(First published June 25, 2020)
In the piazza Felice is the one who tells me that there will be no processions this year. I already know this but I let him tell me anyway because without that news there is little else to say. I know from our last meeting that he cannot go back to work yet. Who will give a haircut and shave to the patients in the hospital who are there for longer stays? They tell him things are still too risky for him to return. Maybe next year, or when there’s a vaccine. Felice’s crisp shirt is tucked in tightly to his belted pleated trousers and he smells like aftershave. Ever ready, just in case.
All around the edges stand the ones looking for something to walk behind. In the absence of the processions I wonder how they’ll find their way through these streets this summer without rose petals and a band to guide them. Without the yellow flags and white sheets and lattices of colored lights hanging over the cobblestones it could be anyone’s day, nothing to gather for, sing for; nowhere in particular to walk to.
On my own procession, up the hillside behind a hawk with a snake in its claws, I discover a patch of lilies, planted near a pomegranate where there may once have been the refuge of a shepherd or a shrine to someone's goddess, now just rubble and flowers. It’s the smell that draws me off the path, up the rocks, between asparagus ferns and shrubs, under the branch of a low-growing fig tree. Perfectly white and glowing, on stems taller than my waist, the flowers turn to greet me. I chose three to take back to the studio where my architect tells me they’re Sant’Antonio’s lilies. My grandfather’s lilies. The first of June it begins. As if it were a cathedral, the studio smells of them for the whole 13 days of the veneration of Antonio di Padova.
In the news there are fireworks everywhere in the night, but here, where there should be explosions in the sky for every saint’s day and wedding this time of year, there is still darkness in the spaces between the stars, and it’s quiet enough to hear the murmurs and laughing of all the young people caught here in this village for a longer summer than there ever was, who wake at sunset to start their roamings. The only flashes of bright light in the night come from the fireflies, flickering beneath the fig tree in the neighbor’s garden after the sun goes down. I lean over the back balcony to see them better. Instead of gunpowder, there is the smell of honey from the linden trees blowing in clouds from the edge of town. Late, near midnight, we can’t stand it any longer-- we go and collect bags full of the blossoms to dry for what troubles may ail us come winter.
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.