INDIGNITY VOL. 3, NO 56: Travel broadens horizons.


INDIGNITY VOL. 3, NO 56: Travel broadens horizons.

GOOD MORNING! THANK you for bearing with a diminished supply of Indignity during the editor's family vacation last week. I was in Italy, where the hours were different and the thick rustic walls interfered with the Wi-Fi signal, though I did manage to make a Zoom call to the Brian Lehrer Show to talk about the shortcomings of LED light bulbs for a few minutes.

Under the Tuscan Clouds

I had never been to Italy before. Highlights included an abundance of compact station wagons, the very best automotive form factor, including our own rented Fiat Tipo; spectacularly good food at highway rest stops, including pizza and pastries; the lizards that bask on the stone walls, whose proper name is Italian wall lizards; Rome; and ancient and picturesque hilltop towns. Lowlights included jet lag, weak water pressure, rural gravel roads, unlovable Tuscan bread, and the same stink bugs that plague America. Also among the highlights was seeing a very nice statue, about which Indignity will write more later.

For now, though, here are a workweek's worth of reviews of the Italian weather.


Siena Province, Italy, April 9, 2023

★★★★ A sharp beam of sun cut into the room from a single opened shutter. The sky over the church was scintillating blue. Inside, congregants wore narrow-gauge puffy jackets. Out on the square again, people wandered around in full motorcycling outfits. The Fiat strained and spun its wheels in the dust and gravel on the worst of the uphill hairpin turns. Birds rode the updrafts. A gray mist moved over the hills and then manifested as a sprinkle of drops on the windows. Up at the crossroads with the garbage bins it was so warm and bright and dry it seemed as if the shower had never passed at all. Dry dust fell from the rear gate of the Fiat when it slammed closed. Three separate veils of rain trailed down over distant spots among the hills. The air carried wood smoke and birdsong and the tenacious buzzing of flies and bumblebees. Far-off snowcaps were brilliant where the sun found them, off behind ranks on ranks of lower, shadowed hills. The clear western light cast Vagliagli on its medium-distant hilltop as a study in right-angled walls. In the night, the lights in the distance twinkled furiously, and overhead were more stars than the skies in other places had held for years.

Siena Province, Italy, April 10, 2023

★★★★ The clouds had surrendered to the sun, drawing the Italian wall lizards out onto the stones along the rear steps. It was still not as warm as it looked. Walkers with trekking poles were out on the roads toward San Gimignano. Someone had set up lawn chairs outside a van to contemplate a derelict villa. Away from the still-bare vineyards and dull silver olive groves, the hillsides were a lurid, sensational green. One vista opened up after another, promiscuous with their topography. A fisherman clambered along a bank. The walled city was overflowing with tourists; the only parking was an illegal space up against shrubbery in a likewise illegal row of cars on the grassy shoulder of the road back out of town. Hooded crows circled the towers, one landing in a niche in the stonework. People sat on the steps of the duomo in angled lines, clustered into the narrow stripes of sun there. The cypresses along the road were white with dust on their sides facing traffic.

Siena Provence, Italy, to Florence and back,
April 11, 2023

★★★★ Cloudy dawn led to a haze over the landscape. By the time the road crossed over into Florence, though, the atmosphere was clear. A slightly diffuse sun fell on the scammers hawking mass-produced canvases in the narrow streets. Diffused still more by the skylight, the light fell on the David, from his ever-shifting face down to his battered toes. Pigeons and a sparrow flew low inside the food hall. When the food was finished, the sky was full of clouds and a cold wind was in the street. Desultory accordion music played near the garage. During the drive back, brilliant sun came out, shining on the supermarket off the highway. To eyes fixed on the turns in the road, the blue-shadowed land down below on the right-hand side looked like the sea on the drive east from Thessaloniki, years ago. A cock pheasant and hen pheasant strode along the roadside. The dust behind the car made an opaque golden cloud out the rear window. On the way out again to dinner, a slash of orange low in the sky announced that the nighttime roads were not yet as dark as possible. Half or more of the restaurants were closed, but the trattoria on the empty square was full of light and the warmth of a stove.

