t’s 5 p.m. in Rome and there is not a sound except the cicadas. Their droning vibrates like the cord of a violin. The occasional moped glides down the hill past our apartment. Our shades are lowered so that the heat doesn’t beat in; a cross wind blows in front-to-back.
We returned from the United States to Rome on ferragosto, August 15. It is summer’s holy day.
The city’s chaos has disappeared. All shops are closed except for grocery stores and gelaterias.
I drive my silver moped to run errands and meet with closed doors with hastily scrawled paper signs, penned in black ink “chiusi per ferie.”
The fitness center, swimming pool, furniture store, plumber, and electrician are all off for the month of August. Our neighbors in the condominium have escaped the heat of Rome to the Abruzzi mountains. Friends are out of town until September. We are holding down the fort.
My husband Germano needs to study for his new job. I’m still on vacation. I vacuum and wash the floors, rearrange my closet, clean out the refrigerator and kitchen shelves, organize my work folders, replant my plants into larger pots, attach missing crystals to our chandelier, climb up on a ladder to dust the mouldings above the doors.
Twice a day I cross the empty street to put recycling into the bins. There is nothing we need from the corner grocery store. I have seen the current museum exhibits. I telephone all my girlfriends, and stretch out for long lazy chats.
I try every flavor at the corner gelateria. Stracciatella is still my favorite. Yesterday, I convinced Germano to walk 30 minutes to try a new gelateria. We walked down the silent lit streets, past the swinging church bells and hot cobblestones of St. Peter’s square. Apple with cinnamon wasn’t bad as a new flavor, and the fig ice cream tasted as we’d had plucked the figs from a nearby tree and sat below its branches to devour it.
Germano and I watched 12 puntate, episodes, of the American TV series “Lost” — 12 in a row. In English with Italian subtitles. We began in the heat of the afternoon and emerged from the couch long after midnight, feeling groggy. I dreamed I lived on a deserted island.
“Germano, how about we clean the shower?”
I peek into the room where he is sitting at the desk, hovered over his books. He’s trying to study. I tiptoe back out to the hallway and get the acetone and a sponge. I take off my pink flip flops and kneel in the shower, scrubbing the marble until it turns carrara-marble white.
It’s only 5 p.m. and it’s still mid-August.
I vaguely remember that abroad life continues, uninterrupted. Here in Italy’s capital it has stopped completely, as if the wheel of time is set to summer until the calendar greets the first of September.