In Civita, fall is a temptress, slowly drawing warmth from the air. At first, we gladly allow the heat to take its leave — every step falls with less effort, the hills feel less steep, and our foreheads less fevered during the climb home. In denial, we insist that summer has weeks more to go; after all, skies are blue, determined tourists continue to trudge through town, and clothes dry quickly on the line.
The dying flit of a brown moth on the windowsill, lacking the strength to escape outside, tells a different story.
Autumn charms us with her veneer of relief: mesmerizing clouds explode and contract in slow motion, pulling us under the drowsy swell of afternoon naps. No longer crashing like waves, the babbling brook of leaves around Civita’s perimeter sings a lullaby from tree to tree, punctuated only by the gentle twitters of small birds returning from vacation in far-off lands.
Standing next to the Marchesa’s house, which hangs on a precarious outcropping, it’s possible to smell the beginning of harvest in the agriturismi below. The fields may be green, but there is a turning –a fermenting– at work that the nose senses first. When the breeze momentarily regains its strength, warm, smoky draughts from Antonio’s bruschetteria mix with the fragrant air, and a secret is revealed: fall is stealthily stalking us.
Manuela agrees, the seasons are changing. Tightly clad in leggy sinew, she sits outside her Osteria d’Agnese to down a plate of bruschetta con pomodori on the steps after the lunch rush subsides. She personifies that time between summer and fall — at the edge of youth set to fade, but delayed by a penetrating will of firm resolve — like those last few hot afternoons in late September when everyone pretends it’s possible for summer to last. Given the option, I’ll place my Euros on Manuela’s beauty to last many more rounds; summer is fighting a losing battle and will concede the match long before she does.
For more proof, lean against the edge next to Maria’s house, which overlooks the remains of the old Roman road. Atop a crumbled stone wall, which quickly falls into nothingness, cling a few straw-colored clumps of dead grasses — telling victims of a dying season. Down below to the left, a gutted ruin that was once a house blooms wild with verdant trees and vines, but don’t be fooled; they’re simply the last to go.
My heart leapt to see Gaia and Bernardo’s doors and windows open, but it was only the cleaning service ensuring that all is in its place, which is really what autumn is all about. Fall is meant to fatten us and hold us fast in the sweetest ways –harvest festivals, fresh nuts, squash vegetables, and wine– until it’s too late to outrun winter. She keeps us distracted by brilliant leaves, temperate breezes, and afternoons of long pink light so that we forget to dread the cold, dark months ahead.
To be sure, upon returning home I found Tony cleaning the hearths, moving dustpans of ashes atop piles of dead leaves. The strained light barely filters through the pergola at five in the afternoon, and the sun will disappear behind Il Nuovo by six. Surprisingly, even flies have little strength to annoy, and the mosquitoes have abandoned their relentless pursuit.
From Astra’s garden, the dying sun shines warm on Lubriano’s sand-colored buildings and ginger-toned roofs –a ray of hope– but on my return to La Sala I notice that Tony’s basil is nearly picked clean from last month’s culinary endeavors. Seemingly, only Betty’s kitten, who we have nicknamed Due Mila Dieci, is still filled with enough summer optimism to pounce on potential enemies like weeds with any sense of verve or élan.
A lone minute-man coming to warn us of the impending fall, I watched a grasshopper heave himself inside my kitchen window with his last burst of energy. I could almost hear him sigh as he leaned against the window frame to expire, mere inches away from the dead moth. He wasn’t quite as green as his brethren who have spent months hopping gleefully between Tony’s tomato vines, but I suppose we all lose our bloom with time.
I brightened for a moment when I saw his antennae twitch back and forth, but then I realized that it was only the wind.