Although there are many things I like about winter, in my late 20s, I moved to Arizona for a reason: better weather. Prior to that, my knowledge of winter came from living in Michigan.
My Michigan winters, as an adult, were gray and cloudy and quite slushy. Dirty slush, from the cars. My childhood winters were more white, crisp and clean. Either way, they were always cold, and I hadn’t yet understood the beautiful notion that it’s only cold if you’re not properly attired.
So I moved to Arizona, and the next fifteen winters were glorious. Filled with sunshine and just enough coldness for jeans and sweaters. Even a coat at night.
But the funny thing is, my Arizona winters didn’t feel like winter. Either because I’d grown up with a different kind of winter in Michigan, or perhaps because movies always depict winters that are completely unlike those in Arizona. So while I liked the winters in Arizona—loved them!—because they were sunny and never too cold, they just didn’t feel like winter to me.
Some people say Arizona has two seasons: hot and very hot. It’s funny, and it’s partly true, but not entirely.
Nonetheless, the description has merit, and so it is with that idea that I write about my winter in Italy.
The Mediterranean Winter
We spent our first Italian winter in 2019/2020. Part of which was in northern Italy, where we were dumped on with snow the day we left the region! Not entirely common in our town, despite its northern location.
We spent the other part of that winter in the southernmost part of Italy (the heel of the “boot”), the beautiful region of Puglia.
So, in a single season, we experienced both the northern and southern versions of Italian winter. But we weren’t in either location for long, or live in our own home, and so the experience lacked a certain authenticity. Staying in an AirBnB affects your mindset. Your brain never really leaves vacation mode, and everything has an extra rosy cast to it.
And at the very beginning of February 2020, we went to Arizona to visit family for a month (which turned into six, courtesy of COVID). So our winter in Italy wasn’t even an entire winter.
This winter, everything is different.
Today, I write about my experience living in central Italy during the winter. This time, we actually have a proper home, an apartment in a 700-year-old building, in a medieval hilltop town. We have been here since August, and we will be here through the entire Winter. Many, in fact.
I’m happy to say, if a bit surprised, that winter in central Italy has caused me to upgrade my estimation of winter. It’s now possibly my second favorite season! (Behind spring.)
We don’t have snow here, at least not yet. And if it does snow, the locals say it’s short-lived. But right now, the lows at night are in the mid 30s, and the daytime highs are in the upper 40s. Sufficiently cold to feel like a real winter.
(I have an amazing coat that keeps me warm and toasty when I’m outside, and rain boots when it rains. These contribute massively to my enjoyment. As the saying goes, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.”)
So my winter here is wonderful.
We even have a lot of gray and rain, which lends an air of mystery to everything. An atmosphere. Yellow lamplight cuts through the thick fog in narrow, cobblestone alleys. The gray misty mornings are some of my favorite! I rush to put on my coat to experience it fully outside. And there’s the most beautiful walk around the town, like walking along the edge of a cliff, in the clouds. Or on some days, above them.
My imagination runs wild in these moments.
That said, there are still plenty of sunshiny days. But frankly, with the pandemic, we spend most of our time at home anyway.
The wintery atmosphere is the backdrop of my day. Each morning, I start by reading nonfiction books. I do my Coffee Self-Talk, and I tap into some Taoism (or something of the like: Untethered Soul, Outrageous Openness).
This morning routine straightens my mindset and fills me with gratitude. And simple joy. I am so happy. In fact, last night, I went to sleep and couldn’t fall asleep because I was so excited about the following day. When nothing particularly different was expected to happen. I was just excited about another ordinary day!
The Heat in the Apartment
We haven’t used our heat in our apartment yet (in-floor heating), mainly because we don’t know how. There’s a thing with a lot of buttons on it. My landlord is a simple text message away; he lives above us and he’d be happy to come show us. But every day, we keep thinking it’s not so bad. The tile floor is frigid however, but we wear slippers, so that takes care of that.
My husband wears a scarf at all times. Even to bed. It adds to the Dickensian character of his piratey winter beard.
My daughter dances around barefoot all day in shorts and a T-shirt. Kids.
I’m somewhere in-between on the sensitivity to cold spectrum. I found the most amazing sweater in the Benetton store a couple weeks ago. Here in town. And when I put it on, I look like a bear. It’s fluffy (the fluff turning to scruff after multiple wearings) and black and rather shapeless. My husband calls it my “bear suit.” He rubs my belly when I wear it, and speaks of honey.
He’s not entirely wrong. Bears don’t actually sleep the whole time they hibernate. They just get cozy and snooze a lot. That’s me, minus the snoozing. Cozy.
My bear suit keeps me so warm. Almost too warm. But not quite. And so I’m grateful to have found this. Greg often wears a coat in the house with his scarf, but I don’t want that much bulk. It’d make it weird to type, with my arms sticking out stiffly at weird angles.
As I mentioned, our daughter wears a T-shirt, shorts, and no socks, and when I touch her feet, they feel cold, but she says she’s comfortable. So I get a kick out of the fact that it’s cold outside, winter, but we haven’t put on our heat yet. I assume this is possible due to the three-feet-thick stone walls of the apartment (that includes the interior walls, too). It’s more like a cave, constantly cool (including summer, when it’s in the 90s outside).
It’s never bone-chilling cold, and I think it makes me more sprightly, energized.
After my morning routine — in which I have my coffee and self-talk, and my reading, which lately includes some poetry and classics — my daughter gets up, and it’s time for breakfast.
Then, I either go on my walk around the base of the hill (where I’ve seen such magical things as hidden cave entrances, wild boars, and cinematic views of mist-filled valleys), or I settle into writing my own fiction books.
Or blogging, like today.
I also meditate often. And then the day just goes on. I spent a good portion of it reading fiction, which helps my writing process. I eat lunch, and I have a 1 PM espresso.
We do dinner later, and watch a show while eating. It might seem weird to people to watch TV while eating, but we spend all day together, talking and sharing, so it’s nice to take a break and watch a movie or laugh non-stop with an episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
In the evening, we play ping-pong, or a game, or I just read more, and Kamea and Greg have Daddy-Daughter time.
During the day, sometimes I have to go to the store. I like to go between 1-4 PM, when it’s empty. Everybody else is at home resting for lunch or taking a nap. My butcher also closes shop during the afternoon. So I usually visit him after his lunch break when there aren’t many people there.
We have cats that live on our rooftop and down in the courtyard. They’re part feral, part domesticated. Wildish. I sometimes toss sardines or meat from our balcony to the stairwell they like to hang out on. When I wear my furry bear sweater, I often wonder if they think I’m one of them. Or a bear. I could swear they look at me differently.
Last night, we wanted to go for a little celebration, and we went to the bar around the corner to have a spritz. It’s a small bar, called Blue Bar, and we love the owner. He’s French and speaks French, Italian, and English. He likes to play blues guitar for us. We have a coffee or drink every couple of weeks, just a neighborly gesture really, during these hard times.
Even though the temperature was in the 30s, we sat outside because there were people inside… with masks pulled down to eat and drink. We sat in our warm coats, bundled up together on a bench, and enjoyed our spritz, sans ice cubes. Kamea had a decaf cappuccino. And it was memorable. Probably more memorable because of sitting outdoors in the cold.
So that’s my winter in Italy right now, and that’s my routine.
I love it.