The laden clunk of the tumbler aperta la porta to a once familiar scene, now cloaked in inky night with glowing orbs of sulphur in between. In the dark, every sound reports like a cannon: the scrape of sandals on stone and a curious word echo like insults to the evening’s peace.
Ancient homes disappear down dead-end alleys, and the valley below is lost except for static penlights like fireflies caught –immobile– in jars. Stillness sets as no stillness does at day; no wind to blow, no churching bells to pray. Il Capo Gatto, Nerone, oily black and languid, brushes past my calf as he slinks to the piazza, blending into buildings and shadow to join la festa where all cats come to play.
Owls break the treaty with searching calls for prey, accompanied by the noxious click of nighttime insetti, thousands of legs stroking tinny, overstressed strings — an ensemble senza maestro. To wander in their music is to hear beetles skitter and the reproachful scratch of leaves against each other, a chorus of brittle fingernails on stone. In the orchestra pit, a praying mantis cinched in her high-collared green vestments squares off with a treacherously patient spider who has set his hundred eyes on something fat and juicy in between.
Midnight in paradise, a spell that keeps the curious awake, I’m equally clothed in darkness so as not to offend or distract or pierce in any way. The dulcet sounds of a woman’s aria call to me in muted notes from behind a solitary window where a man’s silhouette moves in the light. From his chimney curls the aroma of fired bread; through his door, the sound of a glass refilled; this in harmony to celebrate the birth of a new day.
What witchcraft is this? Perhaps the haunted dreams of every Civitonici collect here in shadows where gardens grow black and holes are endless; where unsteady feet trip on uneven stones. The moon winks shyly from behind her filmy negligee of haze, half as full as she’ll be as we approach the harvest days. Fall’s crisp air settles down, layer upon layer, building a foggy comforter of clouds that buffers us as we sleep. As the houses settle, the stone and wood creak, like buildings dreaming the dreams of those inside.
No flies, no mosquitoes, no tourists, no planes, no bells, no tractors, no scooters, no festivals, no masses, no tables, no chairs, no plates, no tablecloths. No gate too high, no stone too cold, no street deserted so long as I walk there. There is only adventurous anonymity, a string of lamplights that bow in yolky haloes, and my eyes, which search to make sense and remember the secret shades of the witching hour in Civita.