Snow is different in Tuscany.
Fine, so the winter is almost over here in Tuscany. Although you can ask if we ever had it to begin with, because in terms of winter wonderland there was nothing but a few, miserable, half-melted snowflakes.
It hasn’t always been like that. During my years in Chianti, I’ve experienced some truly epic snowstorms with temperatures coming straight from Siberia. And everything around our house has been white and icy and scarily quiet. Just as if the outside world had ceased to exist. During those days – because, yes, normally it’s a question of two, three days – we have been barricaded inside our house, our larder jam-packed with food, waiting for the roads to open and normality to return.
I remember, for example, that fatal winter when we were blocked in our snow-covered house, and our son got sick, and I called 118, the general emergency number. But the doctor couldn’t get his car through the unploughed roads. Finally I saw him trudging through the snow, his black doctor’s briefcase shining like a spot of coal in that never-ending landscape of whiteness. No, I will never forget that.
And then there was that pre-Christmas snowstorm when it took me some six, seven hours to drive down from our hills to Florence – usually a forty-minute-drive – to fetch my son from nursery school. During our adventure back home (another seven-hour-drive), my son and I saw half a dozen accidents, and dozens of abandoned cars, and the atmosphere was surreal and apocalyptic, just as if the world was coming to an end. Our car was one of the very few to reach our hills: none of the others made it home that night. Finally even my car got stuck in the snow. So I wrapped my sleeping son in woollen blankets, and carried him home on foot. It was midnight; it had stopped snowing. The vineyards around us were eerily white and silent; the road before us immaculate. Nobody had driven there. Nobody had walked there. It was then that I realised how it felt, to be all alone in the world.
I think that my relationship with snow has changed during my years in Italy. In Finland, where I grew up, snow is an everyday matter. Finnish snow is level-headed and trustworthy: it comes down when it is supposed to come, and it melts away when it’s supposed to melt away, and never, ever does it cause dramas of Shakespearian proportions. In Finland, you can handle everything. Even the snow.
Not so in Italy, a country which is fairly unpredictable even when the sun is shining and there isn’t a single flake of snow. And when it snows… well, the whole system melts down. Schools close. Almost everything is cancelled or late. Roads transform into suicide tracks. Our village supermarket is crowded with people filling their trolleys with foodstuffs, ready for the worst. And every time it seems like it’s going to snow, my voicemail is congested with messages from other mothers who are rushing to fetch their offspring from the school. It’s snowing in Mugello! The motorway is OK! No snow in the centre of Florence!
No wonder that snow has played a determining role in my stories. In Witchcraft Couture it rendered Oscar’s first fashion show mysterious and otherworldly, like something not of this world. And in my coming novel Absolute Truth, for Beginners snow has gained even more Herculean proportions: here it’s a full-blown coup de theatre, a divine intervention, deciding destinies and dramatically changing the turn of events.
So take it from me. Snow is different in Tuscany. It’s theatrical and unreliable – and never boring.
Just like everything else in Italy.