Wednesday, February 22, 2012


When I think of bells, my brain goes classic. For Whom the Bell Tolls brings to mind a series of deep, mournful solitary bongs. Bonnnngggg….  Bonnnnnnggg….  Bonnnnnggg.  How about The Bells of St. Mary’s?  That one brings to mind familiar hymns in rounded golden tones. Beautiful.
Here in San Isidro the cathedral bells are proudly rung quite often. There is an actual, live, bell-ringing person who does it.  When does he sleep, I wonder? Some nights, they ring every hour on the hour. All night long they call the faithful to prayer. At one: Bolng. (That is not a typo.) At two: bolng, bolng. At three: bolng, bolng, bolng. Etc. You get used to it, and after a few nights, you can even sleep right through it. Well, through some of it.
Recently we have been upgraded to a single stroke on the half-hour as well, from very early (I think 5:30am – dawn in the tropics - although I can’t say for sure because some days I am actually able to sleep until 6am) to about 8:30. Possibly this is a convenience for commuters and businesses. I’m sure it would be helpful to the faithful planning to attend early mass, as well.
Our bell-ringer plays hymns, too. I have listened to his progress as he learned one.  He seems to only have the one.  The first two times I heard it, I admit to wincing.  Can a bell be tuned? These bells, most unfortunately, are not true, and timing errors seem more painful for it.
How does a bell-ringer – someone who rings the BIG bells – practice discreetly? The process of playing a song on big bells involves much more than just learning the notes. This is a whole body involvement. Reach to pull the rope, pull, time the strike. Time the next bell. Imagine having to do that for an entire sequence of notes, an entire song.  What an embarrassment to get it wrong. When does a poor bell-ringer practice inconspicuously?
Why at 3am when there is no one around to hear, of course.
Erm, the bells can be heard for miles…
But he is a quick study. It has been less than two weeks since he began playing this particular song, and it sounds MUCH better now. More like a perfume of sound upon the air, and less like an assault upon the ears. With our bell-ringer’s improved skill, the bells even seem less flat. I am beginning to feel the general proprietary pride in both him and the bells. I look forward now to the morning song.
(Written in November, 2010)