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Surviving Winter in Italy

Stone Wall of Anghiari, Italy

One of the things we wanted to experience when we moved to Italy was to live through every season from start to finish.  We’ve visited here for snippets of each season, but we haven’t lived through them all, watching one give way to another.  Now that we are almost through winter, I can say that it is my least favorite season here.  Being the good Southern girl that I am, winter is hard for me anyway.  As I get older (and wiser?) I have a greater appreciation for things that warm my body and soul.  The glorious sunshine here is definitely one of them.

They Lied about the Tramontana

People here talk about the tramontana.  You’ll hear the word as you pass by a group of men in the piazza, huddled together, gesturing precisely.  Women will comment on it after their friendly “Buongiorno” greeting.  Friends will talk about it as you’re catching up with them, with a fearful glance toward the heavens.

Millie the dog sleeping in Italy
The best way to survive the tramontana

When fall yielded to winter, this wind made its appearance.  We were told by the locals that it’s worse during the change of seasons.  This wind that blows down from the Alps in the north, is violent and relentless.  But it’s not only around during the change of seasons.  It has persisted throughout the winter in a random and unpredictable way.  Not unlike Atlanta, the weather here in the winter is all over the place.  We’ll have perfect days with warm temps that lull you into thinking the worst is over, abruptly followed by blustery, gray, dreary days that make you want to curl into a ball.  Some nights when we’re sound asleep, we’ll be awakened by the sound of the wind churning outside.  We know that means the next day will be unbearable.  We roll over and pull the covers tighter around us, glad for our sturdy house and warm radiators.

Tuscan landscape
Don’t be fooled by this beautiful scene. Clouds are racing across the sky from the wind.

The days that the tramontana is worse are the most beautiful days imaginable.  Rarely are they gray and dreary, but usually bright and sunny with puffy white clouds that dart along the sky propelled by the wind.  Days you yearn to be outside.  I always think I can insulate myself from the tramontana by bundling up in my warmest coat, pulling on hat and gloves, wrapping a scarf around my neck.  Then I step outside and remember that my Georgia born constitution is no match for this fiendish wind.  It slices through me like a hot knife through butter and lashes at my body with abandon.  Sometimes we try to find a spot where it’s not so bad.  Down in the valley or up on a ridge.  We’ll drive somewhere promising and get out of the car, optimistic that we’ve eluded it, only to take a few steps and have it discover our secret location.

The Fading Light of Summer

There are two things that characterize winter here that make it almost unbearable for me.  Wind and light.  In the glory days of summer, we have over 16 hours of sunlight each day.  It’s not unusual for us to take a walk on a summer night at 9:30 with plenty of light out.  But in the winter reverse that, and in the darkest days just before the winter solstice, at 4:30 it’s dark out.  And we don’t see the sun until almost 8:00 the next morning.  Long, dark periods that truly define cocooning.

We’re seeing more and more daylight hours now that we’re getting closer to summer.  Each day adds a few seconds until one day you notice the dark is delaying its appearance.  It’s making us yearn for those long summer days where the sun is intense and the venticello is refreshing.  The fact that they have different names for wind here is instructive.  One word cannot capture these varying things.

Spring is Coming

Fresh articokes at an Italian marketThe increased daylight hours make us feel like we’ve almost made it through the worst of winter.  Then the tramontana will kick up and remind us that winter is not done with us yet.  But at least we have more daylight and we know that soon the Earth will spin its way around so that we’re closer to the radiator of the universe.  And the tramontana will give way to the venticello and all will be right again.  And maybe, just maybe, the tramontana is growing more restless now because we are nearing spring – a change of season.  So, maybe they didn’t necessarily lie about the tramontana.  Maybe it is worse during the change of seasons.  In that case, I’ll take a few more weeks of it if it means that spring is near and we can live outside again.  Besides, it’s artichoke season and that alone makes winter worthwhile.

The weather on this peninsula is amazing.  I have to remind myself that I’m only about a two hour drive from each coast.  I’m really smack in the middle of the boot with mountains on one side and hills on the other.  Weather blows in and out of here in a most unpredictable way.  A meteorologist would either have a field day or a nightmare here.  I’m reminded of George Carlin as the Hippy Dippy Weatherman summing up the unpredictability of predicting the weather.


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