, stomping our feet like children who had their toy taken away from them. Yet when we find ourselves in the quietness, unarmed of our words, in this honestly quiet place we can finally hear everything.