The days are long on the very tip of the narrow stiletto heel of the Italian Boot. Dictated by sweltering temperatures decided at the whim of vengeful gods, the soporific residents of the small town of Poggiardo lazily go about their daily business blasted by the scorching sun, whilst slaves to the temperamental breeze of the Salento Peninsula.
The surrounding deserts of cinders and cacti have been ravaged by epic histories of war while the rugged coves of the peninsula are dotted with ruined watchtowers, sentinels from a time of conquests and infidels. The endless groves of olive trees are sunk into the dusty ground resembling a great army of tanned arthritic fingers belonging to the old Italian women that inhabit the region; withered and crippled under the unrelenting sun. From the plethora of parched foliage the din from the incessant chirping of the crickets adds a bewitching and mystical atmosphere to the otherwise bleak and quiet landscape.
The narrow residential streets of this insignificant aged town that clings desperately to the edge of the Province of Lecce are interspersed with piazzi of varying size and prominence, accumulating into one epic labyrinth of houses with pastel frontages and flat top roofs. The connecting roads are dual purpose commuting corridors traversed by pedestrians at their peril. Pavements are a rarity while one-way systems, speed limits and regulations imposed by distant bureaucrats of the Cities, are ignored. Rustic baroque churches with laboured facades of intricate detail lie adjacent to dilapidated shacks with juxtaposing pristine gold plated doorways. Every house number is engraved on a marble plate that reiterates the street name of its locality. Balcony windows hiding family melodramas are encased with curvaceous brass railings styled on the female form. Gated estates enclose feral dogs that bark incessantly disturbed by the footsteps of those long since deceased. The occasional house is plastered with white placards printed with sombre black lettering advertising to the locals the imminent funeral of a friend, relative or acquaintance. All are welcome to pay their respects. It is an open house of invitation. Our tears will placate the restlessness of the dead.
The Catholic resonance is ubiquitous. Religious propaganda is felt through the scorching winds and heard in the plague of chirping crickets that reside complacently in the withered foliage. It is the setting for a tale plagiarised from the Old Testament. The facades of the baroque cathedrals oppress with grotesque empty religious iconography and garish splendour. Glass cabinets are built into the frontages of many of the homes of these God fearing residents; dutifully filled with religious figurines moulded from cheap plastic and choreographed into biblical scenes. Given the heat such ornamental declarations of devotion are clearly futile in this attempt to appease the wrath of a resentful God.
Old Italian women sit on rotten benches picking away at the splintered peels of paint curling down the aged limbs of decrepit wooden rest stops. Legs are astride while skirts are left open to allow the cool Mediterranean breeze to circulate through the precariously shadowed crevasses of their feminine regions. Such indiscretions are indeed undignified of ladies of such age, stature and religious sobriety but in the blistering heat not even the local Don would dare make a derisory remark, even in passing. Steely gazes transfix complacent youths on high-speed mopeds with roaring engines that speed jovially through the otherwise silent whitewash streets with a disregard for the disturbed tranquillity left in the carnage of their dusty wake. These women of historic fortitude will not be intimidated by such displays of youthful arrogance. These matriarchs of epic Italian bloodlines have faced, with unflinching expressions, personalised threats imparted by fascist dictators. These taut and lean peacock boys of minute post pubescent experience will not rattle the nerves of these timeless soldiers of survival. If the last generation of rowdy libertines did not stir feelings of anxiety as they sped by on their pedal bikes, then neither will the next.
THE HEAT OF THE MEZZOGIORNO
Lit by the baking sun of Southern Italy and surrounded by a bleak landscape of charred cinders, on the rooftop of an unremarkable roof terrace, consumed by a fetish of gastronomic wonders, ‘The Heat of the Mezzogiorno’ is the fiercely political debut novel by Adam John Clarke.
Discover the story of two aged friends who come together one last time to embark on a marathon of piggish gluttony, intoxicated drinking and hearty debate. Friends in a former life, both have soared to dangerous heights in their chosen elite but they brandish their teeth from opposing ends of the political spectrum. This final meeting is the last chance. While the peasants inhabiting the local town of Poggiardo go about the banality of their daily lives, an epic trial that could ultimately change the course of history is in motion.
‘A gluttonous indulgence of Southern Italian culinary delights’
‘The banter of political philosophers said while gorging on the fruits of proletarian labour’
‘Idyllic landscapes inspired by the Old Testament’
The acclaimed debut novel by Adam John Clarke
Available online at https://www.amazon.co.uk