Love For Italy
Conquers High Season Woes
Copyright 2005 by Debra Balamos
I’m glad I won’t be touring Italy this summer. Like Lancelot in his serenade to Guinevere, I’ve loved Italy in the springtime, summer, winter and fall, but unlike Lance, I could leave her in summer. Italy is my favorite country in the world. I love it so much I’ve programmed my cell phone to play O Sole Mio every time it rings, and have often thought of moving there. Between the show stopping architecture, seductive arias, spectacular wine and most savory tomatoes and mozzarella ever, it’s very easy to take. It’s hard to imagine not loving every piece of piazza in this land of gorgeous, glowing, grapevines. However, if we’re talking high season, record-breaking heat, and August crowds—I’ll make an exception.
During my visit to Italy beginning August 1, 2003, the International Herald Tribune reported the hottest period on record for all of Europe—and I was there. It was amazing. For 12 consecutive days, I shook my head while looking at front-page weather charts: flaming red spikes shooting off the pages of La Gazetta and The Roma Posta.
There were signs everywhere reporting temperatures hitting 117 degrees Fahrenheit. The Italians had never seen anything like this before. Tutto bizarro.
Daytime temperatures in Rome, Riomaggiore and Rivoli did not drop at night. When steam rose from Pisa’s pavement at 1 am, I realized there was not going to be any buona in the notte. At this point, you begin thinking about a lot of things that weren’t on your original agenda.
First, there’s the quest for air conditioning. Trying to get a hotel room with a working air conditioner is a naÔve notion. You typically don’t need much cold filtered air when traveling in Europe, but when you’re about to become a solar sacrifice, you’re talking survival.
Of course there was a shortage of AC’s that summer, so dozens of self-proclaimed heat stroke candidates stormed hardware stores, plotting to seize what was left of any stocked cooling appliances before the hoarders got there. It was unbelievable. Pushing, punching, probing— whatever it took to grab the highly coveted “last air conditioner.”
I remember standing across the street from Electronic Mart, in Rome, watching the department store’s emergency shipments of fans and cooling units being unloaded from vans. Before delivery drivers could get the new arrivals safe inside, five hoodlums lunged from a mid day lunch crowd, snatched several unopened boxes of AC’s sitting on the side walk, and ran— unstoppable by the Policia. The black market for crack was minor league compared to what someone could make on underground Maytags.
In Sorrento, I dreamed of sitting in a breeze with a book at an outdoor cafÈ. Instead, I put on an oversized T-shirt, retreated to the basement of my three star hotel, and sat on a hard marble floor. This was the only shot I had at getting anything close to cool.
While anemic air conditioning in museums, hotels and shops was a challenge, the toughest scenario was riding the train from Umbrian hillside towns to connecting city centers. Think about it. You’re confined in large metal boxes; seared by sun. The only logical thing you can to do is take over-sized bottles of Evian and drench yourself. Really. I thought nothing of pouring pricey containers of French H2O over my coiffed hair, and I wasn’t alone. I actually saw dozens of other fully clothed commuters soaking themselves with their beverage of choice: the dousing started at the top of their Sassoon cut heads, then dribbled down to their Blanik covered bunions.
In addition to negotiating the heat, you’re weaving through endless streams of other humans on holiday. It’s a real dilemma. You go there aching to see the Uffizi, maestros, vecchios, and frescoes. The David, doges, dens and duomos.You go there to see those coral pink sunset silhouettes of Florence rooftops featured on limited edition Italian holiday calendars. You go there to see all that and wham —you get 48 tour buses lined up from 23 countries. There are hundreds of guides shaking flags from Asia, Australia, and Antarctica high overhead on a staff, like Bo Peep. Dozens of worlds collide. Imaginary boundaries are over stepped. Dazed, stressed, hot and tired, it’s not uncommon for some tussled tourists to miss the fact that for blocks, they’ve followed a Polish translator instead of the French historian assigned to them. Sacre bleu!
In Italy, it’s the law that all major monuments under go massive renovation during peak season. So, forget about capturing the award winning shot you were hoping to frame on your recently purchased high tech digital camera. There will be a sea of scaffolding as far as the eye can see, blocking the view of the photo you traveled 9,000 miles to document.
Like I said, I’m Italy’s biggest admirer. Pergolas. Gondolas. Espresso. Risotto. Vivaldi. Da Vinci. Valentino. Bravado. It’s about the gusto—life at its absolute finest.
The bizarreness of high heat and head count creates a need for constant do-overs. Much reconfiguration. Much deep breathing. During my August visit, anything that could melt did, including the interior molding on my rental car and all gelato options.
Brownouts, knockouts, timeouts, and turnabouts get
your attention. Between the oozing, fainting, perspiring, jostling,
neck craning and volatile AC underground, I’ve decided not to
visit Italy this summer. But fear not, Italia. I’m all ready
fighting for my aisle seat on a pre booked October flight to Orvieto.
It won’t be long before I see your vineyards streaked in autumn
sunlight, and catch your Chianti in a winter fire’s glow.
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