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Sunrise in Anghiari, Italy

When I was child, summers meant being outside almost every waking moment.  My mother was the kind who would find things, awful things, for you to do if you said you were bored.  So you didn’t say that and you stayed as far away from those awful things as possible.  It didn’t rain every afternoon, but darn close.  You’d be out playing and notice the shadows start creeping over you from the dark clouds covering the sun.  The thunder would rumble a time or two and you would run for the porch before the fat drops starting pelting you.  Sometimes you smelled it before you noticed the clouds.  That sharp, mineral smell that means rain is coming.  They didn’t last long, those scattered summer showers.  They either cooled things off or made them soggy with humidity, and created new opportunities for playing – mud and all things related to it.

Not since those childhood days have I been so connected to the weather as I am here in Italy.  The adult years mostly saw me watching weather and its machinations through the window and cursing what it did to traffic.  But here, we live so close to the outside that I have renewed that childhood bond with the elements.

Living Inside Out

I never realized what a difference not having screens make in connecting you to the outdoors.  That thin, almost transparent mesh that covers our windows is a barrier to the great outdoors.  I’m not sure exactly what this culture has against screens, but they’re virtually non-existent here.  With no screens and no AC, we live inside out.  The windows are open, the bugs fly or crawl in, and we all live together.  Not always happily, but so be it.  It used to bother me when I would go to Italians’ homes and the doors and windows would be flung open and bugs would be zooming by your head as you’re trying to twirl your pasta.  They didn’t pay any attention to it – kind of like how South Georgians blow the gnats away from their face without thinking.  Now that’s my house.

The architecture here is so different from what we’re used to in the American South.  In the village there are no shrubs up against your house.  No driveway running alongside the side.  No paths with flower borders that snake from the sidewalk or driveway to the front door.  Here, there is just the outside.  Window boxes maybe, but nothing separates you from the elements.  When your windows are open, you can stick your arm out to get a wind reading.  Or poke your head out and ask your husband where he put the super glue.  There’s an intimacy with the outside that doesn’t exist in our climate controlled, shrub-lined American houses.

I know this does not sound like most people’s idea of paradise.  Bugs in the house is one thing, but no AC?  That is almost unheard of.  These houses are designed different from our American homes.  Thick, stone walls help to keep the heat out, but it’s the windows that make the big difference.  Italian windows are a thing of beauty.  Slatted shutters on the outside, casement windows in the middle, and solid shutters on the inside.  There’s a certain choreography to opening and closing all or parts of these window sections to maximize airflow and minimize sunlight.

One of the most delightful parts of the day is the middle of the afternoon – that hottest part of the day when Italians collectively take a pause.  That’s when you close the outside slatted shutters, but open the windows to let the breeze in.  Rooms take on a cocoon-like, shadowy quality with the bright sunlight blocked but the breeze allowed in.  It’s a twilight zone of interiors spaces – inside, but outside enough to let that filtered light come through creating a kind of day-darkness.  You hear the birds, cicadas, and voices floating past with you tightly ensconced in your snow globe of a room.  If there was ever a perfect environment for a nap, this is it.


Here in this Mediterranean climate, the sun casts a different shadow than it does in my place of birth.  In Georgia, the sun is hot and punishing, but the air in the summer is thick with humidity, amplifying the heat of the sun and casting a blanket over your body.  You can find some relief in the shade, especially when there’s a breeze, but you still feel that heaviness.

A classic characteristic of the Mediterranean climate are hot, arid summers.  Here the humidity is lower and and you feel the sun more intensely without the barrier of humidity.  But when you step into the shade, it’s as if you’ve stepped into an oasis.  It’s instantly manageable, often quite pleasant.  This is what I’ve heard of all my life, I guess, as the dry heat.  “It’s a dry heat”, people would say, as if it was some magical thing that we in the drippy south couldn’t understand.  Which, of course, we couldn’t.


There’s almost always some kind of breeze here.  It can be a slight stirring or a full blow-your-hair-into-your-face-and-your-skirt-over-your-head gust.  I’ve written many times about this mysterious wind we have here.  This peninsula, with it’s mountainous spine joins the Swiss Alps to the northwest and the Austrian Alps to the northeast.  We get blasts of cool air (cold in the winter) that rush over the mountains on their way to the sea.  We’re just high enough here that we catch those breezes on a regular basis.

I’ve come to love those gusts that blow through our house, slamming doors shut and rattling windows.  On days where it’s not so morbidly hot outside, we keep all the window layers open and allow the breeze to wash through the house.  It can be in the high 80s but with the breeze it feels downright balmy inside.  There’s nothing like walking through the house with the breeze blowing your hair and brushing your face.

Things That Fall From the Sky

There’s not much rain here in the summer, but when it comes, it comes with a vengeance.  Hailstorms are not uncommon, the kind that destroy crops and dent car roofs.  And overturn your patio umbrellas and potted plants.  The last one came out of nowhere and we didn’t have time to put the umbrellas down.  I watched as they cartwheeled across the terrace, spilling pots and crushing plants along the way.  There was nothing I could do.  I didn’t mind getting wet to try and curtail the mayhem, but I did mind having my eye put out by an errant hailstone the size of a golf ball.

The rain, however, likes to tease us.  We’ll get dark clouds and rumbles of thunder and are sure we’re about to get a good dousing.  But the wind will keep blowing those clouds past us and we remain dry.  Our terrace has an excellent view of the Tiber Valley and the weather we see playing out over that valley is a wonder.  Torrential rain in one spot and sun shining just a few miles away.  Rainbows that arc over the mountains and end up on the valley floor – just certain to be pointing to that pot of gold.

The Elements of Being

Every place has its weather peculiarities.  It’s unpredictable, this thing that we try so hard to foretell.  It rules our lives in so many ways and determines our wardrobes, influences our social plans, and forms our impressions of a place.  It creates more than an environment for us, it gives us life.  And even though we complain about the weather here from time to time, living in this Mediterranean climate with its nuances that are so foreign to us, is thrilling.  It’s like the language that we try so hard to learn and understand.  There are familiar elements to it, but it’s not what we’re used to.  It challenges us.  And that is a big part of why we moved here.

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