May 2009

Spring Rushes In…Sort Of

Spring is coming late. Again. You’d think I would get used to this disappointment year after year. Why can’t it just start and spare me this annual temporary letdown? But no…the most beautiful season, this reward for suffering though winter, must be earn by noticing the bits and pieces that come slowly, then at a rush.

Last week there was such a downpour that I single-handedly dragged the garden bench inside off the terrace for fear it might get so waterlogged it would burst. This morning the sun was out and I dragged the damn thing out...only to see rain clouds forming again. It sulks in the pre-storm gloom. Ugh. But the crocuses have come and gone, mini-explosions of color against the grim, soaked earth, and now leggy ranunculus are bobbing in the wind swirling around the eastern side of the house.

Last weekend we went to the spring
sagra in Costa. For years Luciano had translated the word sagra as a local fair. I have since found out that it means “village feast” and in that moment the significance of this annual spring event changed completely for me. Tucked in under the medieval church, we entered the drafty tent and I could see in my mind the groaning table laden with suckling pigs, chunks of coarse bread and tankards of mead. In fact the tent is filled with raucous locals and the smell of grilling meat. We stood at the entrance and talk to friends as our annual group gathered. Overhead the full moon sailed behind the scattered clouds and as I leaned on Luciano’s back to watch it, I could feel his laughter vibrate though his body.

Soon we were squeezed onto a bench shouting out our orders for
braciole, costicine, salsicce, patatine fritte, formaggio cotto and pasta e fagioli. A feeding frenzy ensued while a cold breeze sliced through the joint in the tent. Loud arguments broke out on the eccentricities of English pronunciations and I laughed so hard that my cheeks hurt. Still I pulled my coat closer about me when we slip out into the dark. It was not spring yet.

I spotted Armida’s husband at work painting another figurine for their garden down the street. Armida is the mother of the local veterinarian and she sits rocking on her porch gazing upon her garden populated with plaster animals and out-of-scale gnomes. There is a blue-eyed German Shepherd, a full size cow, a penguin and now a gaily painted little man. When I asked if I could photograph his work she hustled off the porch, removing her apron on the way, to join in on the tour, squinting into the still thin sunshine as she explained the history of the faded parrot and the scattered Madonnas.

Friday morning we went for the May 1st
Gara delle Lumache, or the Snail Race, in Montaner, a tidy village in the foothills whose housewives bake cakes to sell at the finish line. I am not sure why it is the gara delle lumache …I have never seen a snail anywhere, only rolling lush hills, dozens of gurgling springs, and lots and lots of children and dogs. A fat, effusive Chihuahua drops to his back as I scratch his ears.

“How do you
do that?” Luciano asks.

May 1st is a national holiday in Italy (Labor Day) and friends call to wish me happy birthday and thank me for organizing the day off for the event. This race is a perfect enough celebration for me. The trails thread between ancient houses and up slick hills where the churned mud sucks at my shoes. I must dig my fingers into the dirt to avoid sliding to the bottom. I trot along the trail cut into the hill that leads us right into a medieval locanda, or roadhouse, where we run past an entire suckling pig roasting on a rotating spit powered by a water wheel. The aroma of roasting meat fills the garden and mixes with the scent of the wisteria that hangs low on the trellis overhead. It is all as if ordered up by central casting for an overly romantic film for which they just rolled in the set of a “beautiful Italian countryside”.

Giancarlo, as usual, gently brings me back to earth when I later enthusiastically described the scene to him. It seems after all that in a town full of streams, it just makes sense.

“Oh, yeah, the old waterwheel system. Well, Serena, that’s how they do it.”

“Oh”, I said, feeling a little embarrassed, as if I had just pointed out the quaintness of electricity.

I saw the first of the psychedelic red poppies swaying above the rye grass in our field. Makeshift tents with narrow wooden pews have been set up at our neighborhood Madonna. May is her month and mass comes to her amidst the newly sprouting corn, murmuring aqueduct and thickening grapevines. The sun is stronger…less capricious. I am still wary.

poppy story

But yesterday, on a hunch, I walked over the fat pipe jutting out from the aqueduct across our little lane. It is turned off and on with the seasons and I felt that there might have been some activity. I turn the spigot and cool, clear water gushed onto my hands and onto the suddenly vivacious green grass.

Ok, now it is spring.