“If you’re at a loose end on Sunday, do you fancy coming to Lago di Cingoli with us for a swim and a bite to eat?” Normally I would have accepted Jackie’s invitation in a heartbeat. A lazy summer Sunday with new friends in a new place: what’s not to like? But these are still not normal times. Sunday: is that too obvious a day to go out? Lunch, swim, the drive each way: is that too long to stay out? How much will we need to put away and lock up? Are they still watching us? Are they just waiting for an opportunity?
I tried to summon my rational, sensible self to calm and convince my panicky, fearful self that the invitation was just the kind of push we needed to stop us taking the easy way out and simply battening down the hatches; to reassure her that all would be well. After all, since the break-in we’ve been out together four times now and everything has been fine. And we can’t completely avoid leaving the house unattended; that’s just not practical. Or healthy. Or normal.
I know it’s not normal, replies my panicky self. But being burgled is not normal. Feeling scared and suspicious is not normal. None of it is normal; but it is our reality at the moment.
Yes, but you can’t normalise the abnormal. You’ll become a paranoid recluse with no friends and no life, and that is not why you moved to Italy; that is hardly la dolce vita. You’ve got to create a new normal; a normal that lets you feel safe and that lets you go out with friends.
Well, I haven’t found that new normal yet. It’s a lovely idea and it would be great to spend the day with Jackie and Max…. normally. But I’m still on permanent high alert: even if we went, I’d only worry all day. Which means I’d probably be lousy company too.
Look, you and I are never going to agree, my rational self sighs. Let’s see what Mr Blue-Shirt thinks.
“Say yes!” he said without a moment’s hesitation. “It will be good to have a concrete reason to go out.” I frowned, still unconvinced. “Look, we’d be moping about the place all day otherwise, thinking how we should be going out, that we should be seeing friends, but then the bastards have won. So let’s go. It’ll do us good.” It’s one of his characteristics I admire the most, that clarity of thought and lack of equivocation. I swallowed hard and absent-mindedly bent to run my hand over Stanley’s tiger-striped back as he wandered through the kitchen towards his food bowl. “Yes. You’re right. I’ll message Jackie straight back before I change my mind.”
So we went. And it was everything a summer Sunday should be. The Lago di Cingoli is only about 40km to the north-west of us, and having crossed a couple of steep ridges that took us from one river valley to the next, we meandered across a small plain full of peach and kiwi orchards, maize and sunflowers before ascending to Cingoli. This is another of the region’s ‘borghi più belli d’Italia’ which is also known as ‘the balcony of Le Marche’ thanks to its position 650 metres above sea level on the edge of a craggy ridge that suddenly drops away giving a spectacular view over the rolling fertile lowlands that extends to the sea, and, on a very clear day, over to the mountains of Croatia. We zig-zagged up towards the town’s imposing ramparts, marvelling at the chequerboard panorama that shimmered in the heat as with each successive bend it switched from one side of the car to the other. Then we skirted the northern edge of the town before sweeping down the densely wooded western slopes and on towards the lake.
Although its limpid aquamarine waters look as if they have been there since the dawn of time, the lake was created in the 1980s when the river Musone was dammed to provide a source of drinking water and now covers an area of 2.4 square kilometres. While every beach along the Adriatic coast is packed with both locals and holidaymakers at this time of year, we were surprised to find only a handful of cars parked at the beach bar where we had agreed to meet our pals. The grassy bank that sloped down to the water’s edge was dotted with couples dozing on sun loungers in the shade of sun-bleached orange parasols, while a few children splashed about in the shallows, and a small sailing dinghy tugged lazily at its mooring on the short pontoon that extended a few metres into the almost mirror-still water. From the open-fronted timber-built beach bar the hum of conversation and the hiss of a coffee machine floated out across the lake.
Within minutes we were drawn in by the laid-back vibe. Our tension eased, our shoulders dropped and we could already feel the fear and anxiety evaporating like cloud beneath a blazing sun.
“Coffee?” enquired Jackie. “Or shall we move straight to wine?”
“Errmm… Whatever you’re having,” I replied unhelpfully. The languid mood was catching.
“I’ll bag a table in the shade for lunch,” said Max, staking our claim with their two sun hats and our two beach towels. Coffee and then wine drifted seamlessly into an unhurried and simple lunch, and the conversation flowed just as smoothly. We laughed and chatted, swapped anecdotes and shared tales, exchanged opinions and silly banter. Just normal human interaction among like-minded people. Yet, after weeks of introspection and introversion, normal felt novel and even faintly elicit. But it also felt real and positive and healthy. What’s more, as I swam back to the pontoon at the end of my token dip, it occurred to me that I hadn’t once thought of intruders and security. Mr Blue-Shirt had made the right call: a day out with friends had indeed done us good.
Better still, when we stopped at a supermarket on the way home to pick up some charcoal for our evening barbecue, the headline in the local paper in the rack by the entrance caught my eye. “Band of thieves arrested following spate of break-ins,” it read. I grabbed a copy and scanned the front page… Car chase… Several arrests… Five thefts in one evening… Victims attending local festa… Thieves suspected of other burglaries in area… Local police forces sharing information… Further arrests likely…