Blazing pre-summer night. When you aren’t yet prepared to be exposed to the nocturnal heat waves, while the air conditioners are still dozing in their winter hibernation. A little fan sitting on the window sill labors bravely to shift some air around and offers minimum relief. From heavysh pajamas and thick comforter a few days ago to – instantly- where the hell did I put the summer nighties? Prelude of another intense New York summer, the kind that melts your makeup while you’re applying it, and then you give up. And all that should vanish in the night – the terrifying unknown that is the future with its sad trail of anxieties and fears – dances deliriously, tauntingly, before you wide open eyes. But, in the land of air conditioning, we shall not suffer incessantly. Get in the car and turn on the ‘cool’; enter the music-infused environment of a department store, discount store, even your local grocery, and the welcome embrace of chillier temperatures will soothe your edgy nerves. It’s definitely ‘doable’, summer in the US. Just keep that insanely delicious Trader Joe’s mango sorbet in the freezer (please!).
It had been a while, I wasn’t quite used to it any more. August in Portici, Southern Italy, the perennial heat wave. Some years ago, visiting my family, my parents still alive and energetic. Staring at the shutters pulled down all the way, except for perhaps 20 centimeters (that’s how you properly shut the window), humidity-laden night air sluggishly permeating the bedroom, warm and sticky, gluing the faultlessly pressed cotton sheets to your legs. No fans available (la corrente, per carità, fa male, soprattutto ai bambini! My mother, horrified at the thought of a ‘draft’ that could instantaneously make us ill). Listening to insomniac dogs bark, witnessing the hazy-orange break of dawn, unable to even attempt to doze off. Looking at my children sleeping – though fitfully – in the ambiguous embrace of a Mediterranean summer. Voices, with their strong Neapolitan accents, rose up to the fifth floor, comforting, soothing, unwitting lullabies, though uneasy reminders of a place that used to belong to me, but no more.
Time-traveling a bit (well, more than a bit). Rimini, Emilia-Romagna, on the Adriatic coast. We were very young, my siblings and I, with me around fourteen. Road trip from Naples, meandering through Italy, North-bound, exploring cities and towns we hadn’t seen before. Rimini/Riccione, the hot spots of summer fun, famous for exciting nightclubs where popular singers performed, expensive beaches packed tight with colored umbrellas and hundreds of barely bathing-suited sun worshippers, their evenly bronzed skin spread lavishly with Coppertone suntan lotion. The place to be, trendy, cool and all those other adjectives associated with the ‘it’ summer resort. My little heart was beating furiously with the emotion of being on such legendary ground. Of course, traveling with my parents meant finding the most reasonably-priced (i.e. real cheap) pensione, away form the madding crowds of the hopping areas, on the outskirts of town where you couldn’t even catch a note of the pounding music exploding from the fashionable bars patronized by those who knew how to have fun. One room, narrow beds to squeeze into, me and my sister usually sharing. A no-frills room on an end-of-July night, no fans (air-conditioning? Practically non-existent in those days), but two large windows. Which of course had to be kept ajar so that those evil ‘drafts’ wouldn’t make us all wake up with bronchitis the next morning…Shifting in a squeaking bed, my restless sister pushing me toward the edge, attempting to doze off in a somewhat comfortable position, the sheets kicked off, then pulled up again (maybe they had cooled?), my parents bickering under their breath – in a bed a few feet to the side – blaming each other for the poor decision of coming to Rimini at the height of the season and of the heat nightmare. I lay there, resigned to an endless white night, wishing it away, imagining hours at the ‘in’ beach, my new sexish swimsuit, all those boys with flowing blond hair playing tamburelli and drinking Cokes, just like I saw on TV…(Never happened, the beach. Torniamo indietro, said babbo. Sigh.).
Life continues to repeat itself. But one never learns. And the pain never quite ceases. Steaming summer nights forever.