Pasquetta – or Easter Monday – is the day when young Italians shake off the shackles of their family duties. Having spent Sunday with their parents, aunts, uncles, little sisters and brothers, and all the other people that make up the Italian extended family, they can now have a day with their friends, guilt-free. The supermarket at 11am is mayhem, as they head there to stock up on pounds of meat and cheese, along with piles of bread and bottles upon bottles of water, wine and soft drinks. The crowd at the butcher’s counter is three people deep, as everyone puts in their order for anything that they can throw on a barbecue, while the shelf which usually stocks the sacks of charcoal is almost empty, with just one lonely bag left. The staff on the checkouts – themselves young and probably planning barbecues as well – are counting down the minutes until the shop closes in just under two hours’ time, scanning items through as if their lives depended on it and waving away offers of exact change in favour of a quick transaction.
Outside, it seems like people are already barbecuing fiercely. The sun is struggling to make it through the haze of smoke, and the usual heavy scent of orange blossom is overpowered by the smell of burning charcoal. Two young men race across the zebra crossing against the lights, yelling and laughing. The sound of a fire engine comes ever closer. The smell of charcoal changes and becomes thicker, more choking, more sinister.
Walking is unpleasant today. Not only unpleasant, but dangerous. On the corner of Corso delle Provincie and Via Firenze, thick black smoke billows into the sky and the reek of burning plastic fills the air. It seems there is more than just barbecuing going on. Person or persons unknown are setting fire to dumpsters all over the place within a five-block radius. On this particular corner there are three dumpsters in a row. The furthest one is already nothing but a metal frame, its plastic shell completely gone, but the middle one is only half burnt and the one closest to the Metro – as yet – untouched.
Firemen arrive on the scene and leap from their vehicle. The wind whips and whirls the flames around, blowing them this way and that, now closer to the orange tree, now towards the cars, now back towards the firemen. The firemen race to unfurl the hose before too much more damage is done. Every second counts. Finally they’re ready. There’s a momentary pause before the water kicks out. The men holding the hose brace against the pressure, directing the water to the heart of the fire. It doesn’t die easily – the wind is still buffeting the flames and encouraging them along – but a minute or so later it’s gone. The firemen keep the hose trained on the shells of the dumpsters for another few seconds, but there’s no time for them to waste. The smell of burning plastic is getting stronger again and, looking up into the sky, it’s clear that there are at least three more fires to deal with. Repacking the hose, they race to the next scene, as pieces of charred paper flutter down gently from the sky and are picked up by the miniature whirlwinds happening at street level, mixing in with the ever-present leaves, dust and grit of the city streets.
Image by Young Einstein (Creative Commons)