A City in Expectation / Una Città in Attesa

A hushed stage reset: Raphele sprays the piazza down wet as the hazy miasma floats north and west. Even insects take rest, as I can attest — they’ve stopped feasting freely on my arms and my legs.

Dishes clank as they’re stacked, glasses clink in the rack, and silverware clangs as its cleaned by nonplussed bar maids. Punctuating the din, the silence of wiping and then –kaboom!– a pounding abounding from the Trattoria Antico Forno.

As if on cue, a young priest crosses in view, navigating the piazza soundlessly in his high-collared frock. Services or festival, who knows? Inside he goes, his robes billow behind him, black like a cloud. Friday at three, only the piazza and me, writing notes from my perch on the bench.

Waitresses emerge, cell phones in hand, loro fumano le sigarette while they talk with their hands. Chiacchierrare or chit-chat we say, they slink into the shade and lean up against walls with long gamine frames. Delicate puffs escape their fast-moving lips; in moda bella they appear irritated yet bored, hands set on hips.

With a huff and a click, the calls end in a tiff — and so, too, concludes the first act of the day.

Act II begins as clouds roll past again, signalling our cast that their afternoon audience is here. As the sun emerges, so do the tourists, heralded by —scratch, scratch— the grinding of sandals on stones. A corpulent herd, they waddle through town; a man caresses his belly and a dull roar abounds as terrible bambini burst into the square.

Crowds of locusts descend, sposati and friends, they pour in like lava in irrepressible waves. They slurp from the fountain hose like field animals at troughs – how uncivilized this acqua minerale naturale! I’d offer a glass, but my guess is they’d pass; after all, qual è la differenza?

The priest, sensing them queue, abandons his pew and emerges on the piazza’s quickly drying dirt stage. His hand finds his cross -a wooden albatross?- he tugs hard to unloosen it, like it’s too heavy to bear. He pretends not to see the tourists or me, so intent on his path out of Civita’s square.

Basta -enough- with that I give up, too many people snap-snapping photos of this house and that. Baci con Alessandra and “Salve!” a Bernardo; they move through the piazza without stopping to rest. What takes place in Act III we likely won’t see – though the smell of the fires gives us a hint.

Each day the piazza expects such shows — mad morning rush and afternoon tours. Secondo me, the quiet moments of preparation in between speak best to the soul that’s held here. Cleaning dishes by hand, watering patios and sand, and smelling the breeze as it elevates the aroma of bread. With slight sounds from our feet, Civitonici step through the streets, lithe and invisible like cats amused by a divine comedy.

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