Siena Province, Italy, April 12, 2023

★★★★★ Clouds softened the contrasts on the morning landscape, and the most distant mountains were out of view. Sun warmed the patio for a moment, and that warmth managed to linger. A rooster crowed at midday. Some industrious brown bird flew its usual straight line down toward the olive trees, then came back, as usual, with something in its beak. By afternoon, the sun was predominating; the lizards moved up from the stairs onto the roof tiles and the patio wall. The wisteria overhead was halfway to its peak. Butterflies had dogfights over the blooming shrubs. A hoopoe flourished its crest and flew off with a flash of white from its wings. Church bells rang out over the valley at no particular time on the clock. The late afternoon sun poured like white wine over the hills and folds of land. Clouds cut it off briefly but a bit still trickled through onto Vagliagli, and then it came back even stronger, till even in the shadows there was a sharpening and a glow. The filthier one of the neighbor dogs came creeping up the stairs and almost had a try at the salami, only to flee at the sound of a raised voice. The sage leaves went straight from the shrubbery into the pasta sauce, along with a beer mug's worth of Chianti.

Siena Province, Italy, to Rome, April 13, 2023

★★★★ The rain came before the suitcases could be wrestled shut. A few drops had come on while the towels were being lugged around back to the laundry room, and then it was falling straight down in pale, linear streaks. The picturesque details of the landscape were obliterated, leaving empty gray separated by dark green ridges, with only a few cypresses and the tower of the nearest town still asserting their shapes. On the radar, it was one compact, round mass of showers; out the window it was thunder and lightning. Then, swiftly, the view returned, and it was time to go while the roads were still good. More showers came soon enough. A kestrel spread its tail and hovered on the rainy air beside the roadway. A downpour flooded the big highway into a state of metric conversion, where 60 percent of the listed speed was plenty. Just over the line into Umbria, the sun shone while rain kept falling. Some 70 kilometers before Rome, the sky stopped showcasing shreds of black-gray and white-gray and became smoothly featureless. Intermittent drizzle was falling as the Fiat blundered around the hotel complex, through a gap in the parking-lot shrubbery and briefly onto the cart paths of the golf course. Now the radar had a nasty red hook of storms on it, running up through the eastern edge of the city, but there was no other time for seeing the sights. Out the taxi window, a huge bird flapped over the Baths of Caracalla. The light on the Campo de' Fiori was gray and grimy, with puddles among the stones but no new rain coming down. A pigeon perched on Giordano Bruno's head as if the sculptor had put it there. On the way to the Pantheon, the west grew brighter off behind the buildings. Immense gulls circled against a suddenly pearly sky, up above the ancient portico. High facades took on a glow, and rich golden sun swelled in the curve of a street. The masses of the Trevi Fountain glimmered white on white on blue in the oncoming dusk. On the sidewalk outside the restaurant, the gas heaters held off the chill of night almost all the way through dessert.

New York City, April 16, 2023

★★★★ House sparrow song rang monotonously in the predawn dark over the hum where someone somewhere had given up and tried using their air conditioner. There was no real answer to the overnight dampness and stuffiness. The gray lightened to blue for a while, and the sun cast shadows on the balcony and lit up the new leaves all over the dogwood. Leaves were everywhere now, fore and aft; out along the street, sprigs of new green were pushing out from the sides of tree trunks, or shooting out from the scar of a lost limb, or fringing the top of an exposed root. Under afternoon clouds, everything was coolly neutral, ideal for wearing a t-shirt. Pink petals speckled the back of an SUV. Falling white petals announced that the pears were still in bloom, even with the blossoms nearly out of sight among the thickening leaves. An awning of cherry blossoms stretched low overhead by the corner. Every time it seemed possible to take the light for granted, it would shift again, into full, lowering sun, or to deepening gloom. Car stereos went pumping by, taking advantage of the season of open windows.

Indignity Morning Podcast No. 47: Looking forward to learning a lot about crime in New York City.
Listen now (3 min) | The Indignity Morning Podcast is also available via the Apple and Spotify platforms.

The Indignity Morning Podcast is also available via the Apple and Spotify platforms.

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