No, extra-terrestrials have not landed in Rapallo. Instead it is time to mow the river. The Torrente San Francesco is fed by all the little streams and rivulets that start in the folds of our high mountain and head towards the sea. By the time they arrive on the plain of Rapallo they have become the Torrente. For most of the year that is a misnomer, as you can see in the photo below. Not only is it not a torrent, you can see hardly any water at all in some places. What you can see is a lot of greenery, including the dreaded bamboo on the right in the picture above. To give you an idea of how much water there can be after heavy rains, in 2002 I saw the top of the river almost breach the high retaining walls that you see below. The mowers tackle not only the river bed itself, but also the walls which sprout quantities of viney, clingy weeds in all seasons.
Why the haz-mat suits? I’m not sure. Just to be safe, I guess. I can tell you what they wear under them. Not much. Sometimes a wife-beater tee-shirt, sometimes no shirt at all, and, I suppose, trousers, although I didn’t verify that. The river is home to many, many ducks and geese as well as the occasional cat.
I asked mower Luis how often they have to mow the river. They last did it two months ago, he said. How long does it take to finish the river? A week or more, it’s hard work after two months of heavy growth. When I asked him what was the most interesting or amusing thing they found in the river his face clouded for a minute. “We find a lot of dead animals,” he said. But then he smiled sweetly and continued, “but we also find the birds’ nests, and we always mow around them.”
Everybody’s happy when the river has been mowed. Something minty grows down there, and the perfume fills Via Bette from the Autostrada Bridge all the way down to Giorgio’s bakery, where the mouth-watering smell of freshly baked bread prevails. Also you can see what’s going on so much better after the mowing. Something delicious must be hiding in that hole; this cat was so intent that even loud shouts of ‘hey, kitty!’ didn’t get his attention.
Uh oh! Looks like Luis found some hazardous material after all… but no. He’s just having a little ‘pisolino’ (nap) after his picnic lunch.