Zona Rossa. Red Zone. Italy is divided. Here in the region of Campania we were green and then yellow and, as of today, jumping to red and returning to lockdown.
I last left off in June as we left our houses and as summer got warily underway.
It was different this year: no processions, no tourists, no fireworks; no festivals.
We are an adaptable species though and we live this summer as always, sweetened by the nostalgia for every other summer ever lived. We all come out after dinner-- rarely before 10pm, often later—and, with light sweaters over our shoulders, we walk slowly through the meandering streets. The four ladies who usually sit pressed side by side, legs dangling, on the bench on Via Roma, sit farther apart now, but are delighted anyway when we pass. Buonasera!
There are other groups like this, gathered here and there on carefully spaced kitchen chairs, half in the street, half on the sidewalk. Those of us walking cross paths and chat (but don’t embrace) at the corner near the yellow church or at the corner near the other yellow church, finding each other all in the piazza near midnight with gelatos or drinks, children on bicycles, men playing cards, babies asleep in arms or in carriages.
Later we’ll try and sleep while everyone between 12 and 25 is still roaming in small packs, running from (squealing) or chasing (laughing), stealing a smoke or a glance. With all the windows open it will be almost morning before there is silence.
At dawn the day begins again, as some work is best done while the air is cool. Mixed with our late coffees there is the smell of sauce bubbling or peppers roasting in a pan. It’s better to cook early in this heat. By the time the morning busy-ness is done and the shops pull their shutters down, those of us late to lunch walk quickly to the open-window sounds of cutlery and glasses clinking, of televisions and conversations. All noise fades into the long afternoon silence, when the sun is at its hottest. We rest in darkened rooms until the light turns more golden and the day begins again.
In the fields, bushels of zucchini give way to tomatoes, green peppers; then eggplant, red peppers and pumpkins. And soon we find ourselves in apple trees and pears; picking blackberries from thorny bushes, collecting hazelnuts, winged and fallen. My neighbors behind the studio shout up: Meliiii!!! Meliii!!
And from over the fence there are plates of figs. Then half our gardens are plowed under to make way for all manner of broccoli and cabbages and chicories and salads.
We lucky ones and are floating in a still clear warm sea, fish below and gulls above: the last late swim of the season. And then we are in a meadow dotted by tall, yellowing trees, gathering walnuts. And then we are on an open hillside arms aching, hands stained with grape juice, watching the truck drive off with the harvest. Maestro Mimmì is well past 80 and isn’t in charge of the vineyard anymore but is here anyway, with his clippers in a pouch on his belt and a bucket full of fruit to take home to his wife. He tells a story that makes us laugh, so he tells us several more. The sky above the mountains turns crimson.
Later the chilly morning fog returns to the valley. We are kicking leaves in the damp fading forest, fingers pricked by chestnut urchins. It’s the day of San Martino and fires return to the hearths with wine and roasted chestnuts.
Then we are high on a windy hill pulling olives from trees, pouring them by nets-full into crates. There are easier ways now to remove whatever leaves have fallen in but Ferdinando shows us how it used to be done. We are laughing, tossing handfuls of olives over a net on the ground, the leaves falling to the ground closer here, and the olives, perfect and clean, farther there.
Today perhaps we are okay being inside again. There is a chill and the sky is grey. We are nearing the shortest day.
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.