One Ray the More, One Shade the Less / Un Raggio in Più, un Ombra di Meno

Do I have enough of your trust that you’ll allow me to rouse you from your warm covers before sunrise on a chilly morning? Have we been together long enough for you to know that you won’t be disappointed in what you’ll find?

That’s what Civita seemed to ask me this morning as my right eye opened, followed by my left, just before the 7 am bells began to ring. I’ve been thinking for weeks about waking early to discover the sunrise, but the moment did not feel opportune until today; every experience has its right time.

From bed, I could see the world barely clinging to its nighttime cloak –the sky, the rooftops, the alleys, the tufa– all shrouded in bruised shades of purple, the same color as the early morning hollows underneath my eyes. Inexplicably compelled, I tossed back the comforter and pulled on my glasses, jeans, and a sweatshirt, circling my black pashmina around my neck and mouth, like a bedouin wrapped against the desert.

The sky’s tint bled from aubergine to Campari red on the skyline, then a bright arancia in time for me to reach the bend at the end of the road next to the forbidden garden — a perfect vantage point. As soon as the sun pulsed its sulphuric scald over the edge of the mountain range, the shades of purple fell like heavy velvet to reveal a gossamer red drape that instantly warmed my naked toes.

Like arriving just as a play begins, I wondered if I might have missed an important prologue as I sat down on the stone step with quiet attention.

Sunrise in Civita… a giant flower with a white-hot corona so scalding that its after-image remained burned in my retinas even minutes after looking away. As my vision cleared, I noticed a light haze hanging in the valley, the heavy, cold air pulling vapor down to the earth, as if it could hide there from the sun’s laser light. Down in the mist, roosters crowed back and forth, their calls punctuated by a donkey’s raspy hee-haw, one and then the other.

As the tufa burned an even brighter red –a wall of hot coals to my left– the sun’s light revealed thick interweaving snail-trails: a golden, glittery network of iridescent threads where I’ve only ever seen soft, dull rock.

Like the progressive colors in a lava lamp, the light turned from crimson to green, reflecting the chlorophyll in all of the plant matter that surrounded me. A colony of mossy spots on the wall at my right were still damp with dew and soft like my seaweed green chenille pillows back home. As my fingers explored those cool, downy mounds, I heard a babbling brook through a nearby grate: the sweet gurgling sounds of gray water running through secret passages all the way down to Viterbo.

Brighter and brighter, shifting from emerald green to a warm, juicy flood of Fanta orange, the sunlight sought out and destroyed dark corners one by one. I looked up from the retreating shadows to find a half-full moon directly overhead, bold in its reflection as the sun in its projection. Selene refused to cede the sky; I’ve never witnessed the moon stand so firm against a coming dawn.

A kennel of dogs yapped madly for their breakfast down in the valley as I took in the flawless crystal-blue panorama of sky, which foretold of un buonissimo giorno d’inverno ahead. The mists began to rise, giving the chalky calanchi mountains a white canvas backdrop while the lower hills grew dimmer beneath them from the rising gray steam.

Dead leaves played follow-the-leader in a small cyclone at my feet as I snuggled deeper into my pashmina, my fingertips turning icy numb. It was only then that I could smell the dryness in the air — that crisp, autumn odor laced with a hint of smokiness that seems to pry humidity from us as we breathe. Summer is truly over.

In the wind’s whip of the dry reed grass to brush my arm, there was suddenly full daylight around me, thrusting me from a sultry sonnambulist’s journey into the expected daytime enchantment of Civita. The snail trails had disappeared, and now I saw the same sunshine on the rocks that everyone sees – that yolky yellow Lazio light that inspires the lamps to seethe golden at night.

As if to conclude the program, the gentle thunder of a jet roared above me on its way to Rome –where I’ll find myself next week– but the con trail was lost in the blue.

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