I woke up sweating, in a small rickety bed, in a schoolhouse, in a little town called Tornareccio, in the Abruzzo–the mountainous region on the Adriatic side of Italy. It was early, about 7:00 AM and already in the upper 80s to low 90s fahrenheit, and it was the first full day of work for us as members of the Sangro Valley Project–a joint archaeological field school comprised mainly of Oberlin College and Oxford University students.
The previous night was a bit of a blur, having been spent at one of the two taverns in town–the “Bar dello Sport.” The owner of that establishment, a gentleman named Fabrizio insisted on pouring us an obscene amount of local grappa straight out of a jerry can or other unconventional container. It could have been weed killer or paint thinner for all I know.
Either way, I woke up feeling like two bucks, and met with the other students. We went through our day, driving in a minibus to visit some local sites including the field in which we were to begin digging several days hence. I think the only two songs that ever played on the radio that summer were “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepson and “Only the Horses” by Scissor Sisters so we all sang along as loud as we could, some of us more ironically than others. It was 2012, and it just kept getting hotter. And hotter. It was the beginning of one of Italy’s warmest summers on record.
The directors called it a day at around 4 PM due to the heat, and we were finally able to explore the town in the daylight hours. I walked around with one of the Oxford students, a woman, (I am blanking on her name) and at some point, she mentioned that she was happy to be in Italy for the first time, so that she could finally have “a proper spritz.” Unbelievably to me now, I had never had one, so we headed down Via Roma toward a small cafe that was just about to open post-siesta.
To our surprise, many of the field supervisors were already at “Bar Revival” for the same reason. We sat down at a table on the patio, the hot plastic chair scorching the back of my legs. Those who know me well can attest to my propensity to wear the shortest shorts I can find–I’ll just leave that comment right there. I was unprepared for the glorious color of the cocktail when it was placed before me, as the Brit did a lousy job explaining the cocktail to me on our trek through town.
I remember being transported momentarily. All the crusty old dudes ogling my young female colleagues, all the Fifty Shades of Grey recitations, the previous night’s debauchery . . . it all just melted away. I had already been in Italy for about a month at that point, but for the first time that summer I became O.K. with the heat. I felt some kind of “oneness” with the countryside, with my sweat-caked semi-burnt skin. It was as if the most refreshing Italian painkiller had discovered me. And when the water main that provided fresh water to the town ruptured that summer–leaving us without showers or running water–you could find me at Bar Revival sipping on an Aperol Spritz, waving to all the old ladies walking by, every time I heard them shout “Ciao Michael Jordan!”