Sparrows’ Cry and Stendahl Syndrome

21 May 2012

The summer is finally here. The sparrows have arrived. They are quite punctual and arrive 19-22 May each year. There are three couples that live under the roof of the neighbouring house. On a morning like this you can see them circle high in the air and cry of joy. This is also a sound from my early childhood. I used to spend every June at my grandma’s and there were hundreds of sparrows living in the steeples of the church next door, the Tampere Cathedral. I would wake up every morning hearing and watching the sparrows from my bed.

The moment I heard the first sparrows this year was 5 April in Rome. It was a somewhat sweaty afternoon and we had been walking for a bit. We had been to the Spanish Steps and Fontana di Trevi as well as to some shops. We were climbing the Quirinal Hill and it was very hot. Little did we know that it would be the first of the four warm days of the one month stay in Italy. I was so overwhelmed by the sparrows and had teary eyes.


Another day of the first sparrows was a May morning when I went to a job interview for my present job. It had been ages since I’d been in one as a job applicant. The interview went fine but I was pondering about it. There had been five people there. I was happily making my way to Mom’s. Down the street towards the river I walked and then. There they were. The first sparrow cries. This must be a good sign, I thought. And it was indeed. I started my new job the following August.

Our favourite place in Tuscany, Casa Vittoria in Cincelli, an agriturismo b&b where we stay has got sparrows in the upstairs loggia. They have their chicks in the nest already in May. You wake up to their cry and see them move around through the day. You can follow the birds feeding their chicks and giving flying lessons. Someone might think they and their ‘noise’ is annoying but we don’t. The sparrows are part of the house and I would not dream of evicting them.


I’m always in tears and am easily moved emotionally. When we first began taking our holidays in Italy I was always in tears and still am for example  when landing in Fiumicino airport, over the beautiful landscapes, having a mid-morning coffee at a piazza in some old town, immersing into a beautiful fresco or a painting and so on. Some years ago we drove to Cortona (Arezzo, Italy) with the intention to visit Museo Diocesano in La Chiesa del Gesù and see Annunciazione by Fra Angelico aka Beato Angelico.

I could not move from the painting for I was so moved. I remember that there were only two other people there and some other paintings which I have no recollection of. The only thing besides the Annunciazione that I recall is that my husband took pictures with the flash which was forbidden. It was so touching and I was overjoyed of seeing the painting live.


In these moments of happiness my husband suspects me of having the Stendhal syndrome or the Florence syndrome which is a psychosomatic illness one can get after seeing and being moved by strong emotions awoken by too much art at the same time. The symptoms are dizziness, increased heartbeat and confusion. Stendahl was a Frenchman who observed tourists on their grand tour in early 19th century. You can read about his observations and experiences in his book Naples and Florence: A Journey from Milan to Reggio. The syndrome was named only in 1979 after an Italian psychiatrist Graziella Magherini had made similar observations. (Stendahl syndrome, Wikipedia, read 21.5.2012. URL:


Comments Off on Sparrows’ Cry and Stendahl Syndrome

Filed under Art

Comments are closed.