March 1, 2024 | Rome, Italy

Summer, ascending

By |2018-03-21T20:01:25+01:00June 26th, 2016|"Notebook"|
Wind and rain, thunder and lightning have chased each other like capricious pagan gods.

robably not since the tumultuous 1930s have there been weeks like the last few, packed with events that make us wonder if the world we know is turning upside down.

In dizzying succession came mass a murder in Orlando, the assassination of British PM Jo Cox, the slaying of popular Pakistani Sufi singer Amjad Sabri in Karachi, and the taking of 25 hostages by a lone gunman in a movie theater near Frankfurt. Not to mention ongoing U.S. election antics and, of course, Brexit.

Climate and the cosmos also weighed in. Europe has been engulfed in storms and floods. All this can make you wonder if the conjunction that produces a full moon for the solstice can — if it chooses — exercise some sinister influence on the whole of the planet.

Here in Italy, the early summer weeks have felt like an eternal October. Wind and rain, thunder and lightning have chased each other like capricious pagan gods.

Today is Friday, and just like an office worker who’s given his best for the previous five days, the weather is in a weekend frame of mind. The sky is blue and clear, which in Milan means the peaks of Monte Rosa and the Resegone float mirage-like over where city boulevards vanish into the distance.

School is out and all is noticeably quieter. Summer has tamed the weekend outflow, as if the solstice softened the atavistic urge to be home before nightfall. Lines of cars wait with unusual patience behind double-parked station wagons of families stuffing their bikes and bags into cars for the weekend in “Santa” or “Forte” (beach resorts Santa Margherita in Liguria and Forte dei Marmi in Tuscany).

Apartment windows are open, making facades into little more than permeable membranes between out and in. Social noises and dinner smells drift down to the sidewalk while the friendly rattle of trams wafts up.

It’s breezy. Flapping awnings draw the eye upward to rooftop gardens in bloom. Winter’s bare canes have become rose bushes spilling over parapets. What were dry and spotted winter leaves are full and lustrous. Ivy shimmers in the June breeze. Perfume rises from roses in the traffic islands that seem to bask in the long awaited summer sun.

Heat has not yet suffocated the city into its August nap. On the corner a vendor sells apricots and cherries by the case from his Ape Vespa utility moped. An elderly man steadies his wife on a stool as they reach over the fence to harvest nespole (medlar) from a locked-up schoolyard.

At another school, children bounce around piles of luggage as their mothers chat. Suddenly they stiffen and turn, like savannah animals, at the sound of the bus arriving. They stuff their bags into the bus’ viscera and barely wave good-bye. They are off to their summer “colony,” mostly sea or lakeside villas that benefactors donated to the working children of Milan long ago. Once they fled summer fevers, now it’s summer headlines.

In the park, dogs flop and pant on grass that is still fresh and green. A tennis ball splashes in a muddy puddle. The “bivouackers” dry their sodden sleeping bags and cardboard in the band shelter while someone strums a guitar. Across the way, the bells and whistles of the bumper cars and merry-go-round sing their siren song. A cloud of dust follows a ball over the gravel strip between the t-shirt goalposts. Little boys yell “goal.” Tonight we’ll hear the yells of the big boys as the European football championship grinds on.

Musicians tune their instruments in a nearby bar as the waiters set out cubes of focaccia. Brakes squeak as girl rides up on her bicycle. It’s early for aperitivo, but there are no more seats around the barrel tables at the nearby enoteca. The owner pulls out some crates that wobble sending some olives rolling. A curious dog tugs on his leash and wishes it were focaccia bread instead.

I think of Browning’s poem “Pippa’s Song.” And despite the terrible few weeks, this Friday in Milan can make you believe “All’s right with the world.”

Madeleine Johnson has written her "Notebook" column for more than a decade. She lived in Italy for almost 30 years, mostly in Milan, before returning to the U.S. in 2017. Her work has been published in the "Financial Times" and "New York Post."