Something was lacking on the Tuscan coast.
The Tyrrhenian Sea spilled out as always between the outstretched arms of Porto Ercole to the south and Talamone to the north. Sailboats crossed before the hazy, distant islands. Inland, the landscape hit all the familiar “Under the Tuscan Sun” touchstones: cypress trees pointing up at billowing cumulus clouds, vineyards rolling back to medieval hilltop towns.
And yet, as I stood this December outside the house where my wife’s parents have spent their summers for years, something was missing. The answer came from my daughter, who ran up the hill like a screwy Italo-English-speaking town crier.
“There are no zanzare,” she shouted gleefully. No mosquitoes!
The area of Maremma on the coast of Tuscany and Latium was long called Bitter Maremma and plagued by malaria until the 1950s. Those diseased days are long gone, but the mosquitoes are still a nuisance, and the smell of bug spray mixed with sunscreen is the perfume of summer.
But in December, wafts of wood burning in chimneys or bonfires in the fields take over and the mosquitoes mostly vanish. Their disappearance is just one example of how absence — of crowds, cars and commotion — makes my heart grow fonder for the Tuscan off-season..............