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is high in the sky, spilling its welcome spring warmth down upon
the earth. Where the River Mincio curves in its course Paolina stops
and tethers the horse to a tree. She loosens the bit and leaves the
mare enough rope to enjoy cropping plenty of succulent young
grass. She takes the hamper down from the back of the carriage
and opens it, rolling out a blanket beneath the leafy shade.
‘Sit down,’ she invites Antonio with a generous gesture.
From the hamper she brings all kinds of delicacies: freshly baked
bread, smoked meats and dry fish from Venice, choice cheese, little
round pastries and a bottle of fine wine. The fresh air is reviving
and Antonio’s cheeks glow. When everything has been skilfully
unpacked, Paolina serves the priest with a selection of delicious
food. He recognises his own choice of wine, and it tastes especially
good to him today. And so together they enjoy a leisurely picnic
lunch, while the river glides softly past. Herons arise on great grey
wings low over the water, disturbed from their fishing by yet
another boat drifting lazily downstream. The first swallows skim
the reedy banks, screeching, scooping from the air a tasty harvest
of insects. Sometimes the hum of a mirrored mayfly reaches their
ears, at least, when the clamour of the ducks allows it. The fragrant
grass stands tall with myriad flowers: golden buttercup, sorrel,
wild marguerite and lady’s smock. And all most delicious, it seems,
at least as far as the sheep are concerned, for, grazing along under
the protection of their shepherd, they glance up not once at the
human picnickers.
‘Ooh,’ sighs Paolina ecstatically, ‘if only it could be
springtime forever. All this new life and everything bursting with
colour, mm...’
‘I prefer autumn myself,’ responds Antonio languorously.
‘But surely you wouldn’t like it always to be autumn,’
replies Paolina after a little pause.
‘Oh no, certainly not. I don’t need the last bit, when the
mist changes to ice, all the leaves have fallen and the days are so
short. And I can do without the whole winter as well.’
‘Me too, but then perhaps we should get rid of summer
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