We’re having crazy weather right now in Italy. Two weeks ago it was so hot that I nearly fainted on the bus, I only managed to cool myself down by fishing two ancient Tic Tacs out of my bag and sucking on them madly. I had smugly sat on the shady side of the bus, but of course it soon swung round a bend and plunged me into the sun’s full glare. Within two minutes I had gone from English rose to limp lettuce and was awash in a pool of sweat. It was 37 degrees (that’s really high in Fahrenheit for those who aren’t familiar with centigrade) and a weather warning had been issued the day before telling old people to stay in doors or risk death-by-melting on their daily shuffle to the local shops. That morning, as I cowered in my house -bless Italian houses with their thick stone walls that keep inside cathedral cool- I could hear the elderly lady upstairs banging around with the vacuum cleaner. For the love of God, I thought, not even an official government health warning will stop the woman from cleaning.
To say that cleanliness is next to Godliness in Italy would be an understatement. Whereas Brits are more concerned about the outside of their homes, Italians will happily live in huge ugly tower blocks with pollution-stained plaster crumbling off the façade, but they are positively maniacal about the inside of their homes. White walls are de rigueur with stone tiles or wooden floor coverings. You might find the occasional rug but mention how you grew up in a house with wall-to-wall carpets and people will run away from you screaming. Carpets are, quite simply, the devil. They are accused of sucking up an inhuman quantity of dust and dirt that only the daily sweeping and moping of a tiled floor can completely eliminate. A colleague told me that when her Italian mother-in-law was sick recently, she came out of her delirious fever for a few seconds to then fall into a fit because the floor hadn’t been moped for 24 hours.
What this means is that you could eat your spag bol off the floor in most Italian homes but you couldn’t exactly describe them as cosy. In fact, the word ‘cosy’ doesn’t really have an Italian equivalent. My dictionary suggests accogliente but this is more like ‘welcoming’ or ‘warm’, it doesn’t quite catch the essence of ‘cosy’. Having said that, for most of June, July and August in Italy you’re not really interested in curling up on the sofa with a blanket and a cup of tea, you’d rather be laying naked on your cool (and immaculately clean) floor tiles, preferably with someone pouring ice cubes on your back.
Anyway, as I said, the weather right now is crazy. Dogs dissolving in the heat on the pavement in the mornings and torrential monsoon-type rain in the afternoons. This has dire consequences for a country of people who suffer the subtlest change in temperature, people who immediately crumple if exposed the slightest colpo d’aria (cold draft). In terms of danger, a colpo d’aria is second only to wall-to-wall carpets. Unfortunately, after eight years of living here I’ve lost all my British backbone and can’t get on with cleaning my home today because I caught a colpo d’aria myself yesterday and have a terrible ache in my lower back. Oh well, nobody expects a British person’s home to be that clean anyway. My neighbours always look surprised to see me (the foreign one) buying things like milk, bread and cleaning products in the local supermarket. If I tell them about my colpo d’aria attack though, we can really bond.