Swifts are swooping around us – like graffiti on the wind. From high up here on the terrace we watch them flash by, feeding on gnats that swarm up from the ravine in the late afternoons. As evening deepens, those inky black exclamation points go silent and turn to bats. I call it the changing of the guard.
Every day after siesta Simon and I make a quick dash down the road into the parco dell’Acquasanta to unkink our veins. Some meters beyond the washhouse the footpath diverges and if you keep to the right fork it soon ends at a grotesque medieval watchtower. Torre d’Ammonte. Sadly “reduced by atmospheric conditions” it stands teetering and lonely as a gravestone. Flapping pigeons build their nests in holes in the rocky walls. There are some major cracks that grow every year, slowly opening up like a black tulip, and brambles have woven a thick basket around the base. Speckled lizards lie around seemingly frozen, perhaps they’re footmen waiting for sleeping beauty in the tower to wake up.
Hidden nearby is a most intriguing old archway. A low round gateway cut through the “tuff” (volcanic-rock) wall. It leads to a secret garden. The entrance is shaded by a pink flowering tree, and a fig has grown over the wall to disguise it. One must wade through the weeds to see more. Inside is a grassy, roofless space about the size of a tennis court. At the far end are some very high but shallow caves cut into the cliff that forms the base of Marino. The caves look strange, as if a giant wielded his sword and carved out two tall rooms, one for himself and the other for his wife. This was one of the many stone mines in the valley. Our house must have been built from this stone, the same stuff as the colosseum! All of it seeping radon.
I have put off painting this old tower due to its ugliness. It comes from a scary time in the 14th century when the town was in danger of being attacked by bandits. It is useless now. I suppose for the past hundreds of years young men had the duty of sitting up there to watch for the enemy. They must have wondered where the swifts came from every spring, and wished they could fly like them. Now the young men of the town have been given the duty to stay at home to avoid the enemy, and probably wish to swiftly fly away.