Winter in Italy

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Most people think of Italy as a summery place. So instead, I want to describe winter. The temperatures here in Torino, which is near the Alps, are not so different from those in north Georgia, where I’m from. It’s hot in the summer (90sF/high30sC), and cold in the winter. But it’s not nearly as cold and blustery as New York City, where I lived before moving to Italy. In fact, it rarely gets below 25 (-3 C) here, and it’s almost never windy in winter. And it snows a couple of times a year, but it usually doesn’t last long. So all in all Torino has a pretty tolerable climate.

One part of the Italian stereotype does hold, though: The Torinese don’t like cold weather. But they also complain that it used to snow more often. And this summer they complained that there was no warm season at all. They could barely go to the sea. And they complain about the strange, violent hailstorms we’ve been having in summer. Get the picture? This may all be quite true, but weather makes a good subject for complaint. You can’t do a thing about it. Sort of like politics.

One legitimate reason people here don’t like the cold is that it’s generally drier in summer and damper in winter. Starting sometime in early fall, there will be a day in the 60s, and immediately you’ll see people wrapped up thickly in cotton scarves as though they’re suffering from acute tonsillitis. Men even wear scarves with their business suits–indoors. This is because Italians don’t like drafts. Not from air conditioners, not from the hot wind that sometimes comes down from the mountains (the Föhn), not from getting out of the shower, not from the part of the house away from the wood stove (if one is lucky enough to have one) or from near the thin windows if one pays a fortune for building-wide oil heat (like we do, can you tell?). And they especially hate drafts from damp fog or winter rain. As my Australian friend Zoe sums it up: “It’s air! It’s moving!”

It also rains a lot in the fall–as in heavy, pouring rain, from late October to early December this year. But that wasn’t so cold. The coldest and dampest aspect of winter, at least here in the Po Valley, is nebbia fitta–thick fog. This is why the cars here are equipped with fog lights, fendinebbia, and there are drastically reduced speed limit signs in case of fog (not that anyone here obeys the traffic laws). To ward off this freezing fog phenomenon, the humans are equipped with piumini (long down coats). The temperature may be quite reasonable, in the low 40s, but when the fog sets in so thick at night that the traffic signals send out long rays that intersect with the beams coming out from beneath the portici, even I am glad for a layer of goose feathers. I confess I wear a knit hat now if it gets anywhere near freezing. And a scarf, of course. I am becoming a total weather wimp.

There are other consolations of winter: bagna cauda, chamomile tea and other tisane, pudding-thick hot chocolate, salsiccia (link sausage), and clementines (and clementine peels on radiators!). And in places like Florence, which suffer from tourist-crowding and heat all summer, December with its shimmery-dressed shop windows against the rustic brown buildings, and its long-rayed afternoon light, can be absolutely breathtaking.

Yesterday morning a friend and I took the car out for a trip to the suburbs. As we hit the end of the city proper and made for an open road heading out to the west, the mountains opened up before us, in every direction, all covered in snow. It was so clear you could see every crevice, and the sky was a deep blue. The mountains are as inevitable as anything else about Torino, but I don’t hear anyone complaining about them. In fact, whenever I see them, I feel incredibly lucky to live so near.

Buon anno! Bon any nou! Happy New Year!

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