24 August 2012

TESSERAE - 1 - Santa Severa, Italy


A great sandcastle glows in the ailing sun. Where once Etruscans may have wondered what the future held, a group of Somalis spread their printed cloths and characteristic trinkets.  The castle rises imposingly above the sea, with a skein of plaited hair blowing in the breeze from a window high above the rocky beach. 

We wander hungrily along the main street, away from the sea, remembering a distant time when we met the President, Scalfaro, with his daughter, on a winter Sunday pre-prandial stroll, bodyguards as tall as giant sequoias at all compass points, their long blue coats flapping to reveal ordnance to make a polar bear melt, the bleak white beach ours to share….. 

We are favoured, and the best restaurant has the best table for us.  It doesn’t matter what it is called, nor whether we dreamt it, but we asked for a table; the man said, only inside; we hesitated; he said this one; we sat outside; the sea scrawled against the sand; a table full of children dined with delightful dignity under the filling moon.

Within minutes all the other spaces were filled and the purple night glowed with smoky voices.  Salty, lemony wine filled our glasses, and we feasted like Neptune: salad of sea fruits; ravioli filled with cernia (grouper) and a mixed grill of fish with grilled vegetables.  There is no need to say this didn’t, couldn't happen; it happened then and there and nothing could have been better.

In the morning the sky is like wet newspaper.  A strong breeze protests against our shutters, the waves beat the shore in agitated discomfort.  We take an umbrella and two lettini, but the wind forces the umbrella down and we have to retreat into the bar, like hermit crabs frightened of the shadows falling across our threshold.  As the sky haemorrhages light, bleeding warmth and summer, a finger stretches down to the surface, like god’s to Adam’s on the Sistine ceiling, and in a distant boil a spout of grey waters whirls up to the clouds. 

Then, as the sun returns to life, a Carabinieri boat drives out to caution nature, the waters calm, and we spill out to read our newspapers, children to dig and cry, middle aged men to play beachball.

The sand castle punctuates the skyline; Pyrgi and its ancient past has seen it all.  Somalis are not new.  Landings, sinkings, drownings, beatings, restings, singings and fishings:  the past informs the present, though the present doesn’t know.  We swim in the same water that baptised Constantine, that washed St Paul, our souls every bit as powerful as the grains of sand under our feet, waiting to be boiled into crystal by the dazzling sun.

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