With many thanks to Ornella Tiberi (www.ornellatiberi.com) for most of the party photos below.
Just as my tomatoes were coming on stream and my beans threatening to overrun the place, a strange thing happened: summer arrived.
By this time in August, we’re usually wondering where summer went, as evenings get shorter and you’re never quite sure whether things aren’t going to be rained off. As we planned and prepared L’s big birthday bash last week, the doubt kept niggling at the back of our mind: Plan B? If it rains? Seventy people for dinner would be a hard one to deal with inside our house. But as the day approached, our fears evaporated. It was hot and getting hotter, with not a drop of rain on any forecast. Scorchingly hot in fact.
The party went well. L threw me into anxiety with his pyromaniac plans, but I moaned enough about the fire hazards of lighting dozens of unsupervised torches all down the lane that even he desisted. The lights in the garden itself – tea lights in tiny glass jars dangling from trees; tea lights in simple white flame-proof bags all over the place – turned everything into fairy land. To get them all burning as the sun went down, L handed a flame-thrower lighter to each of the several over-excited children jumping up and down demanding to be allowed to help: needless to say, I wasn’t there to nix that. But, impressively, they got things alight without setting fire to the whole of Umbria. It took me a while to account for and reclaim all the lighters, but once I had, I was able to relax again.
My vegetable garden played a leading role. That’s where we sat our ukelele strummer Nicola ‘Blue Dean’ Carcione who serenaded us over dinner in the carpark… the only flat space large enough to accommodate tables for seventy. Surrounded by tomato fronds and illuminated by tea lights dangling from the tomato supports, he was suitably bucolic as he went through his country and blue grass repertoire.
Since then, the temperature has done nothing but rise. Inside our cool cool kitchen it has reached 27 degrees for the first time this year; up on the sheltered side of our balcony, in shade since nine o’clock this morning, the thermometre still stands at 35 degrees at five PM. And in the orto, stasis. My galloping beans have done what they always do in the heat: screech to a halt. Will the tomatoes go on ripening or will they too dig their heels in? The next few days – with no sign of a let-up in this weather – will tell.
Yesterday’s Palio up in town was a sweaty affair, with marchers fairly melting in their heavy historic garb. In past years, L has been a prior, looking pious and solemn in his two layers of thick wool felt and praying that he doesn’t trip over any stray cats as he wasn’t – so as not to be anachronistic – allowed to keep his glasses on. This year they must all have been praying for a cloudburst to relieve the suffering, but no such thing. We gave the archery shoot-out a miss: we’ve done that rather too many years in a row now. But this year we checked out the flour fight around the war memorial, which we hadn’t seen before. We stayed on the edges and emerged only lightly powdered. Then went home to turn sprinklers on parched lawns and watch the sun set with a glass of wine in hand. One can only take so much faux-history when it’s this hot.