Miners and bankers have much in common when it comes to the job: both share unhealthy work environments (coal and colleagues respectively), both get their hands dirty and both are sunshine deprived. The main difference is, that on one hand you have rough and usually rather unfriendly people, whilst on the other, you have the normal guys (I mean the miners, in case you are in any doubt). However, banking is indeed conducted in the shadows. And by that I don’t mean shadow banking; trading floors the size of football pitches are poorly lit by endless suspended hanging surfaces of neon tubes that cast a uniformly pale light everywhere the eye can see. It’s fifty shades of grey, actually. The lucky ones that sit around the usually glazed perimeter of the floor can enjoy the sometime spectacular views outside. And that’s the banking version of the lucky 1%. But for the vast majority of bankers it’s a slippery slope towards ever declining vision. Me? I sit right in the middle of the floor and I don’t see any sunlight for about ten hours a day except for lunch break. When people say I have a nice tan I suspect it must be the constant radiation from the five computer screens the size of a tennis table in front of me.
No wonder I miss the sun as much as I would miss a limb. Sunlight is the cheerful life companion of Italians to the point of influencing our history, philosophy and the way we look at life. It is not by accident that from Egypt to the ancient Greeks and Romans – all the southern world worshipped the Sun as a God – Deus Sol Invictus, unconquered Sun.
Neither would one be able to understand the Kantian Noumenon – the quest for what stays unknown in the shadows – or the storms unhinged by the literary movement Sturm und Drang. N or even the references by Goethe and Wagner to the darkness and chaos if one didn’t see the cloudy skies of Northern Europe and the immense and dark forests of Germany. What is around us becomes inextricably part of us, what the Romans called Genius loci: the protective spirit of the place around where our lives are lived. The blue of the sea, the bright yellow of the fields, the blinding light of Southern Italy are all absorbed into the souls and minds and take on the aspects of feelings and thoughts. Metaphors become lifestyles. It is probably under the suffocating heat of a summer afternoon that the ancient philosopher Zeno from sunny Elea (not far from Naples) postulated that movement is an illusion and that Achilles will never run as fast to catch the turtle. Knowing what 40 degrees feels like, I can empathise with him. I am not surprised either as to why the Calabrian philosopher Tommaso Campanella many centuries later dubbed his utopic realm ‘The City of the Sun’, possibly writing under shards of blazing sunlight down in the tip of the Italian boot.
Sunlight can take the mind back to many happy things and memories and I am not talking of the obvious ones, like the seaside or picnics. The joyful spirits of a family reunited in the masseria – the Apulian country home – after the tomato harvest whilst making the yearly supply of tomato sauce.
A true feast of the senses consumed every August. But the most precious moment during the long summers in Southern Italy is the controra, the Italian version of Spanish siesta. It lasts from between 2.30pm and 4pm, when it is vital to shield oneself from the heat and the intoxicating sun. It is a time when the local universe stops. Shops do not open until 5pm, streets are deserted and no car horns can be heard landlines stay silent and the only sounds are the gentle buzz of a fan or refrigerator. A delicate sense of melancholy pervades the dosing families. It is a time for rest and reflection. The sunlight that penetrates through the rolling shutters cuts the fine dust in the air drawing arabesques of shimmering haze. The connection with time is lost.