an Lorenzo, io lo so perché tanto
di stelle per l’aria tranquilla
arde e cade, perché sì gran pianto
nel concavo cielo sfavilla.
These lines form the lyric opening of “August X,” a long poem by fin-de-siècle Italian author Giovanni Pascoli.
“St. Lawrence,” they read, “I know why so many stars through the calm air
burn and fall, why such great weeping
in the concave sky glitters.”
It’s an old journalistic custom to place the name of the writer beneath his quoted lines. But when it comes to poetry, I think it’s best that a reader take in the vivid music of the words themselves. The vivid nostalgia contained in this stanza can’t be effectively translated. That’s how it is with some poetry. The ebb and flow of their spirit transcends anyone’s ability to shift that same spirit in another language.
I learned the whole of this melancholy poem while in elementary school. Despite their dramatic flourishes, reading his stanza still gives me the shivers.
For me, no other lines reflect the sense of magic of a summer night.
I guess I am just a hopeless romantic (though Pascoli, by contrast, was a devoted classical scholar who wrote poems on the side). At the same time, I’m not even sure if anyone’s actually allowed to be a hopeless romantic in 2018.
August 10, the night Pascoli wrote about, is in fact la notte di San Lorenzo — the night of St. Lawrence. It’s celebrated throughout Italy as “the night of shooting stars,” a reference to the annual Perseids meteor shower, which reaches its peak on or about that date.
It’s a night when living atop a mountain in rural Umbria has obvious advantages — at least among stargazing dinosaurs—like me. It’s one of those moments that leaves you in awe of nature. And that awe slips naturally over to poetry or a lyric aria. The firmament feels closer and brighter.
When the stars come out to play you forget the amenities of your daily life crush. You find a place to while away the hours watching the sky. You’ll never catch a shooting star but you can always dream.
Besides, legend has it that if you see a shooting star, you can make a wish. If you see several, your wishes multiply. And romantics would see them all granted.
My own wishes aren’t very original, or modest: world peace to go along with health and harmony. I have my doubts if the universe pays much attention, but it never hurts to try, at least on one special night.
If you actually do go out star-gazing, be prepared. A flute of champagne helps. But if you’re like me, you’ll want something sweet and refreshing on the side. You can use it to celebrate being in the presence of this marvelous Italian nocturne.
Fruit salad in a watermelon bowl
- 1 small watermelon (about 2 1/2 kilos or 5 lbs.).
- 1/2 cups diced peaches
- 1/2 cups diced watermelon
- 1/2 cups diced cantaloupe
- 1/2 cups green grapes or quartered plums
- zest and juice from one lemon
- 4 tablespoons sugar
- 2-3 cups dessert wine such as moscato or vinsanto or white Italian vermouth.
With a large, sharp knife, remove the top section of a watermelon. Make sure the watermelon can stand, cut side up. If necessary, cut off a slice at the bottom to make it flat.
— Use a metal spoon to scoop the pulp from inside the watermelon. Next, dice it, removing as many seeds as possible. Leave 2 cm (2/3 inches) of flesh inside the shell of the watermelon.
— Place all the sliced fruit and lemon zest inside the watermelon. You might need more fruit if it’s a large watermelon. Set aside any fruit mixture that doesn’t fit.
— Mix in the lemon juice and sugar and toss thoroughly. Add wine or vermouth to cover the fruit.
— Cover and refrigerate for at least half a day.
— Serve well chilled. When the fruit is finished, scoop out the watermelon flesh inside the shell, which will taste wonderfully fruity and boozy. Count your lucky stars.