by Kamin Mohammadi
The strange case of the acacia and the honeybees
May is my favourite month in Italy. In my thirteen years in Tuscany it has always arrived in a technicolor burst of sunshine, blooms and sweet fragrance. Wild irises stitch the roadsides; red poppies crown the lush multi-coloured carpet of wildflowers.
Usually, I would now be drinking in the scent of acacia flowers, listening to the insistent hum of bees working at the flowers’ nectar. Later, I would buy the acacia honey made by the bees that our neighbour Francesca the beekeeper keeps in the woods by our house in a colony of colourful hives.
I say “usually” because this May we are living in a dull, permanent November, with glowering skies, downpours of rain and unrelenting winds. The heating goes on at night.
For a few years now, Francesca’s delicious acacia honey has become ever rarer, thanks to increasingly strange spring weather giving an ever shorter season for the flowers to grow. But this year there will be none at all. An uncharacteristically freezing April saw to that. A snap of frosty nights burnt the new buds and it is only now in late May that temperatures have risen enough for them to revive.
But while the acacia trees’ tender green leaves glow in the odd ray of sunshine that pierces the blanket grey, I doubt the flowers will come through. And, in the very month that we celebrated World Bee Day (20 May), Francesca confided to me that the untimely frost had killed off many of her bees, too. Whether this is a permanent change to our seasons and a consequence of climate change, I don’t pretend to know.
All I know for sure is that Francesca’s bees will not be producing their delicious acacia honey this year, and that’s an undeniable sign of changing weather patterns in our Tuscan valley.
Italy’s accelerated reopening to visitors
This past month, in a matter of days, we in Italy went from not being allowed to leave our boroughs to being able to travel freely between the regions (forbidden since last October), and now to receiving travellers from the EU, UK, Israel and the US among others (on Covid-free direct flights), without quarantine. While it is heady to be able to visit Florence again, to have lunch with friends in the open air and take in the Uffizi Gallery without long queues, I am not alone in feeling discombobulated by these rapid changes, especially the prospect of thronging crowds.
In Florence, piazzas have been re-filled with row upon row of outdoor tables, horse-drawn carriages are lined up waiting for passengers and hawkers have returned to the historic centre. The city is poised to receive foreign tourists, and until then locals make up the small tour groups being led by guides and forming orderly queues to enter their own museums. Although Italy has felt deeply the loss of its tourist sector (which makes up 14% of the country’s GDP), the past year has given Italians time to reacquaint themselves with their own extraordinary patrimony – after all, Italy is home to 55 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, more than any other country in the world.
In Florence, years of thoughtless hyper-tourism had made the centre a no-go zone, so it has been sweet indeed to repossess the Renaissance town. I’ve seen Florentine families riding bicycles over the Ponte Vecchio, basking in the sun in their historic squares and rediscovering the incredible art in museums, churches and palaces. It has been a year in which we have touched again the magic of our city and felt her heartbeat, this place which has stood solid through so many past plagues as well as the worst ravages of destructive mass tourism. So, while we are eager to welcome back our much-missed families, friends and even considerate tourists, with only 16% of Italy’s population vaccinated we are cautious about the upcoming summer season and what it will bring.
Italy wins Eurovision with perfectly groomed headbangers
It was hailed as the most glorious return to normal life yet – the Eurovision Song Contest, most flamboyant of all Euro battles, was back on our screens after a year off. Broadcast live from the Netherlands, devoted fans tell me it was the best ever – possibly because the extra year had given acts more time to polish their performances. Mostly it was because Eurovision is exactly the sort of frothy, joyful and über-camp event needed to bring a traumatised Europe back together. And amazingly it was won, in a dramatic, final-minute, public vote reversal, by Italy’s Måneskin, a manicured metal band screaming “Sono fuori di testa / I am off my head” as they strutted the stage in their platform boots.
Måneskin look like a Gen Z version of The Sweet, their skinny, perfectly depilated torsos clad in spray-on, flared catsuits designed by Italian fashion house Etro, famous for eye-wateringly expensive paisley-patterned outfits. Smeared in black eyeliner, the band members – three boys and a girl on bass – and their immaculate metallic look were unmistakably Italian: makeup expertly applied, long hair newly washed, nail varnish neat as can be and several displays of uncontrollable emotion…
As they lifted the trophy, Måneskin’s lead singer shouted “rock ’n roll never dies” while his bandmate visibly sobbed, the prize wobbling dangerously above his head. Italy’s social media exploded with the enthusiasm that Italians do so well, led by Palazzo Chigi (the premier’s office, our Downing Street) who released a row of clapping-hand emojis onto Twitter. Italy is now busy speculating about which city should host next year’s Eurovision and grinning with glee at the victory. A moment of perfectly inconsequential national pride in a tough year.
Kamin Mohammadi is a writer, broadcaster and cultural curator. Her latest book, “Bella Figura: How to Live, Love and Eat the Italian Way”, is published by Bloomsbury. She farms, makes and sells Tuscan extra virgin olive oil and related skin balm, holds retreats and teaches writing in Tuscany. kamin.co.uk