This may not be in Umbria, but it is real Italian snow
West descibes the complexities of the weather in this part of Italy. You will probably be surprised at some of what she has to say.
When we arrived in Umbria to live, we groped our way right down from Turin through a dense yellow fog and from that day on were forced to revise our expectations about the weather. This area of Italy, possessing no coastline at all, has a continental climate of extremes. Winter is winter. Summer is truly summer. It is not the place for someone who likes their whole year to pass in a blur of comfortable uniformity.
We had heard of fortunate ex-pats sunbathing on their terraces on Christmas day; this I am prepared to believe. Direct sunlight here, while giving an extraordinary clarity to everything it touches, is also extremely warm at any time of year. While it lasts. But every other sort of weather is very fully represented.
We live on a hill aptly named Windy Hill. There are two prevailing winds. The ‘tramontana’ from the North is a searingly fierce cold wind; the traditional ‘lazy’ wind that blows through you rather than going round you. The ‘scirocco’ from the South is warm but just as unwelcome because it usually brings rain, and since Italian houses are constructed in the belief that it never rains and indeed that water does not really exist, the rain gets in everywhere – under the doors, round the windows, through the basement walls.
And can it rain! Thunderstorms are frequent in this mountainous area. They can be heard approaching across the valley, booming and echoing, attended by great fissures of light splitting the darkness (they usually happen at night). These days we take the precaution of unplugging the telephone and the laptop because once a bolt of lightning hit the television aerial of our semi-detached neighbours, causing a noise that sounded like every pane of glass in the house imploding, plunging us into darkness and projecting a piece of our lamp switch and some vital innards of our phone several feet into the air.
The best thing of all about the winter is the wonderfully uplifting sight of the snow on the mountains. I never get tired of looking at its pure white creaminess. Cars come down from the mountains to the snowless valleys with a coating of snow several inches thick. But sometimes it snows lower down as well. In our first winter we were involved in the construction of a snowman, which lasted until our golden retriever knocked it down in his efforts to seize the carrot nose. Snowchains are compulsory equipment on some roads. Fortunately I’ve never yet had to fit them in anger.
After the snow on the mountains, the most visually rewarding weather phenomenon is mist. From our house, we have a view of something like seven hundred square miles of valley, bordered at its furthest side by mountain ranges and punctuated by minor hills and ridges. More often than not we are above the level of the mist which lies in the vast concavity like the waters of some mysterious Scottish loch, pricked here and there by dreamy blue islands with the great shoulders of the high mountains rising beyond.
But nothing beats the warm days, particularly those of early summer before the appearance of the troublesome little flies which supplement their staple diet of grape juice with human sweat. The summer is when Italian houses come into their own with their terraces and balconies, split levels and other subtle ways of blurring the boundaries between indoors and out. No one need try to get brown in Italy – it just happens.
My favourite place to be on a warm day would be the Piano Grande, a dried-up lake bed high in the Sybilline mountains where wild flowers carpet the meadows with every hue imaginable. I have been there when the crickets were singing from the grass and the larks were singing in the sky and the whole atmosphere seemed to be vibrating to some ecstatic cosmic rhythm. These moments should be kept as antidotes – breastplates, if you like – against the days when you think that you might as well have stayed in a country that at least doesn’t claim not to be cold.
About the Author:
Damaris West is the Managing Director of worldwide tutor organisation Anysubject Ltd which she runs from the Italian office. Anysubject provides tutoring in all academic subjects, musical instruments and foreign languages. See more about Anysubject Ltd at http://www.anysubject.com and more articles at http://www.anysubject.com/helpful-guides.asp
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