Rome is caramel coloured in September. The light is muted, tired almost from the constant brilliance of June, July, and August. Everything is bathed in a soft tone, reflecting the cream stone that makes up most of the city, and creating a warm dulce leche glow.
It is sweeter than the harsh hotness of the light in August, palpable in its heaviness. Or the fierceness of July, relentlessly heating the city up. And sweeter too than the brightness of June, when nights never seem to fall.
September is shorts and T-shirt weather, muggy even, but the fight has gone out of it. You can feel summer relinquishing its grip, succumbing to the darkness that encroaches each day. The fresh mornings tempt you to wear long sleeves or trousers. At your own peril because by 10.00am you will be rueing that decision. And although evenings come quicker, they don’t come with much coolness.
September is also still. Like summer is in a game of ‘play dead’, hoping that autumn won’t notice it has overstayed. At night not a leaf or speck of dust moves.
During the day a powder blue sky accentuates the city’s domes and skyline of medieval towers. Trees in full green bloom line the slow flowing river. Soft beige light illuminates and smooths every curve of marble and groove of column. There is no where to hide from it and no need to. It is benign, tranquil. Just enough to show it off to its best, but not so much that you need to manage it. It allows its twisty streets to claim you, show you hidden delights too small to be included in guidebooks but unique in their ability to transfer an experience of Roman life.
September summer means not having to stop for siesta unless you want to, as your brains won’t fry in the sun at 3.00pm. It means not having to drink a Trevi fountain sized amount of water, and then find a public toilet (good luck with that). In September Rome is a languid city, content from having had its piazzas and parks used to their fullest for concerts, operas, marching bands, open air theatre, cinema, and book fairs. The end of summer Rome knows it’s a full-blown beauty and looks it.
As the golden month ends something must be done to celebrate it – to say thank you for the long and glorious summer and to toast the ‘any day now’ appearance of Autumn. All rituals in Rome revolve around food and wine so that must form the basis of this one. In September there is great competition between the late season white and yellow peaches and the new season plums and the purple grapes that are as big as my eyeballs. Wild mushrooms appear, always caked with dirt, along with crisp cabbage, onions, and fresh garlic. Its all another sign, that no matter how long summer pretends to hang on like it owns the joint, the earth is turning away from it, into the long dark night of autumn.
It must be Autumn’s bounty that we use to herald it in, say thank you to summer and let it know that it can release its hold and allow us all to be cosy, dark, and fallow for a while. Deep red wine from the fields of Sicily where the soil knows what old and dark tastes like, and Rome’s indigenous grape variety, Cesanese, make up our choices. The Syrah (Shiraz) from Sicily tastes like Autumn itself, spicy and berry like, while the Cesanese tastes like an alcoholic Ribena shot through with dark chocolate. Sharp cheese and salami go with them. I rejoice in the re-entry of this food into my diet as the cooler temperatures allow the flavours and consistency to be enjoyed in a way that in the height of summer they aren’t.
A table of mums next to us raise their glasses ‘to Autumn’, and I realise we are not the only ones that do this. As I gaze down at my sun-tanned legs still in linen shorts it’s hard to believe that by December they will be encased in woollen trousers and long boots topped with a cashmere coat. Each winter I do the reverse and find it hard to imagine that my legs will be bare. And yet it happens, every year, bringing with it the comfort that some things never change. For now, I am enjoying the present, Rome bathed in a subtle, sweet caramel light that will gently descend into Autumn.
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