05 February 2012

LIFE: Snow Challenged

SARONNO, Italy – Before I can start this story you have to know that the street I live on is only as big as this apartment building, and it is blocked off at one end to prevent through traffic.  I think it must have been part of the old street system prior to the expansion of Saronno during the post-war building boom that took place in all of Italy, which has nothing to do with this story, and all I’m trying to say is it  is a very short street.
Sempione Park, Milano
Anyway, it snowed in Saronno the other day. In the past when it has snowed, this little street never saw a snowplow. Ever. The collective thinking was that the snow never lasts very long, so what’s the point of paying someone to do what mother nature is going to do for free in a day or two anyway. You just have to have a little patience.
 Downtown Genova
 But yesterday, lo and behold, a Tonka Toy size truck with a blade attached to the front of it, began going up and down our street. It would pull in as far as the cone shaped concrete barriers, and then back out and then start all over again. I could hear the truck going back and forth, actually for quite a while, and I remember thinking, “great, it’s about time they plowed here.” 
For such a short street, it seemed to be taking a very long time to plough.  When I looked out I could see that while the driver was making all the right moves, the blade wasn’t down far enough to move anything, let alone the 3” of snow and mush. So all of his comings and goings were for naught. 
The Vatican
 I thought about yelling out, “hey buddy, try putting the blade down,” but I don’t know the Italian equivalent for “buddy”, nor are people accustomed to being yelled at by old ladies standing on their balconies dressed in what look like pajamas in the middle of a snowy February afternoon. 
There is something about snow and Italy that just doesn’t work. Oh, it’s fine up in the ski areas of Trentino  and over in Val d’Aosta, where they make their living running ski resorts. But the Milanese who watch the snow bulletins as closely as they watch the stock market, and head for those mountains every weekend to play in the snow, don’t seem to know what to do with it down here. 
Perugia - Sign says: Street Closed Because of Snow
 I still laugh thinking about the ‘snow removal’ crew that was sent out to clear the snow off the sidewalks in front of my apartment  when I lived in Milan. The crew was made up of five North Africans led by an Italian crew leader. They were decked out in bright orange jumpsuits and armed with stick brooms, the kind witches usually ride, and they were fluffing the snow here and there and everywhere except off of the sidewalks.  It was obvious they had no experience in snow removal, but then again I don’t know how much snow they get in sunny Morocco. Probably none. 
But I can’t say it’s only the Milanese who are “snow challenged”.  It snowed in Genova my first winter in Italy. A freak storm they said, and I sincerely hoped so. I had moved there to get away from the wintery weather of Philadelphia and I wasn’t prepared for snow on the Riviera. Apparently neither were the Genovese. 
Call out the Marines - Street Cleaning in Rome
I was living in a small apartment about a ½ hour ride out of the center, way up in the hills behind the city. After seven months of unemployment,  I had just landed my first (illegal) job, teaching English in downtown Genova. When my class ended at 9PM, I got myself over to the bus stop as quickly as possible, anxious to get home, get warm and eat dinner. As the bus slowly made its way up the snow covered hill, I could hear the tire chains gripping the heavy snow – they don’t plow the streets in Genova either. 
The bus was just barely crawling along  with the windshield wipers running a dizzying speed. Unfortunately they were just about useless against the swirling snow. At a certain point, I figure about half way up the winding mountain road the bus driver pulled over and announced that he wasn’t going to go any further. I looked out the window  at the blizzard and turned to him. “Why didn’t you tell us down in Genova you weren’t going to go all the way up to Quezzi?” I yelled. “I would have gotten a hotel room in town. Now what?”
 Fountain at Villa Olmo, Lake Como
The driver just shrugged and waited as one by one we all got off the bus, he closed the doors and disappeared. What I think is he drove himself home and left us to fend for ourselves. At any rate, passengers were zipping off in different directions and I was left  there  standing  with two other ladies. “Okay,” I said, “why don’t we hitchhike?” Every now and again a car would go by, and what cruel soul could pass up three ladies stranded in a blizzard?  I wasn’t too interested in getting into a car with some stranger by myself, especially since I didn’t know where I was, but there is safety in numbers, no? 
Lake Como
The women looked at me as if I was crazy. Hitchhike? “You’ve got to be kidding,” they said. “Do you know what our husbands would do to us if they saw us getting out a car driven by a stranger?”
“But we are in the middle of a blizzard and there are three of us, surely they wouldn’t want you to die along the side of the road like a dog, would they? Isn’t it better to take a ride with a stranger than walk up this mountain?”
 Tevere, Rome
 Evidently not.  They turned their backs on me and headed into the brush. It was cold, it was dark and it was snowing like hell, and since I had no idea where they were going I decided to play it safe and stay on the road. All I knew was I had to head up the mountain and hopefully at some point  I would arrive in the crossroads of Santa Maria Quezzi, with its three apartment buildings, one bar, one deli and one fruttivendolo. 
Arrive I did. Frozen to the bone, feet wet, head wet, hands like ice cubes, I could barely put the key in the lock. All I remember thinking was those women were crazy, and their husbands were even crazier.  It wasn’t long after that, that I moved to a street named after the many palm trees that line it, a street of orange trees and sweet smelling jasmine bushes, a street that lead right to the beautiful, blue Mediterranean sea. 
Think Summer, Think Liguria
And as I look out my window today, at the snow covered garden of the Padre Monti school, which I’m sure you all remember from the Via Campi Chicken War story, I’m thinking  about that blue sea, and those palm trees and those sweet smelling jasmine bushes and wondering how fast can I pack up and get myself back down to where I belong. 

P.S.  Witaj Polska, Witam na moim blogu.  

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  1. I definitely enjoyed reading this. Thanks for all of the great images as well! Where do you find all your inspiration for the blogs you post?

    1. Thanks for the kind words. They are much appreciated. As for my inspiration, I'm just curious and like to follow my curiosity wherever it leads.