Saturday, October 13, 2007

Sound of Alarm

Whenever the fire siren cuts the air in my town I think about a couple of things: the terrified ones who phoned in for help; and the brave souls who leave whatever they're doing to go save lives and put out fires. After the siren summons the volunteers, the next sound is of fire trucks wailing and barking alarm, alerting drivers to pull over, clear the way. Sometimes we hardly notice these sounds as they blend into the urban soundscape.

My dad remembers a different sound of alarm. As a Brooklyn boy born in 1899, he witnessed a team of horses with nostrils snorting, hooves sending sparks as they rattled down the cobblestone streets, the wheels of the pumper roaring and a big brass bell clanging. And there was one other sound: a dalmation barking as it zigzagged in front of the horses, nipping at the heals of pedestrians to clear the way. A rich sound picture, isn't it? Which is probably why my dad remembered it so well and told about it so vividly. Like music, everyday sounds are historical, cultural and have the texture of time and place woven into them.

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