Summer ended last Saturday night. It’s always like this: One minute you’re sweltering in the hellish heat of summer, the air over the city pressing down on you like a hot sponge full of mildew, sweat trickling down your spine, then suddenly, overnight, it’s fall.
We had the long- and desperately-awaited break in the weather toward midnight on Saturday, announced by a long period of rumbling and groaning from the sky. When we get the storms which always hit toward the end of June, Venetians say that the thunder is the sound of St. Peter cleaning the barrels (St. Peter’s feast day is June 29, as you know.)
I can’t say what this noise might have been. St. Peter moving great-grandfather’s mahogany tallboy?
Whatever was going on, we got some drops of rain, then the wind shifted, and there went summer. The next morning a strapping bora was blowing, raising some whitecaps out in the lagoon, and a light jacket felt very good.
Of course the days are still hot. This will continue till October, probably. But the heat lacks conviction. It seems to be fading from underneath. The light becomes paler, as if the sun were worn out from nearly four months of blazing and hasn’t got the strength to make it all the way to the ground. I love cuspy moments like this.
Curiously, the thunder wasn’t associated with any lightning that I could see from my prone position through barely open eyes. All summer long the lightning (“lampe“) tells you all you need to know about the upcoming weather, at least for the next six hours until the tide turns. Here’s the lore:
“Lampe da ponente, no lampe par gnente” (Lightning in the west, it’s not happening for nothing — that is, there will be rain).
“Lampe da tramontana, tuta caldana” (Lightning in the mountains, it’s all just heat. The tramontana is also the north wind which comes from those mountains).
“Lampe da levante, dorme, dorme tartagnante” (Lightning in the east, sleep peacefully, tartagnante — nothing’s going to happen). The tartagnante (tar-tan-YAN-tey) was a person who fished aboard a boat called a tartana. The boat is extinct, therefore so too is its fisherman. He would have rowed his boat, or even sailed it, slowly along the deeper lagoon channels keeping to the edge — called the “gingiva,” or “gum” (as in what anchors your teeth) — of the canal, dragging his net (also called a tartana) behind him. When he was finished, he would have one of those wonderful lagoon hauls, a bit of everything.
I see in my Venetian dictionary that in days of yore, “tartana” was also an expression for “love handles” (a comparison to the net floating out behind the boat, I’m guessing). It gives a nice image of extra fullness, though I can imagine it being used with a slightly less than complimentary tone of voice or expression. Nobody uses the term anymore; I don’t know that anybody would even understand what it meant.
Back to the lightning: I notice that there isn’t any apothegm to describe the significance of lightning in the south. Maybe it never happens.
Speaking of cusps, the market at the Rialto is currently a little sonata to the change of seasons. There are still peaches and melons (though they too are becoming insincere, being either dry and flavorless or mushy and flavorless); the apricots have long since disappeared, though some deranged vendors are still offering small quantities of cherries at prices which would mean that if you bought a few you’d obviously be planning to cover them with gold leaf.
What’s been coming in are the purple things: eggplant and plums and grapes, fruit shading from purple-blue to purple-black. And lots and lots of mushrooms —chiodini and finferli and porcini.
There are also pomegranates, which if I had won the lottery last week as I had intended I would buy by the metric ton and squeeze into juice. As it is, I just admire them and move on.
I see that the first apples and pears are showing up, which is heathen. It may well be true that the harvest is on in the sub-Alpine plantations of the Val di Non and Val Venosta, but we’re going to be restricted to apples and pears for the entire winter, six eternal months of pears and apples. I don’t start on them till there’s absolutely no alternative.