In Rome, one doesn’t just “take the heat”, she absorbs it, assimilates it, becomes it. I describe Rome as a sexy, gritty city all year round but in summer, like much of the Mediterranean, it becomes even more so. Skin glistens dark bronze to deep ebonies; the showing of skin allows a glimpse of soul.Yesses flow more freely than during the less-scantily-clad year. We find ourselves in one hot and steamy locker room after a really good, endorphin-building workout. Stares linger. The very fact that this decidedly non-athlete can conjure such an image is testimony to the fact that our very atoms are shaken-up and turned around in summer heat.
In my primer years, before becoming fully Italian, I would roll around naked on the ceramic tile floors of my newlywed apartment in a small bowl of a city in Tuscany, framed so closely by the Apennines so as to prohibit the passage of air. My soft, white, New England flesh would absorb the cool from the ceramic tiles. I’d weep for the heat, rolling from one row of tiles to the next. I’d pine for a New England chill.
It has not gotten any less hot in Italy, in fact, conventional wisdom tells us it is getting hotter. And yet, like most Romans I know, I come to life in summer. The stream of warm air flowing through the city of Rome, not dissimilar to an eager lover’s warm breath on your neck, is a welcome change to the lack of air in the bowled Tuscan cities of the Apennines.
It is so hot as to defy the ordinary; high heels of slim sandals sink into the sidewalk; technology flits and wanes, the electrical system in my car only works at night. My eyelids weigh, my breathing slows, I become a slightly southern drawl-version of my former self.
The post-sunset life of summer in Rome brings promise and promiscuity. Promise of promiscuity. As my fiery Sicilian friend says, it is a time to throw out the seed without giving it too much thought and then, come fall, harvest whatever grows! And it takes no prisoners. We all, for a time, become as sultry as the air that invades our very being and every corner of every room. There is something to be said for the adjustment to climate and seasons on the part of the human race. Adapting to nature, in and of itself, affects our inner being in a humbling way, adding an element of perspective, deeper meaning and, well, proportion to our livelihoods and daily routine. How important can that deadline be in the face of 105 degrees in the shade?
The earth tells us to slow down and rearrange and when legislation, private and public enterprise follow the earth’s suggestions, even those of us with an innate puritan work ethic feel validated. We adapt without guilt. We are molasses by day and crisp, white wine by night. We revel in the evening breeze until the wee hours.
We wake early, too, with few hours’ sleep but with that vigour from the night similar to that which a new flirt provides. Our endorphins rise to the occasion and we adjust. It’s mating season.
With bedroom windows open and heavy, dark, louvered shutters ajar, the city’s couples turn to each other in the deep of the night. One becomes accustomed to the love-making schedule and rhythms of one’s neighbours. At first I pummelled the mattress and held the pillow tightly on my head. Now I simply let the sounds lull me back to sleep with a tiny smile on my lips. Slightly embarrassed for them and with a blush, I allow myself to hear their peaks and valleys which seem, from a comfortable distance, to utterly satisfy. I imagine they fall into a deep sleep, the cooling night air streaming in through their shutters and over their spent bodies.
As I fall back asleep, I think of the thousands of juxtapositions facing me daily in this, the sexy, gritty, holy city; the city of the sacro e profano. Just as the Pope will address thousands of worshipers this morning, the day of Rome’s Patron Saints Peter and Paul, at the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, those same pilgrims will be back at the Feast of Saint Paul’s tonight drinking, eating, dancing and making merry until the wee hours of the morning when the festivities culminate in fireworks for all to see and feel and emulate. Every night this summer there will be a saint’s feast somewhere in the city of Rome and at every feast the explosion of color and spark and sound. And in every corner of every room an explosion of color and spark and sound.