A hot summer day in southern Italy

The summer has a rich audio track;   locusts, lawnmowers, sprinklers, combine harvesters, and birds, always birds.   The most profound silences coincide with the heat of midday, and the vibrating 100 degree heat commands a siesta, indoors. I salute the invention of electric fans: with or without air conditioning, there can be few things more sensual than air moving over slightly damp skin.  The hottest hours of the day are dedicated to reading, mulling over possibilities, or restful sleep.

Outside, the sun is punishing, and the air has a darkness to it that speaks of lack of humidity and cloudlessness.  But it is cool in the shade, and if there is a breeze even cooler.  A strategically-placed hammock, hanging under tall leafy trees, beckons.    The biting flies will not attack you if you are in the shade, which is good to know.

How many locusts are there?  It is almost  like being home in Texas, and the noise is a constant electronic high-pitched buzz.  It is so loud that I can hardly hear it anymore.

The tomatoes this year were started too early, and they suffered the effects of a new irrigation system which dripped instead of showering the plants.  Tomatoes in sandy soil do not appreciate the lack of water on hot days such as these.  They are having a second life now, and they are never free of their muddy soil, getting as much moisture as they can take.   Their new fleshy green leaves tell me all I need to know.

There is a frog in the swimming pool again.  Swimming with frogs is fun; if you move slowly,  they think of you as a large meaty  island and will swim up and climb on.  They are handled and transferred to the fishpond, and punctually can be found again the next morning in the pool.

My feet are filthy, as usual.  In the mud, out of the mud, summer is a time in which I can’t afford to be foot-proud.  It will take most of the Fall to get rid of the calluses.  If you shake my hand you will know I can handle a hoe.   Well, my work ethic makes a woman proud of her calluses and blackened feet.  Life is too short.

At least six sprinklers are going all the time, and I am dedicated to placing them  so that no corner is missed.  Hat, shirt, sunscreen, out the door.  Back inside, sweaty, hat and shirt off, next job!  Repeat every two hours each and every day.   Our yard and garden are an oasis of green and dampness, and it is heavenly.   Water is cheap—the agricultural irrigation water, that is—so it flows freely.

I step outside and smell smoke, which is a scary thing indeed.  The breeze brings a rain of small blackened fragments of grasses and husks; there is a fire somewhere near.   If our  fosso should catch fire, after these many months of no rain, it will turn to ash in a hurry.   The sheepherders, when they have heavy undergrowth to deal with, will not hesitate to set a fire to burn it down.  I dread the local Festa of the patron saint, which means fireworks and half the outskirts of town burnt black.  How did this happen, they ask, incredulous?  Each year it is the same.   The Winter months are for healing these scars, and forgetting for the year to come.

The dogs are dedicated to hunting lizards.  They never give up until the tail has been removed from its owner, and then they immediately lose interest.  About half of our million-or-so lizards are in various phases of regrowth.  Where do they get the strength, and how many times can they miraculously conjure up another tail?

Outside the kitchen window, at eye level, there is a huge pigeon in her nest.  When she leaves we see her two chicks, the ugliest of ugly ducklings, waiting for her to return with food.  Each year we have more of these “colombacci,” and I hope they make it through the hunting season to return next year.

The big dogs have sequestered themselves either in the cool garage, or in muddy self-dug holes in the gardens.  As the summer progresses these “dog nests” become deeper, and in the autumn we will need to add a couple of wheelbarrows of soil.

“Starshine”  pencil and gold pigment on paper

It is finally dark, at 9 PM, a blessed relief, and dinner can be considered as 11 PM approaches.  The work day is long!   There is  cacophony  from the fishpond.  Big frogs, small frogs, all singing to each other in the hopes of coming in first in the genetic sweepstakes.  There will be gelatinous masses of eggs everywhere in a few weeks.   A snake, the natrix-natrix ubiquitous in this area, swims slowly around the water’s edge.  She and her progeny will keep the number of frogs under control.

Stepping outside, there is a pitter-patter of frantic feet up and down the walls.  The geckos are everywhere, keeping us mosquito-free.    The insulating panels on the walls make the noise of their running quite loud.  I don’t mind  the coccodrilli, as they are working for the common good.

The pool is besieged by numbers of small bats, dipping into the surface and dive-bombing our heads.  They, too, are consuming mosquitoes, which is their singular gift to us sweet and fleshy types.

Walking around the yard at night, a flashlight is mandatory.  Frogs are out and about, snakes too.  I know where to go to find a nice fat hedgehog during the day, but at night it is on the prowl and could be anywhere.   We try to avoid each other after dark.

We have a cuckoo! A t dusk, it sounds at five-second intervals, continuing through the falling dusk.    There are nightingales down in the woods of the fosso, and they are furious in their dedication to song until the early hours of the morning.  Whoever said that defending one’s territory has to be unpleasant?

There are more noises at night than there are during the day.  Mysterious calls from the woods,  crashing in the underbrush, and the dogs barking as a consequence.  Motorcycles and cars speeding down the road far away, and occasionally the thrumming beat from an outdoor discotheque.   Kids drag home at four AM, and most of them are not drunk or drug-addled…but some are.  The town is an anthill until 2 AM, with even small children prowling the streets on bicycles until this hour.   In the summer, one has to live the nighttime hours to compensate for the lazy afternoons.

Tonight Italy has just won the semi-finals of the European Cup.  There is a cacophony of truck and car horns, firecrackers and screaming coming from town that is nothing short of incredible!  My sons are in the fray;  I can only imagine that they are thoroughly enjoying themselves!

Look up!    The sky is dark, but you can clearly see the Milky Way, a glowing band cutting the night sky into two equal parts.  I have never spent even five minutes looking into it without seeing something moving.  Satellites early, shooting stars late, was that a UFO?  We all look forward to mid-August when the meteor showers get going in earnest.  I spent the last sleepless night before my younger son was born in a chair outside, watching the sky, enjoying the peace before the ordeal to come.  I will always remember that night, and the falling stars which seemed to portend good things.  We might have named him Lorenzo.*

“Da Mietere”  oil on canvas

*”La Notte di San Lorenzo”,   the Night of San Lorenzo, a meteor shower around the 10 to 12 of August, yearly.

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