Sketches of Italy


Tennessee Williams heat; sadistic, the kind that nourishes tension and laughs wildly, triumphantly as the bead of sweat which inches down a furrowed brown hits the floor like a piston. The race of rage begins; love and civility buckling in the heavy heat.

But for now all is quiet within. The shuttered windows frame a bustling world outside; the humdrum of a weekend evening in Florence wafting up from the streets below. And so it plays out – a symphony of continental sound: the clamour of rich Italian chatter punctuated by the percussion of dinnerware. Another meal over, plates left half-finished – prosciuttos, pastas, pizzas the size of cartwheels arriving too late to the game. Heat wins again – lethargy has set in and so they reach languidly for a cigarette, rotating it gently in their weary hands before taking a drag; just enough to breathe temporary life into their veins and fervour into their conversation.

It is ten o’clock. Somewhere far off a woman is singing and above it all – calm and unwavering – rings the stretching silence of the Tuscan sky.


Throngs of tourists; a line that inches painfully slowly on, but on nonetheless. What are they searching for? Culture? History? Air conditioning? Whatever their purpose they want it with fervour; the flocks of fanning leaflets and droplets of water poured ravenously down dry throats act as medals of these desires.

Further on, the train of wearisome feet forms a snake, curving in on itself, oscillating left and right with bodies drawing uncomfortably close – an unpleasantry made bearable only by the sight of the entrance – tangible; a glistening gateway to whatever end they seek. Within these doors lies a land where, regardless of purpose, joints may rest and beads of sweat recede. And Art reigns. A temple in her worship erected in a city whose every corner echoes her glorious history. Paintings, sculptures wreathed in nature and words – dancing – on the heavy air.


Once clear-cut, the dusky silhouette of the Apennines recedes, consumed hungrily by the growling storm’s music. Its strains grow louder, competing with the sorrowful quiver of a man’s bow against his strings; an elegiac accompaniment to the procession of clouds which move sombrely on, mourning the quiet death of the light.

The musician lifts his eyes from his instrument to the skies above, seeing perhaps in those darkening clouds and vanishing mountains a flicker of something once suppressed – a feeling, a memory, a consciousness of some irremovable melancholy in the tune of his past. A deeper groan rolls over the evening sky. He collects himself. A jig, he thinks – yes – it’s time to play a jig.


His was a face dressed cruelly by all lights. At dawn, hit square on by the low Italian sun, it wore a fixed expression of one reacting with hostility to interrogation. At high noon, when the hidden youth of others emerged tentatively, revelling in diminished shadows and the summer breeze, the angle of his jaw became inelegant – haggard even. And at dusk, when the heavy set features of his face could have suggested a weary but admirable wisdom, they only became sunken and grave.

Yet in spite of all this, those who looked on him were conscious – perhaps by the way he held himself or by the soft timbre of his voice – of an irrepressible vitality; a zealous encouragement of all around him. If the eyes condemned him the soul could not for something about this man indicated that the beating of his own heart was as strong and interminable as the line carved through the sky by the mighty Apennines above him.


The players bustle impatiently in the wings. Their stage – a trio of pools set glistening under the Tuscan sun – lies empty; a scattering of cornflower blue swatches liberated from the sky above. Around these the scenery stands obediently still – majestic cypress trees denying the morning breeze passage and the immoveable mountains stubborn as ever.

A sudden murmur ripples through the throngs outside and a hush descends – the doors are opening. Disarmed of their impatience, the crowd surges involuntarily forward, finding themselves thrust under the glaring theatre lights before they can gather their senses. Pandemonium erupts as groups scatter frantically between pools and recliners, unsure of their role in the unfolding spectacle. Desperately flung towels pepper the air and, out of nowhere, a child – unconscious of the territorial battle scene about her – disturbs the scenery with an almighty splash. The shadows of Italy trembling in the shallow waters are obliterated in a second, catapulted high into the air in a thousand fantastic diamonds.

To the stage master this is mayhem – a score of planned intricacies abandoned and undermined – but to the onlooker this is life. As the initial rush subsides, panic stricken eyes relax and the atmosphere becomes one of excitable but pleasant commotion. Up in the gods the pines rustle their applause and by way of a bow each face below bestows itself with a smile – radiating up to their faithful spectators the brilliant warmth of the ten o’clock sun.


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