This winter we had 47 inches of snow in 10 days—the most since the Great Blizzard of 1928—followed by a month of subtropical torrential rain. Now, suddenly, it is hot. So we are all set for an insect summer of biblical proportions.
And that also means la zanzara (mosquito). In particular, it means la zanzara tigre (Asian tiger mosquito)—another illegal immigrant. The tigre is much faster and more aggressive than a normal mosquito. It does not take up position on a wall near your bed waiting for you to nod off at night; it makes a beeline straight for you in broad daylight. And it can carry a very nasty viral disease similar to dengue fever—chikungunya, which it gets from biting an infected person. In 2007, there was a chikungunya outbreak in Italy right here where I live in which about 200 Italians were infected. The cause was an infected Indian who had returned from holiday in India and then got bitten by a local zanzara tigre which then transferred the virus to the next person it bit and so on.
The bar I frequent, Le Petit Arquebuse in the center of town, is the favorite haunt of local champagne socialists. Giorgio, (ex) communist mayor of Predappio—the village 10 miles away where the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini was born and is buried like a saint—uses it as his office.
All this bizarre weather has Comrade Giorgio worried about la zecca (the tick). A zecca bite, as even I know, can give you a range of dangerous illnesses including Lyme disease. I once had to extract dozens of them from my wife Carla’s Neapolitan Mastiff with tweezers and whisky.
If there is a biblical plague this year of zecche it could upset many of the mayor’s plans as he was only too keen to explain the other night at Le Petit. Though pint-sized and barrel-shaped he has what the Irish call “the roving eye.” And thus, not for my benefit but that of the beautiful barmaid Claudia, he announced ominously: “Whatever you do Nicola, non trombare your amante in the hills this summer.”
Trombare is the local word for “screw” and means literally “trumpet” as in, “Did you trumpet her?” So I said: “Tell us why not Giorgio, go on.” He replied: “The hills will be pullulating with zecche this year,” he replied, adding: “I made that mistake once and got bitten three times, twice on my head, and once…here.” And he touched his groin, as Italian men love doing, eyes flashing at Claudia.
It really is time to get moving and buy that farmhouse. OK, there are zecche in the hills where the bee-eaters are and unfortunately bee-eaters do not eat zecche. But there is another bird that does and in industrial quantities—the guinea fowl. Just two birds, they tell me, can clear two acres of zecche in a year. And roast guinea fowl is also delicious.
There is, however, one magical insect I cannot wait to see: the firefly. The Italian word for firefly is lucciola, which also means prostitute. The fireflies arrive any day now and last about two weeks. They hover and float about in the night with their lights winking on and off. They do not bite or sting, or chase you from your car to your house, or give you terrible diseases. They make you happy to be alive.
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