I have just over a week left in Salento. I’ve taught my final classes and now have lots of external exams to do, but already the air is more relaxed around here. 32 degree heat and sunning myself on the beach no doubt helps that feeling, but it’s also about not having to worry about my students any more. Half of them have already taken their exams and the ones that still have to do them in this coming week – well, it’s out of my hands now. I wish them all the very best of luck, but there’s no more handholding to be done, thankfully.
The beach yesterday was delicious. Or, should I say, the rocks. It’s best to avoid the actual beaches on a sunny Saturday afternoon, as they’ll be rammed. Where we were, there were definitely more people than the last time we went at the beginning of May, but it was far from crowded. We were free to sit and sun ourselves and gaze out to sea. Even, maybe, to fall asleep for an hour or so, waking up sun-toasted and thirsty but feeling infinitely better for having relaxed.
A man walks his dog along the path the far side of the inlet. Emptying his pockets of mobile phone, keys and wallet, he goes straight into the water and takes the dog with him. Holding firmly to the dog’s collar, he gives her a thorough wash, removing the red Salentino dust that she has accumulated on her walk. She submits to this with good grace, paddling furiously to keep herself afloat. He lets go of her collar and encourages her back out onto the rocks, where she scrambles to higher ground and surveys the sea with a big doggy grin. They repeat the process a couple more times, and then decide to swim across the inlet. Vieni con me! calls the man, and his dog paddles after him, racing to be first to the other side. 2/3 of the way across I lose sight of them under the cliff, but I can hear him talking to her, encouraging her the last few feet. Brava! signals that she has safely reached the rocks on our side, and I hear her scrabbling up out of the water and giving a perfunctory bark of triumph.
I wade, thigh-deep, into the water and consider launching myself out for a swim, but decide against it. I’m happy standing here, watching tiny fish flittering just below the surface. They have emerald green flashes down their side which sparkle when they catch the sun. Seemingly all of one mind, they send a series of ripples across the surface of the water as they change direction at lightning-fast speed. Further down, fishes the size of my hand venture out from their hiding places in the rocks to nibble on pink and purple seaweed. The swifts swoop low over the water, wheeling and skimming over the head of the one swimmer left in the water, while their babies chatter and tweet fit to burst in the cliffs. The limestone around here is peppered with deep pits, perfect for birds to nest in, and they clearly do.
It’s beautiful here. Calabria next year has a lot to live up to.
Image by Kate Bailward