First day(s) of spring


I’m sorry I didn’t think to check on the exact instant of the equinox in order to give Venice an appropriate little salute.  I knew this anniversary was imminent and now I’ve discovered it was two days ago.

In any case, most of the signs have been with us for a while now.  I can report that March came in like a lamb, but seeing how screwy the weather has become, I have no idea what sort of animal its departure is going to resemble.  Maybe a bumblebee bat or a star-nosed mole.  I’ll let you know.

Despite the polar blitz of February all over Europe, the peach blossoms from Sicily have made their annual appearance at the Rialto market. They've turned out to be more reliable than the blackbirds.

Little bouquets of carletti making their brief appearance at the market. I'll be honest: They have no flavor. The joy in making risotto of them rests (in my view) entirely on the fact that they are so few and so fleeting.

Yesterday we rowed to Sant’ Erasmo to forage for some carletti. Unhappily, we didn’t find any at all, which is slightly disturbing (check one “sign of spring” off the life list).  So we brought home a big bag full of dandelion greens instead. Lino’s happy because he says it’s good for “purifying the blood.”   My grandfather did the same, he said, by dosing himself with blackstrap molasses.  That’ll wake you up, no matter what it may do to your blood.  I intuit that this instinct is somehow related to the rousing-from-winter-lethargy/hibernation process we watch on the Discovery Channel.

Bruscandoli, or wild hops, deliver more flavor, but at a price: 4 euros per "etto," or hectogram. This works out to about $25 per pound -- not that you'd buy a pound. You might as well buy a hectogram of red diamonds.

Speaking of rousing, though, I am still awaiting one fundamental sign of spring, which is the blackbirds singing at dawn.  Every year I have heard one — evidently assigned to our neighborhood by the Chief Herald — which began to sing exactly at 4:00 AM.  It was uncanny.  I’m not saying I’ve been getting up at that hour specifically to hear it, though it would certainly be worth it.  But considering that I’m up anyway, its solitary cadenzas always made the morning beautiful even while it was still dark.

So far, I’ve heard one (1) blackbird singing at 6:30 PM.  Of course it can sing whenever it wants to, but I cannot fathom why I’m not hearing any before then. Frankly, I don’t understand how the sun — or me, for that matter — has managed to rise without it.

For those who may be craving an animal announcing spring, look for some seppie. This is a beautifully fresh one. If it could sing, I wouldn't be missing the blackbirds so much.

At any rate, my favorite phase of spring is already past.  Anybody can love spring when the flowers begin to bloom (I’ve already seen early blossoms sneaking out of their buds on a few plum and almond trees, and of course there will be a deluge of jasmine and wisteria before long).  But I love spring when the weather is still cold and unfriendly but you can just begin to detect tiny wisps of earlier sunlight and see even tinier buds on the trees just beginning to expand with their extremely tiny leaves, awaiting some signal I’ll never detect.

Once the daffodils come out, spring is so obvious that I consider it to be essentially over.

You can set your "Now It's Spring" watch by the Easter eggs in the window at Mascari, which displays the handmade Ur-egg each year. This phenomenon is roughly the size of an egg laid by the Great Elephant Bird of Madagascar (not made up), though it probably tastes better.


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Categories : Food, Nature


  1. Alberto says:

    I also love to hear the blackbirds sing. I can’t wait to take a video of one of their “concerts”.
    Alberto recently theme park tickets

    • Erla Zwingle says:

      Interesting that you would think of making a video of something audible. Perhaps sound recording, like writing with a fountain pen, has now passed to the realm of the quaint folkways of the past. In any case, I spent a lot of dawns last spring recording the blackbirds and have made myself slightly insane trying to pick the one I like best. Check my next post to hear what I heard just outside the kitchen window in the dark last April 21.

  2. Krystyna says:

    I love bruscandoli, and just wanted to note that they are hop plants, just wrongly called “wild asparagus” because of their looks or taste maybe… some links: