Vignettes from a Tuscan Cold Spell
I. “Amy, why are you bringing a sweater to Italy?”
Back in the US, thatwas the question on everyone’s lips, with the unspoken implication that Siena would be some kind of beach paradise. Never mind that I talked to people who had done the same program and highly recommended I bring warm clothes and rainboots; never mind that I had been reading travel blogs every night to advise my packing; never mind that the people speaking had either only been to Italy for a short period in the summer or else not at all—the idea of my having a warm layering cardigan in case of a chilly day was ludicrous.
During my pre-departure packing spree for Siena, every time someone asked me why I needed gloves or suggested I keep my high socks at home, I thought to myself, Soon. Soon you’ll be there and everyone will understand. Both days that Siena was hit with an uncharacteristic snow day I was sure to post photographic evidence online. I am nothing if not non-combative and petty.
II. One 50-degree day in February, one of my host sisters arrived home shivering. Fa freddo!, she had said, and when I expressed my disbelief—it had been warm no less than an hour before—she offered a hand to me to feel.
“Oh, wow, that is cold!” I told her, feeling like a liar. It felt like a normal hand, but who was I to tell my host sister that her totally valid opinion about the weather was wrong? I didn’t want to be too American so early in my stay.
There was only more to come. When my host family sees me leave the house in less than full winter regalia, their concern that I may catch la febbre is palpable. At home, this is the weather I would start wearing skirts and tights in, but here that is unthinkable. I’ve taken to disguising my outside clothes so they seem warmer than they are—I’ve removed the lining from my jacket, I wear my thinnest scarf, and what look like thick, hardy jeans are actually jeggings.
III. On a sunny day when I could finally feel the heat from the sun through the cold of winter, I took off my cardigan inside and wore only a short-sleeved shirt and a scarf. One of my professors tapped my arm. “Are you not cold?” she asked me. I outwardly laughed reassuringly and inwardly raised my eyebrows in bafflement. I was inside. The sun was out. The heating was presumably on in the building. Their cold is my sunny day.
This precaution of looking like winter but dressing like spring are necessary for two reasons. First, every native Italian person is going to be dressed like the White Queen of Narnia—there’s going to be a possibly floor-length jacket and full winter coverage, but they’re still going to find a way to last this eternal winter and look stylish as they can doing it. Wearing less than that is like throwing on a big hat that says “I’m not from here!”, which isn’t really what you want even if you actually aren’t from there.
The other problem is that it invites the same kind of conversation as when an American wears basketball shorts in a Northeastern winter—there’s a certain variety of person, usually a concerned parent, who sees an unbuttoned jacket as an opportunity to tell you to cover up before you catch cold. The first time that happened to me, I stuttered out a few vaguely Italian syllables, acted grateful, and walked very, very quickly. The second time, I covered up before I caught cold, resigned to this confusing cultural rift from both sides that conspired to keep me at temporal extremes.
IV. Once at dinner, one of my host sisters hummed a little bit of Uptown Funk (Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars). “I love that song!”, I told her, so she played the video, and the whole family was suddenly dancing (fully seated) and singing the song I had tried to chain on the radio while driving in the weeks before I left. It was hilarious and fun and just general proof that my host family is the ideal, but I couldn’t help feeling a bit bitter as they sang the lines too hot/hot damn/make a dragon wanna retire, man. They will never understand the oppressive, constant, insulated warmth of an American body feigning Italian temperature, but I in turn will never understand the constant shivering cold of an Italian body living an Italian winter. At least the world will keep on turning, and soon bring me to the perfect balance of an Italian spring.
Amy Giacomucci - Liberal Arts - Spring 2015