Thursday, May 11, 2006


My own "piega di signora" has been ruined. This is because I got caught in a storm in Modica Bassa this morning.

Culture shock: One of the cultural "props" that you may lose when you move to a new country is your "inner barometer" or ability to predict the weather. This morning the sun was shining and I'm ashamed, as a British woman, to say I went out without an umbrella! I'd got over-confident, weather-wise! Suddenly it just thundered and poured and hailed - and how come the Italians were all prepared with umbrellas?!

Sometimes it gets very overcast here and you think it's definitely going to rain but it just doesn't. Another time the rain will come out of nowhere. The drainage isn't good so in a bad storm some roads get flooded quickly. I, of course, put my hood up and march intrepidly on, whereas the Italians usually shelter in a shop doorway - because they know it will stop soon - whilst I expect it to last all day!

Mind you, we did have a storm that lasted for three days, with no let-up at all, back in the autumn. Even the weather does things by extremes in Sicily!

In the summer, the temperature reaches over 40 C and it is so hot that you can feel your shoes melting beneath you. That's when I understood why a lot of women do their shopping very early, before the heat really kicks in.

When I first came to Italy, as a student in 1969, my first impression of an Italian house was how dark it was inside. This was because the shutters were down and here, in high summer, you have to shut your glass doors and the shutters outside them from 9 am to around 7 pm, to keep the hot air out. At 7, you can almost hear the collective sigh of relief as everyone opens up to enjoy the cooler evening air. Last summer I had no TV or internet connection so I just sat here with the shutters open, listening to the music of the cigales in the evenings.

Italian houses are built for the heat whilst British ones are built to withstand the cold. On a dull or rainy day, the houses and apartment blocks here look to me rather sad, as if they aren't used to it and don't know how to react.

But the one thing we don't do in Britain is to allow ourselves to feel cold inside the home. Here, in autumn and winter, people seem, to me, to allow themselves to freeze indoors! Partly this is because there are laws about how long, when and to what temperature you can heat your house: in Modica this winter it was for 10 hours per day [then it went down to 9 because of the Russian gas supply crisis], from mid-November to mid-March, to 20 C [then lowered to 19]. Being British, I thought you really had to obey these rules, until it was explained to me that "Questa è la faccia" ["this is the face"] - then the hand was flipped over - "e questa è la realtà, signora" ["this is the reality"]. In some apartment blocks the heating is centrally controlled whilst in others, such as this one, I am glad to say, you can control it yourself. But it does seem that most Italians stick to the rules and I don't know how they can stand being so cold at home. I can only imagine that they absorb enough vitamin D [or whichever one it is] during the hot summers to keep them going through the winters!

I think that George Mikes was right when he wrote that Italy has "lovely weather but a rotten climate"!

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