La notte di San Lorenzo (St. Lawrence?s Night), August 10, is the anniversary of the martyrdom in 258 CE of Lawrence, one of the early Christian martyrs. In actual fact, the poor fellow was probably beheaded, and the emperor Constantine built a church on the spot. But legend has it that Lawrence was roasted over hot coals. And legend and nature together over the centuries grew into the popular belief that on this night, burning coals fall from the sky in eternal memory of the great saint.
Legend aside, what could be lovelier than being out-of-doors on a warm night, star-gazing? Best done from the hills or the coast (ever seen a shooting star fall into the sea?), it is the perfect summer pastime, after the roasting August sun has vanished below the horizon.
August is HOT. It is the hottest month of the Tuscan summer and global warming isn?t improving matters. Air-conditioning is still much rarer in Italy than in many countries, so do what the Italians do ? one of their greatest talents, as a nation! ? just adapt your life to circumstances and make a virtue out of vice. Shopkeepers do it. Council offices do it. All companies and businesses do it. Public transport changes timetables accordingly. Be busy in the cool of the morning, rest in the heat of midday, and live those evening hours for as long as you want! By the way, even some tourist attractions do it ? how about visiting the Uffizi at 10 pm?
Of course, all Tuscans who can, leave the towns for their holiday homes up in the mountains or along the coast. There they devote their efforts to ?keeping cool? ? long, lazy days in the shade of a Mediterranean pine or a beach umbrella. Traditionally, this exodus was for the whole month of August. Entire families, all three generations, closed up their house in town, piled into their cars or onto packed trains, and left for le vacanze (the holidays). A whole town closed up, shops, houses and all, leaving only a few lonesome citizens to wander around in search of somewhere, anywhere, to buy a loaf of bread ? this is a not-too-distant memory. Nowadays, avoid the esodo and rientro by definitely not travelling on the first and last weekends of August. 100km queues have been recorded!
In past, anyone who had to work in August was pitied. After all, even Nature decreed that in August it was too hot to work on the land. The grain harvest was in, it was not yet time for the grapes or the olives. All there was to do was water the vegetable garden and, at most, make next year?s supply of tomato conserve
But no-one, surely, would ever work on August 15th, called Ferragosto, the absolute height of the height of the summer season! Grafted on to a pagan celebration of the sun?s power and strength, August 15th was decreed a religious holiday, the Assumption of the Virgin. It is still celebrated, even by non-believers, with a large family lunch, usually topped off with enormous watermelons. Their vivid red, cool, and thirst-quenching slices represent ?summer? for many Tuscan children.
Another remnant of pagan days lingers on in the delightful tradition of Ferragosto water-fights. Yes, on this special day, even Italian mammas will allow their kids to get their clothes wet and throw buckets of water at each other, unless they have just eaten and it might disturb their digestive process. Just imagine what fun youngsters have! Although, overheard on a Tuscan beach, a whole band of teenagers stopped their frenetic water battle to the cry of, ?Look out ? there?s a small baby over there! Babies mustn?t get wet!?
Soon, the countryside will sigh with relief as late summer storms bring cool, welcome rain to the parched ground. ?The weather breaks after Ferragosto,? Tuscans say. The holidays are over. Time to prepare for school, for work, for the winter. But, as the song goes, ?Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket; keep it for a rainy day.?