Then and Now

June 11th, 2021


A bit over a year ago, I walked the streets of Orvieto and glass doors slid open as I passed, to let in —ghosts of the years before. Outside, tables were stacked up, or were simply non-existent. Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

Now glass doors still slide open on streets lined with canopies to keep out the summer sun. The tables are dressed in red and white checkered cloths, places set, perhaps for four, generally for two, napkins held firm against the breeze, weighted down by silverware, (except forks and knives aren’t made of silver any more), glasses in yellow, red and blue (although I prefer them clear so you can see the color of the wine), candles in expectation of being lit. The town itself is waiting, holding its breath, hoping that the tourists and visitors who used to throng these streets will once more amble by, enticing them with offers of tagliatelle al tartufo, rich chocolate -colored boar stew with golden polenta. Come, they seem to say, we are ready for you, life must continue as it was before.

The young man takes his companion by the hand and they slide into their seats, little does it seem to matter which wine to order, for he is drinking in her lovely bare shoulders. As the sun goes down, little children, seems to me there are more than there were a year ago, start to wilt, restless and tired of being told to sit still, of being good, as parents and grandparents study the menu. Masks are still in place but when the food arrives, down they go. The elegant waitress, masked and wearing  what to me looks like a Chanel suit, and Riccardo, the agile owner (also masked) who is an expert on wines, bustle back and forth bringing dishes of pasta, antipastos of melon and prosciutto, fried fritters.  An occasional dog lies obediently at his owner’s feet watching for any of his kind to pass.

Next door at Bistro Miranda the coterie of expats socializes over a glass of wine. No, I’m not one of them. Perhaps I’m no longer considered an expat after having lived in Orvieto more than sixty years. Or perhaps they know I have problems hearing them, despite those small battery run devices in my ears. So I’ll just observe and imagine their conversations.  Does one still have to quarantine going to the UK? And how about Spain? Is the theater going to have any performances this summer? Those music workshops, do you know if they are returning? There used to be so many concerts all summer. There’s going to be an exhibit of Valentini’s paintings – he would have been a hundred this year. I’ve been told some of the American university students are back. The Freccia Rossa train now stops at Orte and you can get to Milan in three hours. They are mostly all retired, having left jobs as managers of some sort or other and having come home to Orvieto to nest where a dignified life style that doesn’t leave them bankrupt is still possible.   I wonder sometimes what they talk about.  Their common language is English although only a few are American. They may be British, or Dutch, or French and what they share is their love of Orvieto. Several also have dogs, often left at home, except for the tiny little one in a carrying bag who isn’t allowed on the street yet until he has had all his vaccinations. They however, the people, have all had their vaccinations and  seem to have a ritual of meeting for an aperitif  or dinner and discussing the events of the day.

On high the wispy clouds have given way to the stars and the moon rises over Ripa Medici where the intoxicating fragrance of the linden trees invades the streets as far as the piazza. The swifts that swooped in groups over the rooftops have gone elsewhere but never stop gliding. I’m told they even sleep on the wing.  

The street is filled with the murmur of conversations and further down, where it turns off into a piazza, young men are roaring by on their motorcycles, apparently the more noise they make the better. A bit over a year ago, which already seems an eternity, it was only the flutter of pigeons.  Yes, life does continue although many of those who were part of the scene, are now having their aperitifs in that other world we hope is really there.

4 thoughts on “Then and Now

  1. I really like this one. It captures a special moment that we will want to remember, a time when things are beginning to feel more normal. Lovely writing too, I love the image of the man “drinking in her bare shoulders….”

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  2. Love this one too, Erika. Very rich narrative and images that are so sweet and hopeful. The contrast between the vaccination of the puppy and the vaccinations of the people is really poignant. With love and deep appreciation for your ability to see – not just to look.

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  3. You and your writing are new to me this very evening. Your fame is growing around Birmingham, AL, and I am so delighted to have heard about you and your book about Orvieto. I used to drive up from Rome fairly frequently when I lived there in the late 1970s, early 1980s. Aside from the charms of the market and the Luca Signorellis, it’s mainly the Etruscans that enchant me. I am a fool for things Etruscan. Can’t wait to visit your beautiful city again in October!

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