Iris, the flower of Florence

The morning air is full of scents, and the pollen is dancing through it.

I rub my eyes and start sneezing. Good to see that my allergy has arrived right on time. We meet up with our friends in the town square, a happy mix of young and old(er). The usual stragglers eventually arrive, and then we’re off on our route, which starts with a climbing dirt track that has been around since the time of the Etruscans. Our destination isn’t far: it’s a large, sunny clearing at the foot of a small Romanesque church, whose crooked belltower is the tallest thing in the surrounding landscape. The day is starting to thrum with life. The morning dew coats the fields.

This is our first outing of the season. Only by bicycle can we reach the pratone” (large meadow), so called on account of its breadth. Everyone has their own thing to take care of: some have hampers mounted on the front of their bicycles, while the little ones have stabilizers attached to the back. We adults are weighed down by the tasty morsels that we’re looking forward to, once we’ve conquered our climb. We prepared it all the day before, and pride of place goes to two types of pecorino with green beans. In the last, exhausting stretch of the route, as we scrabble up towards the church, the road turns into something more like a white, dusty scrawl in the land.

We are passing between two dry stone walls, at the foot of which the irises are already in full bloom. In fact, the stems are almost buckling beneath the weight of the flowers. “The flower of Caterina de’ Medici!” cry the precocious children, “the symbol of Florence!” Oh, we’ve brought them up well.

The Pratone greets us with a palette of colors. We’re bathed in sweat, but it was worth it. The hills are mantled in all different shades: the green of young wheat, the yellow of rapeseed, the red of poppies and the flowers of clover. The spring light touches everything but in the gentlest way; it’s not dazzling. The air is full of new life. The boys, their cheeks ruddy from the cycleride, are typically rowdy; the girls, meanwhile, sit calm and quiet in a circle, sketching with colored pastels.

The big old bells in the belltower ring once, which is enough to deafen us. It’s one o’clock: we can eat now! I’ve been entrusted with the dispensation of wine, so I uncork the first bottle and pour it all round. Water we can get from the fountain that stands next to the church. We slice up the pecorino and a nice big loaf of Tuscan bread, which we fill either with salamis or frittata. Fennel and lesser calamint lend a nice touch. Lunch shades into afternoon tea, afternoon tea into dinner. Most of us throw ourselves into the games, men against women; but others prefer to lay out the rugs, fold jumpers into pillows and have a nap. It’s a warm afternoon but not a torrid one, and after a long winter at home, it’s the perfect day to lift the spirits.

The day slides by in a flurry of jokes, games, eating and drinking. It’s almost dark when we see the first fireflies light up, and that’s when we know that it’s time to get on our bikes and head back downhill.