Scene in Europe,
L’Ora Blu- The Hour of Blue
All was cloaked in sombre shades of azure as dusk gently fell. Henry, 21 and fair haired, wandered through the shadowy slender streets of the ancient city that awoke within him so much of his, as yet, unspent youth and energy. He was only now beginning to feel the pulse of blood rushing through his body as he finally understood what it was like to look upon life and taste its endless bounty. Free and far from family ties, he’d been travelling through Europe on his father’s seemingly endless wallet of money and his mother’s gin flavoured blessing and quickly found temptations too intoxicating for his nubile body to say no to. He had a swagger in his step now that had replaced his teenage goofiness and the stubble, newly worn on his high cheek boned face, still enticed his own fingers to stroke its magnificence.
Having spent the last hours of sunlight in Piazza San Marco, amid the lure of the orchestra and the popping of champagne corks which increased his relaxation with every explosion, he left the small group of Spanish ladies who’d gathered around his table, intoxicated by his charm, carefree gaze and ripening musk, and wandered off alone to explore the island, leaving the grandeur of the Bell Tower, Basilica and the Doge’s Palace, stopping along the way to watch the market traders of the Rialto Bridge close down their stalls for the evening before he let the island and its canals be his guide. After taking a turn somewhere to the north of the island, through a cluster of narrow side streets of scorched red walls, lined with drain pipes, hanging baskets and swaying blankets on balconies being aired, he approached a rundown old bridge where a wane woman leaned over the balustrade and permitted troubled tears to fall into the water. Her taffeta skirts, in bolts of brilliant blue, billowed in the breeze while in her hand she held a single white zinnia. As Henry drew close to the woman, her scent enveloped him, an aroma reminiscent of his grandmother’s pantry filled with cinnamon sticks and almond paste wrapped in muslin cloths.
“Why are you crying, Madame?” inquired Henry, “don’t you think Venice is already filled with enough water of its own?”
“Tis the hour of melancholia, sir,” she replied and, as their eyes met, she saw immediately in his those sparkles of youth and life that were so recently his gain and so long her loss. She looked away, as if to shield herself from more unnecessary pain, turning her gaze instead to the zinnia which trembled in her hands, hands that had once been complimented on their texture and tone, which now looked like cracked particles of paint longing to fall from a mural upon which it had rested for far too long.
“I am Padua,” she told him, but her eyes remained on her fading reflection in the water beneath her, “I was once worshiped like this Venetian City, had a youth that was considered priceless and a lust for life that was worshiped by all, and not just the myriad of merry men who courted me constantly. But time is cruel and now I’m as broken as the bridge upon which I stand, as the city upon which it leans into. So quickly fallen from momentous to meaningless and I’m falling still,” she said as she dropped her single zinnia into the canal.
Henry quickly bent by the water and retrieved it, still intact, though dripping with its own tears, but when he rose there was nothing more to see except for the empty broken bridge and a rusting balustrade held by nothing but the grip of unyielding time. It was then that he noticed the old and pealing poster on the wall just across the bridge, advertising the perfume.
L’Ora Blu was written in sapphire smoke escaping from an open bottle. “We are nothing more than the memories we make,” it read, “remember who you once were in the melancholic magic of L’Ora Blu.” And there, in print on the cracked poster, was Henry’s vanished woman, younger certainly, but still recognisable. As he watched the last of the light caress the wall, her fragile hand extended out to accept a zinnia from a man serenading her from a gondola, while the rest of her body leaned toward another hand, beckoning her deep into the shadows.
Time is cruel, he thought to himself, remembering her words, but then he remembered the bar from the previous night with its own myriad of merry maidens and he turned away from the scented shadows and headed off for continued adventure with that newly acquired swagger. As he hummed a tune to himself, he was totally unaware, that with each footstep he took, another petal fell from the single white zinnia that he still held in his, as yet, unblemished hand.
All words and photographs by Damien B. Donnelly