Our chilly, wet May disappeared as if someone had thrown a switch somewhere, turning on a magical flower-filled and ludicrously hot (25-30°C/75-85°F) June, from one moment to the next. This week we’ve been promised a heatwave, with temps rising to near 40°, and breathless sweaty nights.
This meteorological mayhem has had some strange effects.
Fireflies? Well, either they’ve been decimated by the freak weather conditions, or they have yet to really get going. By Midsummer day they’re generally peaking, with waves of them sweeping up from the field and gliding past us. Now we’re treasuring each tiny intermittent flash as if it were a nugget of gold.
Fruit? I had given up on my little cherry tree which usually furnishes me with large bowls of fruit to guzzle all by myself while the L is at the Cannes film festival in mid May (fair swap, I reckon…) This year the cherries were tiny and hard and very yellow at the usual time, and stayed that way for a couple of weeks later, only to explode into marvellous plump red fruit when we were least expecting it.
This has had the great advantage of allowing me to harvest and prune at the same time. I couldn’t reach much of the fruit on the highest shoots – so I simply lopped them off and stripped the cherries more easily. I generally forget that sweet cherries really need summer pruning (the fruit appears on the previous summer’s growth). This year, by great good fortune, it is already done.
The mulberry trees are groaning under the weight of fruit bigger than I’ve ever seen on it. Each time I reach up and casually put one off, a hailstorm of 50 or so lands on me… dangerous if wearing pale colours. I keep meaning to take a big plastic sheet and a pole (and perhaps a plastic raincoat) up there to shake off as many as possible. Will I get to them before the birds finish them off?
There are pears in places I’ve never seen pears before, and the unproductive Reine Claude greengage tree is full of fruit. The feijoa are covered with their glorious firework flowers, which bodes well. My apples continue to underwhelm, which I think is par for the course for someone from a long line of apple growers: the talent-line has to stop somewhere.
Perfumes? Everything this year seems to have come together. We don’t usually have thickets of astounding gorse (actually it’s broom, Cytisus scoparius, but I’ve always called it by the wrong name) at the same time as lime trees which leave you swaying drunkenly as you make your way up to town, do we? In the garden at my Pieve Suites, which is eyeball to eyeball with the foliage of a whole avenue of the trees, the scent is almost overpowering. In a good way.
CdP is beginning to feel superbly summery. The end of school helps: the town is full of gaggles of long-haired, long-legged girls in the extremely short shorts that seem to be all the rage this year. And the beginning of events gives everything a holiday air.
Yesterday (Sunday) we had the Infiorata, which we missed in its full glory but which I savoured on the Saturday night as it was being constructed: another real insight into the things that make CdP kind of special.
Everyone was out: people of all ages including hordes of school kids, all (or at least all those from Casilino, the terziere responsible) participating in making the street-long petal-pics – this year inspired by the 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death.
Students from the musical high school were playing in the piazza down by Santa Maria delle Grazie: I love the way they are being wheeled out more and more for these occasions… a nicely melodic part of the local scenery. Older ladies were sitting on low stools, stripping pink petals from little roses. Shops were open, music was blasting from cafés. The garden of the Old Man Bar was packed for the live folk-rock music there. I was out until after midnight but as I headed home to bed the town was still heaving. There’s so much to love about this odd little place.
One thing that is sorely missing – alas, I fear, the result of the town’s political shift to the centre-right – is the closure of via Vanni, the road that runs between the closed order of nuns and the football pitch. It has long been a summer ritual to bar traffic there from early morning to late at night each day. Beneath the lime trees and the horse chestnuts, grandparents sit on the benches chatting while swarms of tiny children try to catch the poor benighted fish in the little ponds, or to blind each other throwing gravel, while slightly larger ones knee-cap strolling adults by careering into them on out-of-control bikes with stabilisers.
I jest, of course. But for two months this couple of hundred metres of shady tarmac becomes kindergarten, junior school, race track, playground, old people’s home, meeting place and little bit of respite for large sections of the community. It has always also, for me, represented a triumph of civilisation: the victory of community over vehicles. Not so this year.
Have there been voices raised complaining about the inconvenience of having to motor around the ring-road to get anywhere because of the closed sector? Well we’re amongst the most inconvenienced, and we are only too happy to drive the extra 500m.
This year, our new council has decided to close it from Saturday afternoon to Sunday night, for the passeggiata. Which only goes to prove that they don’t realise that if families and grown-ups opt to indulge in that oh-so-Mediterranean pastime of strolling up and down sociably during weekend evenings which bring a little respite from summer heat, they do it inside the walls, where there are bars and gelaterie and other grown ups – not down here on this open shady space which is the realm, in general, of the very young and the very old, plus the usual gaggle of Romanian ladies looking after the more infirm portion of the latter.
I hope there are sufficient voices to change this state of affairs. Otherwise a key space for multi-generational socialisation, of the kind that sets CdP apart, disappears.
We have a jay (Garrulus glandarius). I can hear him yelling as I sit here writing. He clearly thinks I should be outside in my garden.
The RSPB says that the jay’s a shy retiring bird, dwelling in oak woods with a steady supply of the acorns they love. Well someone should tell this one about the shy bit. He lays down the law around here.
I’m still trying to work out whether he thinks we’re friends to cultivate or sworn enemies to evict. There are times when I’m working in the garden and he swoops – agressively or playfully, I can’t tell – about as close above my head as he can without hitting me. If we eat outside, he’s right there, in the olive tree or hopping across the lawn. Nothing escapes him: he has us in his sights. There have even been times when I drive back down the lane to find him taking off from a branch of one of the dead elms up there, to preceed me down the drive towards the house: coincidence? It happens rather too frequently for that. Can he really be waiting for me?
Which is all very amusing in its way, but it means that every other bird has fled the immediate house area. And who can blame them, when there’s an egg-wrecking, fledgling-gobbling monster in the ‘hood.
Gone are my sprightly flock of bluetits and great tits which have always made their homes in the holes in the old olive tree outside the kitchen (Indi’s drastic pruning hasn’t helped here); gone are the sparrow-like things (I’m not very good on birds) whose noisy babes fill the chicken house with their chirping; gone too are the finch-y kind of birds that appear from time to time outside the front door, hopping about and pecking at the lawn that already looks so very un-sward-like after its brief spring apotheosis.