Have you ever worn a hat to bed? I mean, you may have read stories or seen illustrations of people in days of yore, sleeping in night caps (as they were apparently called) – but have YOU ever physically slept with one on because it was that damn cold? I have – and it wasn’t in the snow-blown, blizzard barren land I call home (Ohio), either. Believe it or not, it was in Southern Italy, of all places.
When many think of “Sunny Italy,” thoughts of perpetual sun and sea come to mind. This perception is greatly supported by the fact that most tourists visit the country in the summer months, so it makes sense. What people don’t associate with Itay though, are those bone-chilling moments when you think, “Where am I?” It can actually get much more than merely freschetto (chilly) – in the winter months it’s downright freddo cane (literally, a dog’s cold – don’t ask me about the analogy).
The transition from the fall to winter months seems to be a genuinely tragic event for most Italians. Although clearly experienced before, they tend to complain about it as if it was the first time it has ever happened. They will whine and moan for weeks about the changing temperatures – and don’t get them started on the dreaded cambio di stagione at home. Che palle! That is the worst. Since the majority of Italian homes are small apartments, the closets don’t have the space to house all four seasons’ worth of clothes at once. Cue the cambio di stagione: the annoyingly necessary evil of switching out your spring/summer clothes with your stored fall/winter ones (often under their modernly functional beds, which lift up to reveal a mecca of storage space often crucial to existence). What really burns about the cambio di stagione is you never think to do it until the weather’s already turned and you’ve already gotten sick from your lack of layers, which really adds to the likability factor of the whole process.
Then, there are the Italian homes themselves: structurally sound, no doubt – but built with materials one would classify as the opposite of cozy. Constructed purely of cement and laid over concrete slabs, the builders are clearly convinced they live in the tropics rather than Western Europe. The flooring is traditionally marble or tile (never have I seen a carpeted living area), and Italians are just not into textiles, meaning their homes can best be described as bare in respect to their American counterparts. While I’m definitely into the modern minimalist thing and have been swayed by European style quite a bit, to me, a home still needs to be comfortable and inviting. And being the americana I am, I was keen on adding wood flooring, multiple area rugs, hefty curtains, the oversize couch and an exorbitant amount of pillows to our apartment. But I was well aware that my home decorating tendencies put me in a very small minority. Style is subjective, but one thing is certain: when winter arrives in Italy, those undressed households surrounded by concrete walls become literal ice boxes, sealing in the cold, damp air and sending it straight down your spine and through your bones.
Of course, the remedy for this is one, simple gesture: turning the heat on! Only problem is, most of the older homes don’t have central heating/air installed (like the one I wore a hat to sleep in), and their inhabitants are convinced it’s not that cold (all those years of freezing their culetti off has rendered them numb). Alternatively, those who do have central heat don’t use it as much as they should. I’ve walked into homes in the dead of winter that had their balcony doors open. Don’t ask me why. Better to stay freschi (fresh), they say. As for me, better to shiver in silence. Otherwise, not only am I the spoiled, exaggerating American – I’m the spoiled, exaggerating American who complains a lot.
Another important note: if you travel to Italy during the winter months, be prepared to witness the state of the country’s infrastructure literally crumbling around you. Winter is the rainy season, and any significant rainfall is pretty much synonymous with the apocalypse. Italy’s lack of emergency preparedness becomes painfully clear as inclement weather cripples cities and towns. In the Northern areas, there are mudslides, lives lost, the whole shebang. And in Rome, forget it: even a normal amount of rain wreaks total havoc on that city, flooding streets (and the Tiber river), and closing bus stops and the metro. And god forbid it snows – in 2011 there was a freak snowstorm in Rome, and it was as close to a state of emergency as I’d ever lived through. The day the storm hit, my usual commute of twenty minutes or so turned into four hours of treacherous driving, and when I finally arrived at our town one of the main roads was completely unpassable, leaving me no choice but to abandon my vehicle at a certain point and walk about a mile uphill to my house. For the following three days, we were stranded at home (with my car still at the bottom of the hill), forced to walk another half mile or so hoping to find a store open with food and supplies.
Moral of the story: plan your trip to the Bel Paese in the spring/summer/early fall. The rest of the world may have the same idea, but you’ll be better off and much happier with the experience. Winter in Italy can be hazardous to your health, in more ways than one.
How do the rest of the COSI’ members take on winter in Italy?
Rick’s Rome: http://rickzullo.com/how-to-enjoy-winter-in-italy
Surviving in Italy: http://survivinginitaly.com/2015/11/16/baby-its-cold-outside-and-inside-im-basically-dying-of-hypothermia-in-florence/
Unwilling Expat: https://unwillingexpat.wordpress.com/2015/11/16/winter-in-sicily/
The Florence Diaries: http://theflorencediaries.com/
Englishman in Italy: http://englishmaninitaly.org/
Married to Italy: http://marriedtoitaly.com/