It is already one month into the northern winter and today is the first time we have felt the arctic breeze, yet it is still above freezing and as I gaze out from home below Paliano to Colleferro, Segni and the high hills behind, the colour is still various shades of green – this is winter in Lazio.
Right in front of my eyes on the terrace, the flower boxes dazzle with bright yellow, orange, magenta and white flowers, bedevilling us that Spring has come. Yet as we drive towards Segni for a coffee and a chat, we can now see the pristine white caps on the tops of the Apennines to the east.
The northerly change has brought this snow across the Adriatic. Maybe, there is no skiing season yet for Abruzzo, but the stark purity of the virgin snow, seen unhindered by the usual haze of the lowlands, is surreal and we let slip our dream that maybe Italy will still experience a traditional winter this year.
This is the day of benediction of animals and every town seems to have a parade of beasts, most often horses, blessed by the local priest. For those whose love is for a cat or dog, the family pet has a visit to the church to become part of God’s world, at least in the thoughts of its owner. I wonder whether snake charmers can form part of this celebration.
It is in Segni that the equine life seems most valued as, after the ceremony, men of the land proudly ride their beasts up the corso. I stand in the sun in a small garden at the side of the road, feeling the warmth on this sharp clear day. The panoply of ponies pass by, one not much bigger than a Shetland, and horses of all breeds and colours, clip clop up the road, with two sulkies, one at each end of the straggling parade, being pulled by their tolerant ‘trotters’. This is a true benediction of animals, but where are the cats?
The temperature is about 2 degrees and when we stroll back in the shade towards a bar, the breeze concentrates in between the buildings and the day feels decidedly more Siberian. A croissant and espresso (long) warm the cockles, and it is time to roll back down the hill, where on the edge of Colleferro another parade of horses trots down the corso after the benediction of animals.
From the centre of Colleferro the cement works stand solid and look surprisingly clean as we head over the bridge past the station. On the hill in front the two chimneys of the incinerator stand between the engineering works of this giant furnace, looking pristine. It is amazing the effect of a Siberian winter breeze, stripping away the years of aging, grime and smog, taking the environmental failures of industrial society out to sea where the waters of the oceans can absorb and hopefully purify the air for our next breath.
As we head out of town back to Paliano, the broad sloping fields not overgrown with solar energy factories show bright green striations of spring, grasses and crops already sprouting and covering the scenery with a fresh carpet. Even the great waste hill, covered with black plastic, stands clear and clean while, inside its belly, the waste of the many towns in the territory is being digested to produce the gas you may purchase next year. Where are the gulls that normally occupy this hill, pecking at the plastic as they await the next arrival of a waste truck? Has there been a benediction of animals for them?
It seems that the land is growing more rapidly over the land-fill as sub-soil and grasses creep up the slopes. The one sign of decay remains, the skeleton of an unfulfilled solar energy factory spread around the base of the land-fill, deserted as greed stole its potential for good. Sustainability needs not have such a sad vista. Maybe greed is the truly sustainable feature of humanity’s impact on our planet.
We now are driving beside La Selva, the local forest built by a prince and now a park for all, human and animals. There, in front of us in the distance once more we see one pure white cap dressing the head of the range. Keep your eyes to the skies.