BOTTICELLI BLUE SKIES
By Merrill Joan Gerber
All night they attack like kamikaze planes, these filaments of torture-- squadrons of Italian mosquitoes. In our innocence we have opened windows during the evening and now our bedroom is a bombardiers' haven.
"Do you hear one?" I say in the deep of night, and Joe, beside me, says, "I hear ten."
We listen; they are right above our faces.
"Turn on the light fast," he says.
The minute I turn on the light, it is silent. The minute I turn it off, they are back at our ears. Nature's mistake was to give them a buzz, and thus give their prey warning. This seems only to prevent us from sleeping. Eventually they bite us anyway.
We try to sleep again. I cover my head with the heavy wool blanket but feel I am suffocating. Even with just the sheet over my face, I have a sense of myself immobilized, corpse-like.
Joe isn't getting any closer to sleep either. "Turn on the light again," he suggests, and, though I do, the light cast from the 40-watt bulb doesn't do much to illuminate the room. There is no bulb in the entire apartment that emits a light bright enough to read by. Our good fortune under the circumstances is that the walls of the room are painted white; the only decorations are a pair of Rorschach-type prints opposite the bed. We each take a shoe in hand and tiptoe around the room, Joe in his T-shirt, and I in mine.
"Could that be him?" he calls softly, and I look up to see a three dimensional thread near the ceiling above the bed. "I think that's him," I say, "but doesn't it have to be a her?"
Joe stands on the spongy mattress and aims. He throws the shoe--and the creature vanishes.
"You blew him away! Let me try if it lands again."
Though we peer and stalk and tiptoe around for another five minutes, no bug appears. I'm tired. Joe is tired. We discuss the hopelessness of getting back into bed. It's then that I see a landing take place low down on the blank wall, near the wardrobe. It's so delicate, so invisible; it could be a filament of spider web, a molecule of dust. I use the palm of my hand, moving it very slowly, like a T'ai Chi master, toward the three-pointed shadow. I lunge and smash it.
Blood is on the wall in the shape of a little red flag. It's my blood, or Joe's--but there it is, evidence of violence done to us. I hear a sharp smack from across the room, and Joe cries, "Got it!" We are on the warpath. Blood is everywhere.
"I'm sorry--I can't live in Italy," I tell Joe. "No one warned me about this--that we'd have to live here three months without sleeping. I think I have to go home. They didn't mention this in the travel books."
"Maybe there's a fly swatter somewhere in the apartment."
"Don't be silly, that would be an admission that life in Italy is not heaven on earth."
In the morning, we make another foray to the Conad supermarket and see an entire shelf dedicated to the murdering of mosquitoes: "Tutta la notte senza zanzare," "Antizanzare elettronico! Protezione costante per tutta la notte." In case this method fails, there is another product called "StopPick"--apparently for use after the bites drive you crazy. Which to buy? There is the spiral filament you light with a match and burn all night, incense-like. There is the plug-in glass ball filled with green fluid that emits a constant vapor. And there is the "Vape Mat con 10 piastrine insetticida"--a machine with little lozenges of poison that dissolve through the night and possibly poison you along with the mosquitoes.
We buy a fly swatter for 1,500 lire: red plastic. Thus armed, and ecologically responsible, we venture home again.
Nicoletta phones as we come in the door. She tells Joe that tonight there is a festival at the Duomo to commemorate the 500th year of its completion. There will be candles lit all over the church's facade and processions and parades. It's also the "Day of the Madonna" --an occasion called "Rificolona" is celebrated which recalls the past when peasants came into town to worship, lighting their way with funny-looking lanterns so that the city-folk made fun of them. Now, children carry lanterns shaped like stars or moons or puppets, with candles inside them. They walk in a procession along the River Arno to Piazza Santissima Annunziata--where the children try to break each other's lanterns with pebbles shot from elastic slingshots.
"We'll try to get there," Joe tells her--and we spend the afternoon poring over the ATAF Autobus schedule "della zona di Firenze centro." It looks like nothing so much as a bowl of multi-colored pasta squiggles, intertwining and twisting in a game of untangle-these-strands. If one of these brightly-colored lines is a bus from our neighborhood to the Duomo, we can't fathom which one it is.
"We'll figure it out," Joe says, the first of his many such pronouncements. But as evening approaches, we fall down into our basket-bed near senseless with jet lag and sleep deprivation from the previous night's "Festival of the Mosquitoes." Bless the Duomo and its birthday, and bless the little children and their lanterns. We can't make it to this party.