The only time my life in Italy seems to come close to the usual images most people have of it is in the summer. Though I spend most summers away – my teaching work ends for the season and I usually go to the US to visit my family – I still carry the memories of the summers I've spent in Italy. One memory in particular stands out:
One a.m. on a mid-summer night. I lay sprawled atop the bed, alone. My husband was asleep in our other bedroom because his proximity in our bed seemed to increase the temperature of the room. The heat was too intense, the fan blowing on me providing precious little relief from the all-enveloping warmth. The zanzare – the mosquitoes – tormented me, buzzing past my ears whenever sleep beckoned, alighting on my too-sensitive, exposed skin until I was forced to take shelter beneath a bed sheet in spite of the heat.
Facing toward the wide-open window, desperate for some sort of breeze, I found myself distracted anew. A bright light shone in my direction in spite of the late hour, coming and going – not only flickering, but interrupted regularly enough to be noticeable. The light originated from a flat two buildings over, catty-cornered to my own. In the middle of such a restless night, it was more than enough to keep me awake. Without my glasses, I opened my eyes and squinted into the light as it came and went yet again.
With my imperfect vision, I could barely make out the shape of someone on their balcony, moving to and fro. Curious in spite of myself, I sat up and squinted harder, trying to see what they were doing. It seemed that they were doing chores – mopping floors or ironing clothes – and passing in front of the television from time to time. That seemed to explain everything.
And still, I was even more curious. I got my glasses and put them on, then turned to watch my neighbor once more. Now that I saw clearly, I spied a middle-aged woman, clad only in her bra and a gauzy slip, ironing clothes on her balcony. The light from the television would be blocked when she passed in front of it to hang the freshly-ironed clothes up on the edge of the living-room door frame. Sometimes she folded them and stacked them neatly on her sofa, always passing in front the television, always blocking the light for a brief moment as she did so.
I was both embarrassed at having seen her in such a state of undress – I am American, after all, and such things are not the norm where I'm from – and pleasantly surprised by her cleverness. Of course, she probably didn't expect that anyone would see her there, and she was just doing what she needed to do to get that unpleasant chore done.
Still, I admired her ingenuity. What better time was there to do the ironing, anyway? It was a chore I hated with a passion, because of the heat and the sweating and discomfort it brought me. Maybe it was the same for her, too? At any rate, I knew I'd probably never be able to do that. The idea might occur to me, but I doubted that I'd have the nerve to go through with it. I'm too reticent, too shy and frankly, too insecure about my physical appearance to risk being seen that way.
I made a point of lying down again, taking off my glasses and trying to sleep. The effort was futile for some time. It wasn't until she was done, the clothes ironed and the television and lights of her flat switched off, that I was able to find something close to slumber. The middle hours of the night passed, cooled slightly, and then around four-thirty a.m., the birds began to sing and the sky started to lighten.
A slight breeze blew through my flat, making the air from the oscillating fan seem a degree or two cooler as the mosquitoes ceased their fly-bys. I drifted off to sleep at last.