In the Umbrian dusk a hundred soldiers in street clothes sallied from the barracks in the lower town, drunk on wine and cheerful in their collective strength and their appetite for damage. They ascended the old narrow streets in a rowdy throng, crashing forward and spilling garbage out the municipal bins, bellowing a political battle song. The shops that had been still open were suddenly closing—the owners heard the men coming and they quickly pulled down the front metal shutters, snapping heavy padlocks on them. Then they escaped, rushing upward ahead of the loud advance or they hurried away along even smaller side streets. From the top floors of three- and four-story buildings, people looked out their open windows while leaning back, not wanting to be seen. The soldiers staggered and bumped shoulders, laughing, singing their song of force, heading up through their ancient hill town toward the high piazza with a fountain at one end and a church at the other. This open place had been the medieval center of town; and before that, had been the Roman center; and long before that, had resonated with pleas to older failed gods—while in all those times, olives and apples and figs and truffles and bread and meat and wine had been sold on market day. The streets the soldiers had left behind were holding very still, making not a sound. Televisions had been turned down, phones were not ringing, conversations were whispered, as the chaotic singing and shouting and booming and clattering of more garbage bins echoed from all the eras of stone walls, around curves and corners of the streets.
The next evening at the same hour, all seemed ordinary—peaceful, as families and lovers and cronies and widows talked at dinner in apartments and restaurants, watched television, and in the narrowest streets, here and there a man or woman sat in a house chair outside open front doors. Children played in courtyards and streets. Inside one very quiet open-air restaurant that was surrounded by high walls and could be entered only after going down many steps of a pedestrian alley, there were pleasant tables and chairs and a scraggly side lawn, and a few large trees. In a cage hung on the wall, a bright-feathered parrot was watching the human beings linger over food and wine and talk as their children ran around, and under a conical roof woven of reeds, on tall poles, there was a lieutenant eating at a large table alone, notvlooking at anyone, not much looked at. He had been served amiably by the middle daughter of the owner, who also served eight other tables. He had eaten an antipasto dish, bread, a tris of pasta (with cheese, truffles, and peas), lamb cutlets, green beans, and had drunk two glasses of wine. He had eaten without haste, alone amidst the others. When he had finished his courses, the waitress brought him a broad aluminum bowl half-filled with water and a little ice, in which four peaches were floating. He chose one, and she smiled and put before him a small plate, and she handed him a fruit knife, and then retreated. He picked up the small sharp knife with a pale plastic handle, and patiently, gently, took off the skin, seeming to enjoy the tedium of this little ritual. On the small plate he sliced it, then he dried his hands on his napkin, and ate it with a fork. In his eyes, there was a look of dreamy contentment.