By RJ Furth (October, 2014)

Sandy and I are spending a couple of days in Girona, just north of Barcelona. We are at the Hotel Historic in the old medieval part of town, a small but spectacularly preserved walled city that includes an ancient Jewish quarter, one of the best preserved Jewish quarters from the Middle Ages. Next to our hotel (ancient, historic as the name implies) is a church that was founded by Charlemagne in the 8th century. This is the kind of place that makes the United States seem like a toddler in diapers. The church is pretty spectacular and it felt magical to be staying next door, where people have been living for well over a thousand years. Last night though, at midnight, the magic faded and our carriage became a pumpkin.

We sensed we might be in trouble when the church bells rang at midnight. Those of you familiar with church bells know that they ring according to the hour, so after a preliminary few chimes, they bit bell gonged twelve times. Sandy and I looked at each other. “You don’t suppose this is going to go on all night?” she asked, dismay in her voice. We’re talking loud bells, right next door, Saturday night after a big meal and a few glasses of local bubbly and wine. At 12:15 the big bell chimed once. At 12:30 two times. At 12:45 three times. At 1:00 am there were the preliminary chimes, then once loud gong. This continued throughout the night. I we slept through a few of the chimes and bells, but definitely not the 6:00 a.m. doozy. Sandy thought maybe it was the call to morning mass, sort of like the Muslim call to prayer. There was the usual preliminary chiming, then seven loud gongs (at six? I thought to myself), then seven more, then the ringer went crazy with peels of bells. I lost count at twenty.

I’d like to report that the second night was better. It wasn’t. I was so tired that I slept uninterrupted until 4:30, then I listened to the bells until 8:30. Sandy spent almost the entire night listening to the ringing, which she likened to torture. (Perhaps the CIA can replace waterboarding with church bells 24/7.) The first morning’s berserk bells at 6:00 were topped the second morning by ten minutes of ringy dingy mayhem at 7:00 AND 8:30. What the heck was that about? Perhaps one of you Catholics can enlighten this pagan.

We always found the Muslim call to prayer exotic, even the one at sunrise, but there are only five a day. The Jews don’t call anybody to prayer, keeping their religious business private. (When you’ve been persecuted and run out of dozens of countries over the centuries, not to mention the holocaust, you tend to keep under the radar.) This ringing of bells all day and night may be a source of spiritual joy for Catholics, but to somebody trying to sleep, especially an agnostic non-practicing Jew, it is not something that is greeted with enthusiasm. We liked the Hotel Historic, but I’m not sure that I would recommend it to anybody except my Catholic friends, who might find the ringing appealing at any time of the day or night.

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