Greetings from Mondovì: October might be my favorite



October has been kind from beginning to end—sunny days, cooler nights and early mornings, leaves of red, gold, flame, and russet filtering the incomparable light of autumn afternoons.  As the month ends, I have taken my car for its bi-annual inspection, placed a pot of red cyclamen at the tomb of Felice Momigliano (1866-1924), our adopted local ancestor, for Tutti i Santi on 1 November.  Yesterday I carved a little jack-o-lantern for our two-year-old neighbor and considered all seasonal bases covered.

Tuesday 6 October 

October might be my favorite month of the year, especially here in Piemonte.  October is chestnuts, porcini and tartufi, apples and pears, quinces, pomegranates, pumpkins of various shape, size, and color.   It’s the last local tomatoes and the first citrus from Sicilia.  It’s flannel sheets and a blanket on the bed, cold mornings, snow on the mountaintops after a rainy day here below.  It’s our sunny terrace, still warm enough for midmorning coffee or lunch, and our dining room fireside in the evening.  It’s golden light and long shadows, trees baring their branches, drifts of color at their feet.

Saturday 10 October 

The World Health Organization says much of the world is experiencing pandemic fatigue, leading people to disregard precautions and defy local regulations.  But a study released on Thursday suggests a majority of Italians are “psychologically and materially prepared” to have some restrictions re-imposed, and to wait with at least a modicum of patience for a reliable, safe vaccine.

And have you heard the one about two men, the sole inhabitants of a village in Umbria, who are strictly committed to the national mandate requiring face masks outside the home?  It’s true!  Thanks to a friend and faithful correspondent on St Croix, USVI for this link. 


Wednesday 15 October 

Yesterday we roasted a panful of chestnuts, standing under grey skies around an open fire with a couple of friends.  We peeled away blistered shells, tossed the chestnuts warm into our mouths, sipped cold cider that my husband had pressed that morning.  The afternoon smelled of mud and fallen leaves, wood smoke, and sweet, fresh apple juice.

Saturday 17 October 

After lagging behind the rest of Europe’s second wave of COVID-19, Italy’s numbers are rising at an alarming pace.  The milestone of 10,000 new cases in one day, surpassing 6557 at the height of the first wave in April, is dizzying.  Italy is conducting nearly six times as many tests now as it was then; still, the percentage of positive test results has nearly doubled.  Clearly we are not moving in the right direction; government officials are meeting today and a new emergency decree is expected on Sunday.

Sad evidence of the pandemic’s economic damage to small businesses: my favorite resale shop in Vicoforte vanished without a trace.  My husband and I went by the other day, hoping to find an old pair of wooden shutters for our garden shed, and found the place dark and empty, without even a notice on the locked door.  When I canvassed my WhatsApp group, a friend forwarded a farewell message the owners posted to Facebook in mid-September.  I wish them well, and I’d sure like to know what became of all the great stuff that made browsing their shop such a pleasure.  There must be something from their shop in almost every room of our home.

On the other hand, two new grocery shops have opened in Piazza Maggiore since July.  So I’m not sure what to make of that.

Sunday 25 October 

Curfews, closings, cancellations—the number of COVID-19 cases has doubled weekly for the past three weeks, and national emergency decrees tumble forth so fast it’s hard to keep track of the changing rules.  Last Sunday bars and restaurants allowed six persons at a table and closed at 9 PM; today those numbers changed to tables of four and a 6 PM closing.  Gyms, swimming pools, spas, cinemas and theatres were spared last week; now they are closed once again.  Professional sports will be played behind closed doors, without live spectators.  All seasonal fairs and festivals are cancelled; crowds are prohibited at funerals, wedding receptions, baptisms.  High schools will move to 75% online instruction.  We are strongly encouraged not to leave our homes without good reason (work, food shopping, health care) and not to gather unnecessarily with others.  Regional governments may amend the nationwide measures: in Piemonte, for example, weekend shopping for anything but food is forbidden and shopping centers are closed from Friday evening until Monday morning.

As before, my husband and I are not much affected by the restrictions; we never returned to restaurant dining after the spring lockdown lifted and have mostly continued to avoid crowds.  Still, I’ve adjusted my marketing routine, shopping the big farmers market only on Tuesdays, to avoid the Saturday crush.  We’re glad we took two day trips this month into the Langhe, once to visit the castello at Serralunga and again last week to a wine tasting/lunch at a vineyard near Farigliano.  The broad valleys of the wine region are a change of scenery and the glorious colors of the vine leaves make it Italy’s version of an autumn foliage tour.  Other plans—a drive to Liguria for olive oil, reunions with friends–will have to wait.


Wednesday 28 October 

It saddens me to see violent confrontations in Torino, Milano, and other cities–people chanting “freedom” and smashing windows, setting fires, clashing with police.  I didn’t expect that kind of angry display here, especially in the north.  All recent opinion polls I’ve seen indicate the majority of Italians believe restrictions are necessary to turn back the new wave of infections.  Maybe respondents to opinion polls are simply being polite; this is a civilized country, after all.  But I suspect other forces are at work.

Local authorities say football hooligans and right-wing political extremists are turning peaceful, organized protests into dangerous skirmishes.  This is not hard to believe.  Since the pandemic arrived in February the Italian government has communicated calmly and deliberately, with considerable transparency and conspicuous goodwill, its actions to combat the virus and manage economic fallout.  Meeting this reasonable approach with violence seems immoderate, ill-mannered, out of character.  Italians like to complain about government, taxes, bureaucracy, but they value orderliness and respect authority.  It’s rare to hear voices raised here except at times of consensual abandon, like a football match or Carnevale.

Friday 30 October 

Prime Minister Conte is besieged from both sides—business owners protest restrictions, while more than 100 scientists and public health experts urge the government to impose a national lockdown, as France and Germany have done this week.  I find Conte admirable, his calm determination to do what he thinks best for Italy, his even temper.  I wish I could vote for him, but Italian citizenship is a long process.  Instead my husband and I cast our votes in the USA presidential race weeks ago, so we’ve done what we can there.