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Swifts Over Perugia

I got up early to see the swifts. That moment when the sky above Perugia appeared made of tempera, as if it were a ceiling coated with a chalky pigment and the swifts were brushstrokes newly painted. I had described it to somebody as if I had seen an antique fresco painting of birds and chimney pots and floating solitary insects to mark the passing of time.

I have never seen so many swifts in one place, all bending the bows of their swiftness. They trail each other answering shrill for shrill, piercing the day and my ears. They come round again and again a few feet from this balcony, adjusting at the last moment their breakneck speed to avoid the balustrades. No doubt they speed the doom of insects as they veer suddenly from their trajectories. Zip ZIP ZAP! They are like small gods, I think, tapping some inexhaustible source of energy.

They are everywhere, in every crevice of the sky. They make me look up. The sky is so big, Perugia so still. A wandering crow appears like a dumpling. I match the swifts with an answering shrill but I cannot find the stream of stony bubbles chit chit chitting each other.

The flight of birds eludes me. So close, so tangible, so fleeting and always beyond the net of my words. I am charmed by this Umbrian moment. I will ask if anyone has painted a fresco of the swifts of Perugia. If not, I will think again of the photographs of cities without the people, the flowers without the insects, the sky of Perugia without the swifts.