Defeat and Perspective: Lessons in Gratitude

Umbria in July is the temperature of boiling water. 

The flies can’t seem to catapult themselves off your sweaty, sticky skin; the sun pulses down sweat beads into your eyes; the backs of your thighs leave embarrassing prints everywhere you dare to sit. The very notion of consuming anything hotter than gelato swipes the appetite away. 

No wonder the Italians have perfected the art of the cold dessert. 

My favorite thing about this weather is how much everyone enjoys complaining about it. It’s difficult to engage in a conversation with an Italian (or honestly, anyone of any nationality) without bringing up the stifling heat at least once. 

It tends to run in a competitive format: 

You think today is hot? You don’t know hot. You should have been out in the garden with me three days ago trying to water the roses. That was hot for you. 

It’s a nice bonding conversation. 

The heat sucks. It tends to ruin the desire to bounce around the fuzzy tree-covered mountains in which our little countryside Italian villa is nestled. We are forced to hug the dark green shutters against the huge windows in attempts to block the invasive abrasions of the sun from igniting the rooms, thereby blocking the natural light and the beautiful views of the mountains. 

Yes, the heat can suck. 

But. It does do something really well:

That ahhhhhhhhhh moment of relief from the discomfort is worth the discomfort in the first place. The first step into the cool cascading water of the shower after a sweaty morning run is bliss. Those licks of ricotta honey walnut gelato in the shade of the city square in the heat of the day are magical. Peeling down the windows of the hot stuffy van as it bounces off towards a next adventure, the wind suddenly billowing across the skin, the strong velocity of which renders it no longer stifling, is majestic

Oh glorious juxtaposition. You gentle creature of innumerous worth. 

Yesterday we trucked off to the hillside city of Perugia, home of steep hills, 3rd century Etruscan wells, and a beautiful Raphael fresco. 

The weather was….toasty. (See second paragraph)

We moved like prisoners condemned to a slow and unyielding death. There was defeat in every step as new sweat stains eked their way across our clothing.

We passed beautiful Italians, panting for air and for breath, and together we combined forces to overtake the horror and hell that is the heat of Umbria at 1500, desperate for survival, clinging onto lasting images of yesterday’s cold water and shade. 

Okay, perhaps a bit dramatic. 

The six of us sometimes got snippy with each other, the discomfort transforming itself into irritation with anything that would so much as look at us. 

“Could we go a bit slower?” transformed itself into: “Stop walking fast”. 
“Could I have a sip of your water?” became: “Water.”
“How much longer will it be until we reach the site of the fresco?” became: “Nooooo mooooore movement.”

But then, as it so often does, our good friends gelato and shade stepped in to salvage the day. We trudged into the city square of Perugia and lurched into the Pasticeria. Upon being handed the wonderful majestic cones of hazelnut and pistachio gelato, we collapsed into the black wire chairs in the shade of the umbrellas outside the door, spirits restored. 

From that moment on, a new surge of happiness overtook our group. We practically sang our way back to the van, not even minding the fact that the shade that we had so carefully stalked had disappeared and exposed our van to the sun. 

On the way home, windows pulled back as far as possible, the wind sung through our sticky hair. Laughter overtook glares, gratitude slapped away complaints, apologies ensued and politeness resumed. 

Ah, juxtaposition, you beautiful scholarly-highbrow animal. 

It was golden hour as we swung our way back home to the country. The light blues of the sky were beginning to be replaced with the faint rose and purple of the sunset, and the hills were set on orange fire. 

The temperature dropped a couple of degrees, and the wind felt even better, even at times a bit too cool. Excepting Tanya who was driving, we were a sleepy bunch. Melanie rested her head upon Gabriel’s shoulder in the front seat, Hannah was quietly pondering life’s many scientific enquiries in the back, Maria and I were having a gentle conversation on our favorite bands. 

It was the essence of peace. 

The countryside zooming by us was winking, lulling, singing. Hares danced alongside the van. Birds swooped through the valleys, calling to each other. 

All prior discomforts were swallowed by an overwhelming sense of community. 

We began to play music, various rider calling for requests. This already perfect aesthetic was enhanced by the banjo of Mumford and the gentle breath of Bats for Lashes

We ended up taking a few misleading roads and driving the extra-long route back home, arriving later than expected. But as we pulled into the gravel drive and sauntered out of the van, William Shakespeare greeted us with great happy barks from within the dark green iron fence.

Maria and Hannah went to pull in the laundry, and I scared the absolute daylights out of Oliver when he poked his head out to see if we were back. I wish I could describe his reaction to seeing me so close to his face, but alas it will not do it justice. It shall remain, however, among my Top Five scaring moments.

Jenny greeted us with a huge smile. She had been frying french fries for the first time ever, ellated by not only the adventure of embarking on deep-frying territories, but by the beer which she promptly offered to us.

Together we set the table; Jenny eased back the green shutters, exposing the Assisi landscape. Two of us pulled over the floral table cloth, another grabbing the necessary amounts of glasses and filling them with cool mountain water. I took the basket of plums that Oliver had picked in the afternoon; Maria brought in the huge bowl of chicken salad that Laura had crafted the day before.

Then the eight of us collapsed into our chairs, poured each other beers, and recounted the day as the light slipped away into the valleys.

Peace and Blessings,

Josie

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