To my initial dismay, September arrived late, this year. The blessedly cool air -- which normally follows close after my return to Italy from the US -- took its time, this time around.
This year, it almost felt like the cool weather would never arrive. This struck a chord of fear within me, foolish as it sounds, but I really was worried for a while. I worried most when the heat had me up in the wee still hours of the night, unable to sleep but too tired to do anything productive.
You see, I've never dealt well with heat and humidity. Either one is a problem for me, particularly at night, but heat is probably the worst. I get rashes on my skin; itchy, flaky, painful rashes. I toss and turn when it's too warm, unable to keep cool so I can rest well. We've all been there, of course -- but to go from an air-conditioned environment over the course of the summer to a more, shall we say "natural" existence, was a bit of a shock for me.
I spent several sleepless nights this month, thanks to the heat. Some of these nights were spent fussing with my husband (who hates my oscillating fan with a passion), some of them were spent listlessly recovering on the sofa from my usual jetlag, still others were spent debating with my cat over who owned that sofa and who had dibs on the breezes coming through the living room window at four a.m.
At times, it got ugly.
Even though I lived without central air when I was growing up, I can't cope now when it's stiflingly hot. My hubby, on the other hand? He's used to it. He suffers when he's in the US, though: all that air-conditioning is a form of torture for him. Like many other Italians, he longs for warm summer nights and languid days -- the better for socializing and living outside the house.
I don't get that. I don't understand that at all.
Instead, I yearned for the Italian autumn: the shortening days, the cool nights, the gentle light which softens the hills and blends the all-too-brief flashes of red and gold in the trees. I love the sight of the trucks -- from pickups to three-wheeled service vehicles -- their truck beds and trailers laden with green, red and deepest violet bunches as they make their way to the vintners to turn those sweet globes into the many varieties of local wines.
There is something so earthy, so sumptuous, about that sight: the opulent colors; the plump, tempting spheres still dusty from the harvest, heavy with sunlight. When I see them I want to reach out and touch them, to feel the weight of them in my palm, their reassuring roundness, the heat of the fading day still present in their cores.
Every time I catch a glimpse of those grapes -- no matter how fleeting -- I'm seized with an almost primal desire for wine. Me, the one who doesn't even like the stuff! A strange, deep-seated urge to savor this part of the autumnal bounty washes over me and the craving settles into me with a momentarily maddening insistence.
That never happened until I came to Italy.
In the weeks to come, the vineyards will be picked clean. Sunlight will find its way through spare vines, the last, inferior grapes lingering on them and drying out before they fall to the heavily-trodden soil at last. The fields will be emptied of their final gifts, squash and corn and all the rest, and then the remainders will be plowed under, pulling rich earth to the surface to face the winter again.
The weekend meals will grow heavier, more substantial, so that one never leaves the table without feeling satisfied. Tortelli di zucca (pumpkin ravioli), pasta with walnut or boar sauce, and various arrosti appear on family tables throughout the region. Limoncino moves aside for nocino, its autumnal cousin.
In the city, the trees will be trimmed down almost to their trunks alone, even as the last leaves fall to the ground around them. The buildings will seem somehow more substantial with the bright blue sky reflecting off the windows, and then the cool grey sky shading them with a gentle hand.
The managers of the ristoranti will bring out the heaters for their smoking patrons to use when the nights get colder. Soon, they'll cluster around them beneath clouds of grey-blue smoke, the conversations they started indoors will finish around the artificial warmth. Then they'll carry new topics inside with them to enjoy over their meals, where they'll also complain about the cold.
The older ladies of the town will don their furs at the first sign of crispness in the air, and younger women will stroll the crazy-paved streets in high heels, full-length coats and hats as they do their shopping or stop by the bar to drink an aperitivo. The younger businessmen will pretend not to notice them as they rush from one meeting to another. The older men will be present too, in jackets and fedoras, standing in the center of the piazzas while they debate the chances of their favorite teams or less favorite politicians.
The youngsters will flirt and play as they always do, no matter the season.
As for me, I'll go back to teaching soon. I'll be walking deeper into the darkness with every advancing night, loving the feel of nightfall while all around me, my friends and peers will protest and yearn for the summer again.
I, for one, won't miss it one bit.