Tizi is on the phone with a health-care professional up the hill, at the hospital in San Marino. It’s the day before our departure. Both of us have just tested positive for Covid. Over here they call it a tampone–the skewers that go up your nose and into your sinus cavities, swabbing around for evidence of the plague. We get our test at the pharmacy in Grotta Rossa, a little drive-through village between San Marino and Rimini. The pharmacist takes us, one at a time, outside onto the drive, turns us in the direction of the sunlight, and in go the tampone and out they come, and we walk, blinking back the tears, back inside to pay the 15 euros each. The pharmacist says she’ll have results in 15 minutes.
I’m cursed with the gift of waking up early. It’s morning in Matera, in a cramped hotel room whose main redeeming quality is the view.
I always leave a hotel early in the morning, before Tizi gets up, before the breakfast service. I leave with a “biglietto di visita” in my pocket, so if I get run down by a car or knocked out and robbed, whoever stumbles upon my body will know what hotel I belong to and inform relevant parties of my temporarily compromised condition or, worse, my demise.
March 19 is St. Joseph day. Father’s Day in Italy. March 20 is Spring Equinox. We’re celebrating. Sort of. We’re cleaning the garage. Not something I ever imagined doing in Italy.
Three floors below us is one of two parking garages. Each of the ten apartments in this building comes with a designated garage space, complete with a locking door, behind it an area just large enough for one very small car and some garage-appropriate junk. We’ve never used the garage. I think most of the residents don’t use their garage because it would mean five minutes of back-and-forth maneuvering to get a car in or out of its little stall unscathed. Tizi and I have been coming here together since 1978. Until a few years ago, I’d never seen our garage. Tizi always said her Zio kept some stuff in there. Zio Pino. Pino short for, the diminutive of, Giuseppe. Joseph.
At the rental car desk some years back, in the pre-cellphone era, I asked the guy handing me car keys the best way into the city. Following his advice, from the tangenziale, which cruises through town next to the A-14 toll road, I took the Via Stalingrado exit and somehow found my way to Piazza VIII Agosto, where there is a large underground parking garage. Bologna is a big city. When I drove into Manhattan to visit our son, I found one way into the city and stuck with it. Same thing here. When I get to Via Stalingrado (formerly Via Masceralla, until 1949), I know the way. I can breathe easy.
“Try,” I say. “You either hear something or you don’t.”
It’s 4:00 a.m. She wants me to hear a bird. I want to hear the bird. I get up and walk to the foot of the bed where there are double doors that open onto a balcony. We have the serrande lowered all the way to shut out most of the light and provide a little dead air space. Every morning, without fail, I hear a dove out there. Wherever I am in the apartment I hear the dove. Also a couple roosters will start up in another 30-45 minutes. I’ll hear those. But this bird, the one she has been remarking on the last few mornings, I do not hear.
We see Nicola, the son of one of Tizi’s cousins. He’s in the travel business. I ask him how things are, if work is picking up since Covid. He says, Yes, and now there is the war. Later, his sister’s husband, Tomaso, who is in the food business, when I ask how things are, says, Well, first there was Covid, now the war.
It’s over there. I read about the war every morning. But it’s over there.
As a small-town guy raised Protestant, I grew up thinking a carnival (“a carnival,” not “carnival”) was 3-4 trucks that came to town, driven by ruffians who set up a Ferris Wheel, the Tilt-a-Whirl, a House of Mirrors, and a few games like Ring Toss, Milk Bottle Pyramid, and the Basketball Shoot. Hey, there’s a carnival in Pinconning. Wanna go?
We’re short on time, not sure we can see both Murano and Burano, and make it to the train station on time. We decide on Burano. Which you reach by getting on one of Venice’s water buses, also known as a traghetto, roaring away from the main islands, past the floating cemetery, past Murano and its glass factories, 40 minutes across the lagoon.
Venice is a conundrum. For many, it’s a torture. For some, it’s an ethereal mysterious place that repays repeated visits.
In the summer it’s hot and humid. And in the summer it’s crowded, horribly so. And in the summer, rising from the canals, there can be a smell. Unlike American cities we love, take New York, for example, which is also hot and also crowded and also smelly, Venice is not perpendicular.
Tizi and I arrive in San Marino on a Thursday afternoon, focus the rest of that day on getting heat turned on, hot water flowing. After 14 hours of travel, it would be nice to have a shower? From the need-to-do-right-away list, pick one and get busy. Mop the floors. Pick up the carcasses of the cimicie, local bugs that like to come indoors and die. Shake out sheets laid over a few pieces of furniture. And dust. Dusting is your new career. Launch the washing machine. Make beds. Look out the window to make sure everything is still there. Shaggy pine trees? Check. Mountain? Right where we left it. Elementary school? Check. Adjacent homes, castle, green hillside, park and dog run, construction cranes, vineyards? All checks.