Sound and Fury

Lazio – volcanic landscape north of Rome


‘In a full-hearted evensong

Of joy unlimited…’

 Yesterday evening a thrush serenaded us as we sat under a serene blue evening sky. He started in the chestnut tree outside my window, perched behind one of its many candle-like flowers, then flew to perch on the roof ridge of a house on the neighbouring street. It stopped for some minutes while a blackbird settled into the nest built in the wisteria arch over the path in our small town garden, but soon piped up again. They both return every year, or their descendants do.

Some years ago they were threatened by a falcon that had nested between the two towers of the Minster facing us. Was it contemplating an attack on our competing thrush and blackbird? The neighbourhood debated the matter on the local radio. The church authorities removed the falcon’s nest and it hasn’t returned, to the relief of those in charge of maintaining the church fabric, so our blackbird and thrush only have the background two-tone cooing of the turtledoves to contend with. They continue all day long.

The trees outside the window are sharp spring green against a cloudless sky. Six days ago at the same time, we set out under a cloudless sky to see friends before returning the car and flying back to England from Italy. For once we had everything ready. Jauntily we set off and arrived in time under a cerulean sky to enjoy some blissful hours of perfect company, before setting off at four in the afternoon to our final destination. All was going as planned. Above us, not a cloud. What could go wrong?

The landscape around the lakes north of Rome is shaped by past volcanic activity. Pyramid-shaped hills, some with lakes in their cones, provide unexpected visual delights. After about an hour some light grey-white clouds appeared on top of the mountains on the horizon. Twenty minutes later a large darker grey one emerged. Well, it’s spring and the weather is unpredictable.  As we were driving alongside a railway line about half an hour away from our destination, it began to rain so hard that I pulled in to the first space I could find on the side of the road. We’ll sit it out here, I thought. A car pulled in beside us and lowered a window. I opened mine.

‘Move on, the water from the drain under the road is rising and you’ll soon be flooded.’ On we drove in blinding rain jagged by lightning – the sound of the rain was so loud that no thunder could be heard. Soon we joined a line of cars scarcely moving. Police cars and fire ones passed on the other side of the road. In the built-up- area near the station, traffic could only use one side of the road because floodwater had burst the drains leaving wide gashes in the tarmac. As we inched further out of the built-up area, water streamed down the hillside over the retaining wall on to the railway. We had been told there was a metre of water under the railway bridge. I lost count of the number of times we had to drive through muddy water, trusting that it wouldn’t be deep enough to flood the engine. Never have I been so glad to leave a valley and drive up the winding road first used by the Etruscans more than twenty-one centuries ago. It was understandable why they had chosen to inhabit high above the land they cultivated in spite of the long trundle to the fields beyond the safety of the city walls. In such a downpour the hilltop city of Amelia would be well-drained and its wells replenished. Above all, it would be as safe as its inhabitants could make it from onslaughts of war and weather.




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