We have started week three of Fase 2 of the gradual re-opening of Italy and I am a bit behind. Last week, “week two”, began coincidentally with the arrival of the hot and dusty scirocco-- winds that start in the heat and sand of the Sahara, travel across the Mediterranean sea, picking up humidity on the way, arriving here to give us a week of heavy glaringly bright white-grey skies, unseasonably hot hazy days, and too- warm nights.
As if it were summer, the early mornings were busy with women making the rounds: butcher, forno (oven), salumeria (deli), caseficio (for cheese or milk), grocery store and, now that we can, to the merceria for a needle and thread and to exchange the gossip gathered on the way. The men who have no chores out in the countryside make different rounds, walking from one end of the main piazza to the other and back again, maybe taking a caffé (standing outside) now that we can, gathering here and there in small clusters to discuss whatever matters seemed most important. As if it were any normal week, everyone disappears by 1pm. Shops are locked and shutters are dropped down across the entrance; the streets go quiet. The lockdown was this all day, but now there is again a suggestion of rhythm....
(first published May 13, 2020)
The wind is warm today and carries the scent of smoke, a sense of Africa, the feeling that maybe I am nearer the sea than I think. I am feeling distracted by all the hundreds of shades of green on the mountainside and the hundreds more out in the fields.
I am feeling unsettled by small and large disappointments. I gave up cynicism one winter when a large chunk of it chipped off and fell into pieces along with my heart. It seemed like too much to add to the work of reconstruction, so I mostly let it go. That’s not to say that my idealism always rides out proudly in front of the parade. I can see things for what they are. It just means that I’m bound to feel my failures and the failures of my fellow humans a bit more forcefully than is comfortable. Failures, mostly, to act lovingly.
Yesterday the flower moon was in full bloom, embodying all the sensuousness that May overflows with here in this valley and across the peninsula.
In 1885, as Naples was recovering from an epidemic of cholera, a song emerged, part of a collection of poetry, written by Salvatore di Giacomo and set to music by Mario Costa.
There quite possibly has not been a better love song written in the 135 years since (some romantics are incurable). Today it speaks to a longing I have, still somewhat sheltered/quarantined, still unsure—will I see you again? It speaks to my origins, a feeling that maybe my great-grandfather made a promise when he left here that I’ve come back to keep.
The song begins as the memory of one of the two lovers who meet in the month of May, when the air was cool and the smell of roses overflowed from the garden and into your bosom fell clusters of cherries… we sang together. I will never forget it, no, the memory grows even stronger the more time passes.
He, of course, must go.
She says, oh my heart-- you will leave me and go far away from here. I’ll count the hours, but who knows when you’ll return?
He promises to come back, right here to this spot by the fountain, when it is again May and the roses again bloom. If the roses come back, then I will come back.
And they meet again, of course, in May, of course, because the wound of love never heals. My heart, I have returned… do with me what you will.
This just might be my favorite version of this song, filmed in the midst of the magnificent decay of the city of Napoli, from the film Passione, a 2016 documentary on napoletano music with John Turturro (the subtitles are in Italian, since the song is sung in napoletano):
It’s the month of Mary here. You wouldn’t know it. Her chapels aren’t open. No one sings. On my walk through the streets I look for signs that maybe in these unusual times, the old ways have come back. I look for sidewalk shrines, for flowers and a statuette tucked in a niche somewhere; a candle lit in a crack in the wall. So far I find nothing. It can’t be that there’s really nothing though. A goddess doesn’t just disappear like that. Not one like this who’s hidden in plain sight for centuries.
May is the month of Mary maybe because it is the most glorious month of the year in this country. It starts with wisteria, irises, buttercups, columbine, calla lilies, white and yellow asphodel; it unfolds into elderflower, wild orchids, red valerian, and jasmine; it ruptures into roses (the roses!), peonies, and poppies....
We wake on Monday to the sound of jackhammers and shouting. It’s early. Annamaria’s botteca isn’t even open yet. I get up and go to the large windows in the living room. The small piazza is full of trucks.
We’re in the beginning of our return to “normalcy” and the fiber optic cables must be laid. While I have frequently lamented the internet service here and have longed for a more stable connection, I think I will miss the vintage two-tin-cans-and-a-string feel of my current communications. I also will miss the very quiet mornings we’ve had for the past two months.
Spring is ripening, warming. Green has reached the top of all the nearest mountains. We are almost ...
(A series of personal observations recorded in the countryside in the province of Salerno as Italy takes action against the spread of Covid-19, first published April 27, 2020)
I watch the prime minister’s address on Saturday night and spend the day digging in the earth on Sunday. We have another month ahead of us before there will be a cautious normalcy, before we can take a coffee out, or go out to eat something with friends. Perhaps. Between now and then, little by little, there will be movement. My architect’s work-sites will open next week. Next Tuesday he’ll need to go across the valley, which hasn’t happened in nearly two months. I’m envious. I want to go across the valley on a Tuesday too. I would even go to his meeting, stressful for him and not at all interesting to me, just to see if the poppies have started blooming near the Carthusian monastery yet, or if there’s still snow on Monte Cervati; or if the storks have come back to their nests this year.
(A series of personal observations recorded in the countryside in the province of Salerno as Italy takes action against the spread of Covid-19, first published April 25, 2020)
Oggi è la Festa della Liberazione.
Today is Liberation Day, a celebration of the end of Mussolini’s fascist regime and of the Nazi occupation of Italy. It is a celebration of the Resistance, of the partigiani— the bands of civilians who rose up against the military occupation.
O partigiani, porta mia via
O Bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao.
(O freedom fighters, take me away
goodbye beautiful, goodbye)
Ma della liberta, cosa abbiamo adesso?
But of liberty, what do we have now?
It’s a conspiracy.
It’s 3am and I’m not sleeping.
Of course, it’s a conspiracy.
We’re not talking Bill Gates or 5G or the Knights of Templar here.
It’s “conspiracy”, as in collusion, mutual agreement; collaboration even.
It’s the power of the word:
Something has to change.
Things can’t go on like this.
It has to stop now.
Have these been your words?
Today smells of rain and crushed geraniums.
Across the street from the studio there’s a building being renovated. It’s owned by the Church and will be the home of the new priest, as the old one has not, after nearly three years of retirement, agreed to leave the apartment that would normally house the village priest. Before the renovations, the Church had allowed a man to live there, a painter who, having no family left and being rather lost in society at large, was taken in and given a home. He showed me his paintings once, colorful beautiful visions done with an un-taught naïve hand. He took care of the roses at the edge of the garden and had geraniums in the all the windows of the stairwell turret. I can see them from my terrace.
I’m not sure where he went when the work started last fall, but he left behind the geraniums. I don’t believe they’ve been watered since. They definitely haven’t been watered since the jobsite was closed over a month ago in accordance with lockdown ordinances.
Friday we watch from the back windows of the building where we have our studios. We can see the hills climb up into mountains there. There is a path that cuts across the nearest steep hillside and walking down it are two carabinieri, followed by an old blue car. I know who they’ve got. I don’t know really know the man other than to see him, and I always hated that he drove his car up the steep stone path, but still, to bring him down for picking asparagus?
Rules are rules.
That’s the argument.
I don’t wholly agree of course.
I added this blog as a way to share some thoughts and experiences around the impact of Covid-19 on my life here in Southern Italy. These posts have been a near-daily practice during this time and are largely unedited, most having been first posted on Facebook. They are of course in order with the most recent entry on the first page. I invite you to explore previous posts or even start from the beginning.